Mike Shanahan: A Peek Behind the Curtains
In the main hallway of the main building at Redskins park, a crowd is gathered. They are primarily fans, most of them diehards, and they’re shooting the breeze with their peers and colleagues. It’s mid-Spring, a season not often associated with football, but the drafting of Robert Griffin III is still fresh in everyone’s minds.
Soon, a man appears amongst the crowd. He is extremely rosy-cheeked with silver hair and his small, almost petite-ish frame makes him appear to be these fans’ junior.
But, in fact, he is not. He is Mike Shanahan — the man behind the switchboard of the team everyone in that hall idolizes.
You see, lost in all the ‘RG3′ hype is the fact that this town, this FOOTBALL town, still very much belongs to Mike Shanahan. Their losing record and his often tight-lipped press conferences have forced some to draw conclusions about the man. But in no Redskins coach’s term — with the possible exception of Joe Gibbs — have the terms ‘era’, ‘regime’, and ‘administration’ been more accurately applied.
So what does a smallish man with a perceived big ego say to fans when its billed as him “letting his guard down”? The answers might surprise you.
I had an opportunity to attend this rare occasion where a select group of fans crowded the team meeting room at Redskins Park for a Chalk Talk Q&A. Here are some of the more notable exchanges:
Of course, the new franchise quarterback was fresh in many fans’ minds and they didn’t shy away from asking questions. One person wanted to know what the trade process was like in securing the second overall pick in order to take the quarterback from Baylor. Shanahan admitted that Washington new they were in a de facto bidding war with one other team but weren’t 100% sure who it was. Only later did we learn that it appears to have been Cleveland.
But the really interesting comments came later in the session. One fan asked the head coach how a more mobile and athletic quarterback could fit the ‘Shanahan System’. Rather than taking the question head on, Shanahan actually spent the first half of the answer debunking the myth that a Shanahan system even exists. He credited most of the perception to Donovan McNabb’s remarks about his time in Washington leading up to the draft. Then, he made an interesting argument as to how Robert Griffin III actually IS his type of quarterback.
He pointed out that, in all his years of football, he has only had five quarterbacks I believe that have played at least two seasons for him. Guys like John Elway, Steve Young, Jake Plummer, and Jay Cutler obviously had their differences, but Shanahan made the observation that the one common denominator between all these quarterbacks was their ability to move outside the pocket and extend the play. In that regard, RG3 may be his dream prospect.
A Quarterback NON-Controversy
With all the stirring of the “drama pot” the sports media did with the fact that Washington also took quarterback Kirk Cousins in the fourth round, you’d almost have to expect a fan to ask him about it. And only one question in, someone did.
The question was very simple: why did you take two quarterbacks? And Shanahan’s response, although a bit wordy, was fairly direct as well. He said that he considers the quarterback position to be the most important position in football. And, seeing as how he values it so much, he believes it’s better to have three “first string” quarterbacks than a first-string, second-string, and third-string quarterback. He wasn’t saying that he believes Robert Griffin III is no better than Cousins or even Rex Grossman, but he was saying that Cousins and Grossman, at least in his eyes, are starting-caliber quarterbacks that can be ready to step up in a moment’s notice.
Shanahan knows RG3 is his starting quarterback, but he also knows that injuries happen. Accordingly, he wants to have immense depth at the quarterback position and he believes he has attained it by resigning Grossman and drafting Cousins.
Keeping it in the Family
Taking a turn closer to home, a couple of fans asked the coach what it was like working with his son, Kyle, who is the team’s offensive coordinator. And, to be honest, the level of candidness Shanahan showed on the subject was pretty astounding.
When one fan asked, “Have you ever had a major argument about coaching with Kyle and, if so, what was it about and how was it resolved,” Shanahan retorted back, “Well I just call my wife, and let the REAL boss sort it out.”
Kidding aside, Shanahan actually admitted he never believed he would work with his son. Being so close to him, he had seen, as he put it, “the good, the bad, and the ugly”. In order to work with him, Mike says he told Kyle he had to be the play-calling offensive coordinator of a Top 5 NFL offense two consecutive years in a row. As it turned out, Kyle accomplished this right at the time Daniel Snyder brought Mike on as a head coach.
Even then, Mike admits he believed it wouldn’t happen. He saw Houston’s offense as so complete and well-rounded that Kyle wouldn’t want to leave such a beneficial position. Instead, Kyle told his dad it had always been his dream to coach with his dad. He didn’t care if the road was expected to be bumpy. If Mike was coming into Washington, so was he.
Scouting while Coaching
Most of the interesting answers Shanahan gave were naturally set up by good questions. But on one rather generic question, Shanahan gave a level of insight he didn’t even expect to share.
A fan exclaimed his concern with the depth at corner back and offensive tackle and asked the coach if he believed he had adequately addressed the need or, if not, what he was planning on doing. Almost immediately, Shanahan took the opportunity to sing the praises of recent free agent signee Cedric Griffin.
Shanahan said that he walked away from Washington’s game against Minnesota on Christmas Eve rather impressed with the then Viking cornerback. As he put it, Griffin’s combination of size and a well-rounded skill set made him a guy Shanahan was very much interested in. So when he became available during the offseason, the Redskins pounced on the opportunity.
Stars of Tomorrow
As the session began to wind down, one fan in the front row asked the coach to name a few players fans weren’t paying a lot of attention to that he expected to have big seasons for the team moving forward. This was the only question during the hour-plus session where Shanahan actually took the time to pause and think about an answer.
While he admitted he thought there were a handful of guys that set the criteria set forth by the man, Shanahan was quick to sing the praises of Niles Paul. In case you aren’t familiar with him, Paul is a wide receiver the Redskins took in the fifth round of last year’s draft. However, Shanahan envisions moving Paul over to tight end where he would assist the incumbent Fred Davis and Chris Cooley.
So what does Shanahan see in Paul? Two words: Shannon Sharpe. That’s right, Shanahan believes Paul’s size, speed, and hands draw a lot of parallels to one of the greatest tight ends to have played. If that’s even REMOTELY true, Redskins fans have a lot to look forward to.
NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Follow him @bclienesch!
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