When the Washington Redskins were 3-6 in 2012, coach Mike Shanahan put his players on notice.
“Now you’re playing to see who obviously is going to be on your football team for years to come,” Shanahan told reporters. “Now we get a chance to evaluate players and see where we’re at.”
The Redskins are at that same point this season — 3-6 — and someone is being called out again. Except this time, it is Shanahan who has to answer to an angry, beaten-down Redskins fan base.
Now he is coaching to see if he will be here not just for years to come, but for next year as well, in the minds of a number of Redskins fans who are sick and tired of losing, save for the occasional season of illusionary success, for more than 20 years now.
He is in the fourth year of the five-year contract he signed with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, and unless he responds like his team did last year — a seven-game run to win the NFC East title — some fans would just as soon not see him on the sidelines for a fifth season.
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It’s an understandable reaction — four years and a 24-33 record. Shanahan is paying the price for the dysfunctional years of the Vinny Cerrato reign — not just with his team, but with the fan base as well.
But if you call for the firing of Shanahan after this year, then you are no better than the owner who angered you for years with his meddling and influence. We all know that Shanahan told Snyder he would need five years to dig this franchise out of the grave the owner had dug for it.
You have to give Shanahan that fifth season. You have to see the end of this movie.
In order to do that, you have to give him a contract extension.
It doesn’t have to be a long-term marriage — a one-year extension would suffice, though there is no guarantee that Shanahan would agree to a deal that is clearly a hot-seat arrangement.
The coach told reporters Wednesday that he’s not worried about his future.
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“I’ve got a contract for next year,” Shanahan said. “I’ve got a contract this year. I’m concerned about our games. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been in this profession for a long time and your focus is on your job. And I say that with all due sincerity — it’s something I do not think about.”
I love when Shanahan issues qualifiers such as “with all due sincerity,” as if it is different from everything else he says.
“Any time I talk about a contract, if it’s with a player or coach, it’s always after the season,” he said. “Once we get started we don’t talk about it because we’ve got to focus on each game, and if you don’t focus on the game you take away from what you’re trying to accomplish.”
I would think the two objectives you are trying to accomplish — success and survival — are one in the same.
The contract extension is necessary because the language of locker rooms is money and contracts — who has one and for how much. The status of players is often measured by the size of their wallets, and players, no matter what the sport, look at the power of the coach based on the length of time they will have to deal with that coach. Free agents take that into consideration as well.
A lame-duck coach in the final year of his contract can be tuned out. A lame-duck coach has a hard time selling a free agent when that player has to be worried that his next coach may be Jim Zorn.
Shanahan hasn’t done much to help himself. He has never connected with Redskins fans and remains a stranger in a town that loves its football team. And he hired his son. It doesn’t matter that Kyle Shanahan is an excellent offensive coordinator and the offense is one of the best in the NFL. He’s the boss’s son. Nobody likes that.
He’s done some things right and some wrong. You could make the case that between the year of limited free agency, the lockout and the $36 million salary cap penalties, he’s never operated without at least one hand tied behind his back.
You can’t walk out of the movie now. It may be just getting good.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com