Ahh, the worst kept secret in the NFL. Mike Shanahan will be the next coach of the Washington Redskins. I've largely stayed out of this discussion thus far because 1) I don't have any inside sources within the Redskins and therefore have no actual evidence as to whether the team is pursuing him or not and 2) I think it's kind of weird that whether it's Chris Mortenson, Adam Schefter, Jay Glazer, Peter King, Pro Football Talk, or even the Washington Post's own Jason Reid, they're all inferring that the Shanahan to Redskins Park rumor is all but a done deal even though the current coach, Jim Zorn, hasn't actually been fired.
Now I'm not saying it won't happen, there's been too many reports to the contrary to think Jim Zorn has any shot at returning as head coach (I think the performance on the field this season confirms this). But this Shanahan stuff reached its tipping point courtesy of a gchat from my ex-girlfriend.
She was at a holiday party and heard from a family member/family friend (I forget at this point) that Shanahan was not only going to be the next coach in Washington, but also had already convinced an assistant coach from the Denver Broncos to join him in Washington. She felt compelled to ask if I wanted the contact info.
Being a reporter, I said yes, but it got me to thinking. If a girl, who I know for a fact has little to no interest in the Washington Redskins (especially since she no longer likes me), not only thinks Mike Shanahan is coming to DC but that he's bringing assistants with him already, well that was my sign to chime in.
What are my feelings on Shanahan becoming the next coach of the Redskins? Well, I agree he'll be an upgrade over Jim Zorn, and based on Super Bowl wins, he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the other hot commodities on the coaching market. But when I think elite coach who's going to lead the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl, the crusty face of Shanahan is not the image that comes to mind.
Just look at his career record. If you throw out his two Super Bowl seasons with John Elway, he's got a decent 120-92 overall mark. Now I know what you're saying right off the bat. How can you just throw out two seasons that happen to be the pinnacle of his career? So he had one of the game's great quarterbacks, big deal, he still coached 'em up and it was on the downside of Elway's career.
My response is Elway had perhaps the best last two seasons of any great quarterback ever (barring two straight Favre Super Bowls in Minnesota). And, to me, no matter what the Redskins do this offseason, there's little to no chance they end up with someone approaching Elway's caliber. Whether it's Jason Campbell returning or a draft pick like Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, or Jimmy Clausen, I just don't see an all time great in the Redskins' pipeline any time soon. So if (and according to everyone it's more like when) Shanahan becomes coach, he's going to be handing the keys to his offense to a signal caller with less than Elway credentials.
Now onto the playoff record. Again, if we eliminate Elway's 7-0 postseason run during those two Super Bowl seasons, Shanahan's a disastrous 1-5 (ok, disastrous might be a little strong but I'm trying to make a point here). In 16 seasons as an NFL head coach, the guy has made it past his first playoff game just three times (and that includes those two seasons with our man, Elway).
So maybe I don't appreciate the gloriousness that is Mike Shanahan, but I just don't get the rush to anoint him head coach as quickly as possible. Add on the fact that he'll be 58 in August and has never coached a team coming off a 4 (okay, maybe 5) win season. Should he be a candidate? Absolutely. But shouldn't the Redskins actually go through a legitimate interview process, and perhaps even wait until after the playoffs are over so they can talk to some of the up-and-coming assistants on the teams that, well, to be blunt, played a a whole lot better than the Skins this year?
Like maybe someone such as Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. He actually has first hand experience of what it takes to quickly turn around a loser. Under his watch, the Bengals have gone from the 27th-best defense in 2007 to the 12th-best in 2008, and now, heading into the final week of the regular season, they've got the fourth-best defense in all the NFL and it's the main reason the Bungles are going to be AFC North champions this year. And if you watched Hard Knocks this summer, you would have seen a coach that's both tough as nails and relatable at the same time (and that was before his wife tragically passed away in the middle of the season. Don't take it from me, take it from Peter King of Sports Illustrated:
On HBO's "Hard Knocks'' last summer, Zimmer, to me, came across like a head coach in waiting. I've always known him to be a very good teacher; what I didn't know was how naturally hard-nosed and disciplined he is. It just flows from him, and it's not forced. In the midst of his greatest tragedy, he is building a solid case to be an NFL head coach. If you can turn the Bengals' defense into a top 10 NFL defense, you deserve a bushel of interviews. Maybe you don't deserve a job over the four Super Bowl coaches on the street, but you deserve an airing.
Or, instead of satisfying the Rooney Rule by interviewing your cornerbacks coach, Jerry Gray, who couldn't even get the University of Memphis job last month, why don't you interview an African-American from outside the organization, and one that has legitimate credentials to become a head coach? Maybe follow the trend that has been successful in Pittsburgh, and to a certain extent, Denver, and go after a young coach like Leslie Frazier, the defensive coordinator in Minnesota. He was the successor to Tomlin in Minnesota, and from all accounts, will be a head coach in the next year or two. Here's how Schefter describes him:
Had Denver not hired Josh McDaniels as its head coach, Frazier probably would have been its next choice. He is a mix of the men he has worked for, Mike Ditka and Tony Dungy, not to mention the man who succeeded Mike Tomlin as the Vikings' defensive coordinator.
Or hell, if we want to appease to Snyder's obsession with making money and tricking fans into liking him by capitalizing off events that happened almost 20 and 30 years ago (bringing back Gibbs, hiring George Allen's son), why aren't they bringing in Russ Grimm, a former Hog and assistant coach for the Skins who is currently the assistant head coach in Arizona.
The point here is that there's lots of options, it shouldn't just be Shanahan or bust. Now, there are some out there that have the legitimate argument of "Well, we went the assistant coach route with Jim Zorn and look how that turned out." But seriously, if you don't recall, Zorn was a quarterbacks coach in Seattle and was originally hired as the team's offensive coordinator. He only became head coach after Snyder and Cerrato scared off all the worthy candidates (I mean, looking back, who the hell hires an offensive and defensive coordinator before the actual head coach).
Maybe I'll look back on this post when Mike Shanahan is holding up that Lombardi trophy in 2012 and shake my head in disgust at my apprehension towards the Shanahan era. But as of today, with this franchise's track record under Dan Snyder, I have a weird feeling we're going to see Mike Shanahan sign a five-year contract worth in the neighborhood of $6 million a year, and then four years later, resign his post after several mediocre to average seasons. But let it be known now, the Redskins have/had options during this coaching search, though they apparently have chosen not to pursue any of them.