Washington Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer never doubted his system worked. Not when the Redskins were blown out the first three games. Not when they slipped to 0-5.
Now Schottenheimer is feeling some vindication. He always believed the system that won 150 games and three division titles in 15 seasons at Kansas City and Cleveland would eventually work if given time. It took an interception by linebacker LaVar Arrington for a touchdown against Carolina to rouse the team, but since then the Redskins are 3-0.
Now Washington reaches its midseason bye with faint playoff hopes. The Redskins are only 11/2 games back of NFC East-leading Philadelphia with two games pending against the Eagles. Schottenheimer sat with Washington Times beat writer Rick Snider this week for a midseason review.
Q: At your signing news conference in January, you posed the question, “What comes first confidence or success?” Do you now have an answer?
A: I’ve never had any doubt that it’s clearly success that precedes confidence because it’s an absolute. You can quantify it. Confidence, on the other hand, is like a vapor. It comes and it goes. If you win three, four, five games in a row, no matter how you’ve won them you get this sense of “Hey, we can do this.”
Q: Can this Redskins team still make the playoffs?
A: The division is still wide open, but we’re not going to look that far ahead, because if we do we could stumble over something right in front of us.
Q: You seemed impressed by the FedEx Field crowd noise. What has surprised you about Washingtonians’ passion with the Redskins compared to such good football towns like Kansas City and Cleveland where you previously worked?
A: I don’t know that I’ve ever been around a group that has such a committed interest. Somebody told me when I came here there’s politics and Redskins. I never gave it a great deal of thought, but it has become apparent to me that it’s true. They bring a tremendous energy. I’ve always been a big advocate of home-field advantage, and it’s a great venue. There’s an energy you draw from your fans and it’s real and can lift a football team to another level.
Q: But Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City has the reputation of being the loudest venue in the NFL. How does FedEx compare to it?
A: There is a roar here as well. I haven’t been here as long as Arrowhead, but it was most obvious to me in the game against Carolina after the interception by LaVar Arrington when the place went absolutely off the charts.
Q: What was the biggest mental hurdle to overcome during the 0-5 start?
A: I told them that we were improving each and every day. We have good players. I never bought into the fact that we weren’t good enough talent-wise. I just said we have to continue to work on details and little things and it will come about. When we know what we’re dealing with, we can compete with anybody. Ever so slowly, we have become more familiar with what we’re doing. This trust in one another alleviates a lot of anxiety. Once you develop this trust, and knowing it isn’t going to be perfect all the time, the anxiety disappears and you just go play football.
Q: In what ways have you adjusted your style as the season progressed? Was there a learning curve?
A: One of the things as a coach is, go find out what your guys do best and fit that together. As far back as June, I thought the offensive line might be the strongest unit on the team, and over the last couple of weeks they’ve given evidence that might be right. That’s the one unit that requires more cohesiveness than any other because it involves five guys. All of a sudden, it began to fit together.
Q: Is Tony Banks the quarterback of the future? Has he done enough to warrant a long-term deal?
A: Could be. We haven’t talked about (a new contract). One of the problems you have when starting to talk contracts during the season is, it can become a distraction. … I think he’s done an extremely good job. One of the things said about him was he’s sort of laid back and unemotional, and that’s not the truth at all. I think if he makes mistakes, he beats himself up and I’ve been trying to make sure he doesn’t get caught up in that because it multiplies. I think he has the kind of leadership you’re looking for.
Q: Why has cornerback Champ Bailey struggled at times after reaching the Pro Bowl last year?
A: I don’t agree. He has won 70 percent of all the balls thrown at his guy in man-to-man coverage. Interesting enough, more balls have been thrown at him than any other guy on the team. I don’t know [why]. He has won 23 of 33 balls thrown at him.
Q: When this season ends, will there be another roster upheaval or do you have the foundation of a future playoff contender?
A: We have a number of young players already here that we think can be developed. We have some young offensive linemen David Brandt, Ross Tucker. As to turnover, it’s hard to predict because of who’s under contract.