Mike Shanahan, like his performance as Redskins coach and spokesman, is open to interpretation. His record in Washington, his postgame comments, his player personnel skills, his ability to inspire confidence — everything about his tenure requires clarifiers on one hand and qualifiers on the other.
The Redskins still struggle to beat opponents and withstand injuries, but Shanahan has transformed an aging roster into one stocked with (presumably) good, young players. Washington can perform at its absolute worst in a so-called "must-win" game, yet the team continues to (publicly) express faith in his leadership. He is 14-27 halfway through his five-year contract, but the Redskins (supposedly) are headed in the right direction.
And Shanahan can give what sounds like a concession speech after Sunday's loss — saying "now you're playing to see who, obviously, is going to be on your football team for years to come. Now we get a chance to evaluate players and see where we're at" — only to come back and claim that everyone (allegedly) misconstrued his remarks.
"Just to think that we would play young players or suggest that we play young players and the season was over with was completely ludicrous," Shanahan explained Monday, roughly 24 hours after he was criticized locally and nationally for his comments.
Despite his best effort to suggest otherwise, no other interpretation makes sense.
Minutes after the utterly frustrating and ugly defeat against one-win Carolina, Shanahan acknowledged that Washington isn't mathematically eliminated from playoff consideration. However, he stated clearly that "now" the goal is to see which players are keepers. If an improbable run to the postseason happens in the process, so be it. But the focus has shifted to evaluation.
Coaches and players are given a cooling-off period before commenting after games, allowing them to collect their thoughts and get their emotions in check. That often means putting filters in place to reduce the brutal honesty that otherwise might spew out. Regulating the flow of unvarnished truth is an important aspect of presenting a good public front. It cuts down on finger-pointing and encourages personal responsibility.
Even if Shanahan's perceived assessment was 100 percent accurate, because the Redskins' odds of reaching the playoffs are infinitesimal, he can't say what he said Sunday (before he sort of took it back Monday). Such proclamations after nine games are heresy among coaches, even though just four NFL teams have reached the postseason after a 3-6 start. If for no other reason than morale among players and fans, a coach never should be that candid about his team's outlook.
Putting aside the breach of protocol, Shanahan was right about moving into a period of evaluation. But he's probably less than enthralled if we start at the top.
"I told you a long time ago that [rebuilding] was going to take a while," Shanahan said Monday, asked about the rate of progress since his arrival. "But I like the direction we're going, both on offense and defense. I see tremendous strides. Hopefully, it's not only me, but it's [owner Dan Snyder] as well."
If so, they're looking at areas outside the win-loss record, as the Redskins are on pace for another five- or six-win season under Shanahan (he's had one of each). The bottom line is enough to warrant questions about his regime, no matter the extenuating circumstances he readily lists.
There's no denying he inherited a team with loads of old players and limited draft picks. He didn't have a franchise quarterback until this season. And in arguably the most damaging blow to Year 3, the Redskins' free agency plans were blown up at the last minute by a $36 million salary-cap hit. Surely some of that money could've been used to further bolster the secondary and receiving corps.
But whether the coach and his assistants are the right choice remains a fair question.
With former Redskins greats Darrell Green and Charles Mann suggesting that the defense suffers from poor technique and training, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is a prime candidate for dismissal, justified or not. Secondary coach Raheem Morris is another whose future might be in doubt.
But the presence of RG3 should buy another season for Shanahan.
How much longer depends on your interpretation of progress.
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