Having restricted the efforts of their previous coaching search to one specific candidate – and realizing, four years later, how poorly it worked out – the Washington Redskins will be casting a wider net in the coming days.
Hours after coach Mike Shanahan was fired, general manager Bruce Allen said Monday the search for his replacement would begin immediately and noted that the “open list” would include candidates from the professional and collegiate ranks.
“It will have NFL coaches [and] it will have college coaches on it,” Allen said. “Some have head coaching experience and some don’t. I’m really looking forward to meeting some of the people who I haven’t met yet. I’ve seen them from afar, and I want to hear what their dreams are, what they can do, the fire in their belly to coach the Washington Redskins, to inspire the kids on this football team.”
Shanahan, hired in January 2010, was the target of a prolonged courtship by the team that began several months earlier. The Redskins had struggled for the better part of the previous decade, and Shanahan, who won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos in the late 1990s, was hired because of that success.
Instead, Shanahan went just 24-40 during his four seasons in Washington, including 3-13 this year — the worst performance of his 19 full seasons as coach. The Redskins lost their eighth consecutive game on Sunday, marking their worst finish since 1994, and Shanahan was fired Monday morning after a 20-minute meeting with Allen and owner Dan Snyder.
“When you take a look at what the franchise has done, you take a look at the opportunities that are given to you as a head football coach and your staff, you can feel better,” Shanahan said shortly thereafter, speaking for approximately four and a half minutes but declining to take questions. “I’d also like to thank the players, so many players, for giving me everything that they’ve got over the last four years.”
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Snyder, who did not speak to reporters, now needs to find his eighth coach in 15 years owning the team. 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 also will likely gauge the interest of successful former head coaches, including Bill Cowher, Lovie Smith and Ken Whisenhunt, and could look to Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, a former offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots who has been linked to the Houston Texans in recent days.
Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, special teams coordinator Keith Burns, quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, wide receivers coach Mike McDaniel and linebackers coach Bob Slowik also were fired Monday. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, offensive line coach Chris Foerster, tight ends coach Sean McVay and running backs coach Bobby Turner all remain on staff, though their status could change when the new coach is hired.
“Coach Shanahan has taught me a lot in just two years of being with him,” said quarterback Robert Griffin III, who also didn’t take questions. “I want to thank him for drafting me to the Washington Redskins and giving me the chance to live out my dream. I also want to thank Kyle and Matt for working so hard with me every day, day in and day out. We did a lot of great things together, and I wish all three of them the best in the future. I’m looking forward to the new year and building this team back to where it should be.”
As the losses mounted, the decision to part ways with Shanahan became increasingly clear. Allen said the only thing that prevented the team from firing the coach before the season ended was a desire to allow him to try to end the Redskins’ continuing losing streak. It wasn’t until after the Redskins’ loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 22 that the decision to fire Shanahan “was near 99 percent.”
It is believed Shanahan, who signed a five-year, $35 million contract in January 2010, will receive the roughly $7 million remaining on his deal. Allen, who is not particularly hands-on in talent evaluation, said he will assume full responsibility over personnel decisions.
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The remainder of the football operations department will remain intact, with director of pro personnel Morocco Brown, who oversees free agency, and director of player personnel Scott Campbell, who directs the draft, continuing in those roles.
It’s a curious move for a team that has finished in last place in its division in three of four seasons. Shanahan, though, had final say over personnel decisions during his tenure, leaving that department to presumably work independent of the coach for the first time.
“We believe that we have the right people in place,” Allen said. “You saw it last year. This year, you saw — not the complete opposite, because we lost eight versus winning seven in a row. We’re very confident where we’re going to go with them.”
Of the six NFL coaching vacancies, the Redskins’ job has its perks. The Texans and the Detroit Lions may have the most talent on the roster, but the Redskins also have a franchise quarterback in Griffin and expect to have $25 million to $30 million in salary-cap space when the league year begins in March.
There are also pitfalls. Twenty-two players are set to become free agents, including seven starters on defense, and even positions with capable bodies — the offensive line, the wide receivers — could use significant improvement. Plus, there’s the issue of Snyder himself: Though he refrained from meddling in the roster for much of Shanahan’s tenure, there’s no guarantee a coach with less significance will be able to stand up to the owner.
Allen referenced the turnarounds this season in Kansas City and Philadelphia, but there’s no guarantee a new coach would be so fortunate. Rather, it’s likely the individual who accepts the job will face many difficulties, though Allen said such a challenge often brings out the most determined candidates.
“I think if you would ask coaches a lot of times, ‘Would you want to take over a first-place team or a last-place team?’ — in football, they’d say last-place,” Allen said. “Unfortunately we’re there, but I do think it’s going to be a great opportunity for a coach.”