- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2013

The Washington Redskins fired Mike Shanahan on Monday morning, bringing to an end the tenure of a coach who four years ago seemed likely to return a once-proud franchise to its winning ways.

The team announced the news less than 24 hours after the Redskins lost 20-6 to the New York Giants in the final game of the season. Washington’s 3-13 record was not only its worst since 1994, but marked the fewest victories in Shanahan’s 19 full seasons as a head coach.

“Redskins fans deserve a better result,” owner Daniel Snyder said in a written statement.

Other fired NFL coaches included Detroit’s Jim Schwartz, Tampa Bay’s Greg Schiano, Minnesota’s Leslie Frazier and Cleveland’s Rob Chudzinski.

Shanahan, 61, signed a five-year, $35 million contract in Jan. 2010. He led the team to the postseason just once in his four seasons — last year, when the Redskins won their final seven games to finish 10-6 and win the NFC East title.

In a four-minute statement to reporters at Redskins Park, Shanahan blamed the $36 million salary cap penalty that stretched over the past two offseasons for the team’s lack of depth, but said he believes the organization is in better shape than when he arrived.

SEE ALSO: LOVERRO: Mike Shanahan exits, but questions and mysteries remain

“I believe we’re in a situation today where we’re better off than where we were four years ago,” Shanahan said.

The coach, who didn’t take questions, described the organization as “great” and “the best.”

On the other side, Shanahan oversaw three seasons with double-digit losses, including this one — the first since 1960 in which Washington lost its final eight games. The Redskins did not win after an overtime victory over the San Diego Chargers at FedEx Field on Nov. 3. Shanahan finished with a 24-40 record in Washington.

Snyder now needs to find his eighth head coach in 15 years owning the team, and that process could move quickly. It’s likely the team will set its sights on one of the NFL’s more successful offensive coordinators, including the Cincinnati Bengals’ Jay Gruden, the San Francisco 49ers’ Greg Roman or the Seattle Seahawks’ Darrell Bevell, which would push the hire until after their current teams wrap up their playoff runs.

Snyder will also likely gauge the interest of successful former coaches, including Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Lovie Smith, and could look to Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, a former offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots whose interest in returning to the NFL has been well-documented but has been linked to the Houston Texans in recent days.

“We are going to take a smart, step-by-step approach to finding the right coach to return the Redskins to where we believe they should be,” general manager Bruce Allen said in a written statement.

SEE ALSO: Potential Redskins coaches include Bill Cowher, Ken Whisenhunt, Jay Gruden

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, special teams coordinator Keith Burns, quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, wide receivers coach Mike McDaniel, linebackers coach Bob Slowik, offensive quality control assistant Richmond Flowers, defensive assistant Bobby Slowik and advance scout Larry Coyer also were fired. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and tight ends coach Sean McVay will remain on staff for now, though their status could change when the new coach is hired.

Shanahan’s downfall was abrupt. After last season, the question was not whether the Redskins would qualify for the playoffs for the second consecutive year, but rather how far they would go once they got there. Despite dealing with the remaining $18 million of a $36 million salary cap penalty handed down in March 2012, the Redskins brought back an overwhelming majority of their roster, including all but one starter.

Their biggest problem, though, tied back to last season. Quarterback Robert Griffin III, pegged as the team’s franchise quarterback after it surrendered four draft picks for the right to select him the previous April, sustained and later aggravated a strained ligament in his right knee that required surgery three days after a playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Between the decision to keep Griffin in that game when he was clearly injured and the disconnect regarding his recovery, the relationship between the coach and the quarterback fractured. They sniped at each other through the media during the offseason and attempted to reconcile their feelings during spring workouts, but trust continued to fray during the next several months.

Griffin was cleared to return to practice at the start of training camp in late July, well ahead of schedule, but was held out of the preseason as a precautionary measure. He was clearly hampered by the lack of work in the early part of the Redskins’ season, and after struggling as a passer for much of the year, Shanahan benched Griffin for the final three games, publicly citing a desire to keep him healthy and to allow him to focus on having the complete offseason he missed after his rookie year.

Shanahan replaced Jim Zorn, who was fired in 2009 after going 12-20 during two seasons as the Redskins’ coach. Shanahan previously spent 14 years coaching the Denver Broncos, who won the Super Bowl following the 1997 and 1998 seasons behind an offense that featured future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway and running back Terrell Davis.

Though Shanahan’s reign with the Broncos fizzled in the later years — the team made the playoffs in four of seven seasons following the second Super Bowl victory, but not at all in the last three seasons of his tenure — the Redskins were drawn to Shanahan because of his experience and success. The contract was one of the largest for a coach at the time, and they acquiesced to his insistence that he oversee many aspects of talent acquisition and development in addition to his coaching responsibilities.

Shanahan inherited a roster his first season that was filled with aging veterans and fringe players, including defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, with whom he had a prolonged, season-long feud. The Redskins still managed to go 6-10, though the low point of the 2010 season came on Nov. 15, when, in front of a “Monday Night Football” audience, the Redskins were defeated 59-28 by the visiting Philadelphia Eagles.

Hours earlier, they had given a five-year contract extension worth approximately $78 million to quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was 33 at the time and in his first season with the Redskins after 11 with the Eagles. The timing was suspect; McNabb had been replaced in the fourth quarter of the Redskins’ previous game against the Detroit Lions by quarterback Rex Grossman, with Shanahan later stating that Grossman gave the Redskins the best chance to win that game.

That decision would only foreshadow Shanahan’s inability to foster a relationship with his quarterbacks. Before the 2011 season, when the Redskins traded McNabb to the Minnesota Vikings and entered with Grossman and journeyman John Beck as their quarterbacks, Shanahan said he would “put [his] reputation on these guys that they can play.” Washington petered to a 5-11 finish that season, taking a slight step back from the six victories a year before, by drifting between Grossman and Beck as the starter.

A respite from the instability appeared to arrive the next April, when the Redskins traded their first- and second-round picks, as well as their first-round picks in 2013 and 2014, to the St. Louis Rams for the ability to acquire the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft. They used that selection on Griffin, an exciting, dual-threat quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy the year before at Baylor and immediately energized a city longing for a superstar at the position.

Griffin helped the Redskins win their first NFC East title since 1999, leading them to the playoffs for the first time in five years. He went on to set multiple team, league and rookie records, and was named the offensive rookie of the year by The Associated Press following the season.

While Griffin’s injury and his performance this season tarnished his shine, the Redskins’ next coach and offensive coordinator will have the opportunity to work with a player who still has a higher ceiling than most quarterbacks in the league.

Griffin declined comment Monday morning before leaving the facility shortly before 10 a.m. Kirk Cousins, who filled in for Griffin as the Redskins’ starting quarterback the last three games, said the decision to fire Shanahan is both disappointing and frustrating.

“I understand we went 3-13 and we lost eight in a row there at the end,” Cousins said. “I can understand the decision. But, it’s frustrating because I feel like the Shanahans — Mike, Kyle — and my quarterbacks coach, Matt LaFleur, are the best coaches I’ve been around. I feel like the little success I’ve had, I owe to them, and I’m of the sentiment that I’d like to be back with them some day, so to see them go is frustrating.”

As for Shanahan, this season could have marked his last in the league as a coach. If so, he’ll finish with a 170-138 regular-season record, which is the 11th-most victories among coaches all-time, and will wait five years to find out whether his credentials qualify him for induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Legacies to me are up for you guys to write about and for people to decide,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said last week, when asked about his father. “I personally think he’s done some real good things here. I think he took over a tougher situation than he thought. I think fighting through the salary cap issue we’ve had has been tough, but I am proud of some stuff that we’ve done here.”

• Zac Boyer can be reached at zboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Nathan Fenno can be reached at nfenno@washingtontimes.com.

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