‘There are no five-year plans in the NFL,” Joe Gibbs is fond of saying. “I don’t care who you are. You’d better start winning pretty quick.”
He’s right, of course. By Year 2, a coach needs to show real progress — or rather, his team does. Certain allowances can be made for Year 1, which is usually a time for taking inventory (and doing some moderate-to-heavy housecleaning). The second year, though, is all about trajectory — preferably upward rather than downward.
This is the situation Mike Shanahan finds himself in with the Redskins. His bumpy 6-10 first season is in the books, and it’s imperative that he improves on it. Otherwise, well, you know the deal. Folks might begin to wonder whether, at 59, the game has passed him by. They might even begin to wonder whether he was ever as good as his two Super Bowl wins in Denver suggested.
Think about it: George Allen took the Redskins to the Super Bowl in Year 2. Gibbs, in his first term, won the Super Bowl in Year 2. In fact, let’s look at some recent Redskins coaches and see how many passed the Year 2 test:
c Norv Turner I (passed): 3-13 in Year 1 (1994, under longtime owner Jack Kent Cooke), 6-10 in Year 2. Wound up coaching in Washington for almost seven seasons.
c Norv Turner II (failed): 10-6 and a division title in Year 1 (1999, under new owner Dan Snyder), 7-6 and out of the playoffs in Year 2. Snyder fired him with three games left in the 2000 season — not that it accomplished anything.
(Note: Because of the ownership change, Turner actually had to prove his worth twice.)
• Steve Spurrier (failed): 7-9 in Year 1 (2002), 5-11 in Year 2. Resigned after the ‘03 season and, after taking a year off, returned to college coaching at South Carolina.
• Gibbs II (passed): 6-10 in Year 1 (2004), 10-6 and a wild card berth in Year 2. Also made the playoffs in Year 4 before retiring for a second time.
• Jim Zorn (failed): 8-8 in Year 1 (2008), 4-12 in Year 2. Was canned as soon as he stepped off the plane from San Diego after the ‘09 season finale.
The pattern is fairly well-established — in Washington, at least. If things are on the upswing in your second year, you get to keep your job. If not, you might want to put together your resume. Which isn’t to say the boss will run out of patience with Shanahan if the Redskins aren’t in the playoff hunt this year. Snyder has invested many millions in Shanny and might be inclined to give him another season or two. But how many of us would bet the house on it, given Snyder’s impulsiveness?
In Shanahan’s second year in Denver, by the way, the Broncos made major strides, going from a middle-of-the-pack 8-8 to an AFC-best 13-3. (The next season, they won the first of back-to-back Super Bowls.) But it’s hard to imagine the Redskins winning five more games this year than they did in 2010. They’ve made some nice roster additions - Barry Cofield, O.J. Atogwe, Tim Hightower, Chris Chester - but an 11-5 record seems a little out of reach, especially with so much uncertainty at quarterback.
That said, their depth is undeniably better, almost across the board. And while they’re still very much a work in progress, they appear headed in the right direction. The 350-pound weight of Albert Haynesworth has been lifted from everyone’s shoulders — he’s New England’s problem now — and the infusion of a large draft class and several other young players has created a sense of renewal. This is no longer an old team, it’s one whose best football is likely ahead of it. The question is: How far in the future are we talking about? December? Next year? The year after that?
The year after that, after all, would be Year 4, and four years are an eon by Dan Snyder’s Rolex. They’re also pushing the limits of Gibbs‘ dictum: “There are no five-year plans in the NFL.” But first things first: Shanahan needs to find seven wins on the 2011 schedule, maybe eight, to keep hope alive in Redskinsland. Otherwise, there’s no telling what might happen — as Turner, Spurrier and Zorn can attest.