Plenty of NFL teams have watched this season go worse than expected, but none have handled it with the comedic timing and all-around dysfunction of Washington.
Coach Mike Shanahan authored the latest and most curious chapter in this saga in announcing that he was shutting down Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season. Following on the heels of a leaked story last week that Shanahan nearly parted ways with the team on the eve of the team’s playoff game last season, the prevailing narrative to emerge is that Shanahan wants owner Daniel Snyder to fire him and let Shanahan collect $7 million for not coaching next year. Snyder is by no means a sympathetic figure, but while Snyder is often misguided, he’s continually trying to do what’s best for his franchise. Shanahan meanwhile only tries to do what’s best for Mike Shanahan.
Shanahan’s ego seems to trump all else and is running the show here. It’s been a steady stream of ego-first stories since he graced the DC area with his “Ultimate Leadership” (Check out Gregg Easterbrook’s excellent skewering of Shanahan from his Denver days.) Shanahan can turn any QB into a star, in his mind, as long as the QB follows him unquestioningly. Questioning gets you a spot on the bench or another team; ask Bubby Brister, or Jake Plummer from Denver or Jason Campbell, Donovan McNabb, and now Robert Griffin from Washington. The Great and Powerful Shanahan is above questioning by mere quarterbacks.
Benching Griffin is about ego not football. Mike Shanahan’s ego called on Griffin to play hurt last season with the ultimate result being a torn ACL. For some reason, Shanahan’s ego is now concerned that treating Griffin as though he was the most instrumental player to the team, mortgaging the team’s future drafts to acquire him, and showing him that he was going to play regardless of injury status has made Griffin too comfortable in his position and not fearful enough of Shanahan’s unprecedented power and genius combination. Sounds a lot like reaping what you’ve sown.
Griffin’s benching followed Washington getting embarrassed by Kansas City 45-10. Publicly claiming, as Shanahan did, that this decision was for Griffin’s health, is a farce as they let Griffin go out in ice and snow against KC and left him in for another quarter after Washington had fallen behind by 30. His claim would have had a smidge of potential validity if he’d done it a week earlier, once Washington got eliminated from playoff contention.
It’s certainly a convenient way to pass the buck from himself…and his son, who happens to be the offensive coordinator…onto the players. A central tenet of NFL coaches in distress is to blame players for losses. You’ll never hear a losing coach in a post-game press conference say that “we had a bad scheme for the game. Our gameplan was wholly inaccurate and inadequate” or something similar. You’ll hear lots of quips about how “we need to execute better” or “we need to avoid turnovers” or other ways of shifting the blame onto the players and away from coaches.
The only winner here is the St Louis Rams who see their draft position improve with each downward spiral by Washington, as the Rams hold Washington’s first-round pick in the next NFL draft thanks to the trade for Griffin.
There can be no good ending here, and I can’t wait to see what Shanahan will do next in his attempt to get fired. He’s already set the franchise back years with his mismanaging of the QB position. Remember, he traded a 2nd a 4th round pick for McNabb, before dealing 3 1st rounders and a 2nd round pick for RG3. Washington’s roster is hollow and now Shanahan wants out.