- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Three masts from satellite television trucks reached into the gray skies above Redskins Park on Monday afternoon, lured by turmoil the franchise can’t seem to escape.

The one-time promise of the 2013 season felt as distant as the sun in the parking lot choked by slush and disappointment.

A return to the playoffs that once seemed inevitable instead disintegrated into a series of on-field blunders matched only by off-field dramatics that seem to be without end.

The dysfunction is such that poker-faced coach Mike Shanahan stepped to the podium for his usual 3 p.m. Monday news conference and, for 16 minutes, swatted away questions about whether he wants to return as coach next season. Finally, Shanahan admitted that, yes, he would like to return.

“There’s always a lot of noise when you’re 3-10,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot more noise over the next few weeks. I understand that.”

The coach seems to believe that such theatrics accompany any NFL job. But the Redskins, as always, exist in a world of their own.


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Owner Daniel Snyder handed Shanahan a five-year, $35 million contract in 2010 to use his no-nonsense approach to resurrect the troubled franchise, which hasn’t reached the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 1991-92. Shanahan, owner of two Super Bowl rings from his time leading the Denver Broncos, was supposed to bring stability, at long last, to the franchise that has cycled through seven head coaches since 2000.

Instead, Shanahan has stumbled to a 24-37 record and, this season, overseen a group outscored by the most points of any Redskins team since 1961. That wasn’t helped by Sunday’s 45-10 loss to the Chiefs at FedEx Field, where the sparse crowd hurled boos and snowballs toward the torn-up field.

But as is customary with this franchise, larger questions dwarfed the performance that may be the most forgettable of seasons memorable only for the level of chaos.

An ESPN report published before Sunday’s game said that Shanahan entertained quitting last season over discontent about Snyder’s close relationship with quarterback Robert Griffin III. During a bizarre 10-minute postgame news conference, Shanahan, usually one to vocally correct any error of fact, didn’t deny the report or, for that matter, answer questions about his future as coach in Washington.

The timing of the anonymously sourced report didn’t appear coincidental, shifting the narrative from on-field woes under Shanahan’s leadership back to long-held perceptions about Snyder’s meddling in football matters.

That’s the latest in a series of controversies, large and small, that have hobbled the franchise since Griffin injured his right knee in last season’s playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Each week seems to bring something new, from offseason questions about Griffin’s happiness with the play-calling to the quarterback not playing in the preseason to a report two weeks ago denied by all involved that Griffin didn’t want his bad plays shown while reviewing film.

The coach and the quarterback he surrendered three first-round picks to draft engaged in a monthslong cold war of passive-aggressive comments and gestures that, at times, resembled a pair of squabbling grade-schoolers.

All the while, the quarterback has taken criticism for everything from his use of personal pronouns — too much “I” and not enough “we” — to leadership in the locker room to season-long habits of staring down receivers and not proceeding through his full progression of reads in a stretch of football filled with the type of struggles he escaped during his charmed rookie season.

That circuslike atmosphere included a flurry of consternation during the nationally televised embarrassment against the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago about how often, if at all, Griffin’s linemen helped him up from the turf after incessant hits.

After that game, Griffin’s father, Robert Jr., visited his son in the locker room after the game in a move that is extraordinarily unusual in the NFL. The father wanted to check on his son’s health, then attended his postgame news conference and, afterward, had an extended discussion with him in the locker room.

Unexpected is routine with these Redskins.

On Monday, Shanahan faced nine television cameras and 30 reporters, the largest media contingent Redskins Park has hosted this season, and floated the possibility of benching Griffin for the season’s final three games. The coach hadn’t told the quarterback or his backup, Kirk Cousins, about the possibility. The plan, however, was discussed with Snyder.

Shanahan professed concern about Griffin remaining healthy to participate in the team’s offseason program after taking a series of vicious hits in recent weeks. Left out of the well-meaning sound bytes was one basic question: If Griffin’s offseason health is of such worry, why let him play through snow and freezing rain on a slippery field Sunday only to sit him inside the climate-controlled Georgia Dome against the Falcons this weekend?

In a season where each utterance and development carries deeper meaning, one couldn’t help but wonder what the suggestion to bench No. 10 portends for Shanahan’s continued employment that appears shakier each day.

We’re left dissecting relationships among the owner and coach and quarterback. And the offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. And whatever goes wrong next week.

A half-hour before the coach spoke Monday, veteran defensive tackle Barry Cofield described the day as “normal” and, really, that’s what this franchise has become.

The turmoil is an accepted part of doing business. The satellite trucks rushed to Redskins Park for a team the standings long ago rendered irrelevant because the Redskins are, well, the Redskins.

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