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Slate: Is Mike Shanahan a Good Coach?

  • Thread starter Lanky Livingston
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Lanky Livingston

Pretty well written - however I disagree with the notion of Jake Plummer as a "very good" quarterback.

Is Mike Shanahan a Good Coach?

Until he was pink-slipped this week, Jack Del Rio coached the Future Los Angeles/St. Louis Jaguars for nine seasons. He was tied for third (with Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis) on the NFL’s list of longest-tenured-coaches, behind Andy Reid, who I’m guessing won’t see a 14th season in Philly, and Bill Belichick, who’s in his 12th in New England and will probably stay until his head explodes after another stupid question from a reporter.

Not long ago, Mike Shanahan was second on the active list (behind the since-fired Jeff Fisher of Tennessee). Then, in 2008, after 14 years of what everyone in Denver believed was a lifetime appointment, the two-time Super Bowl winner was canned by the owner to whom he appeared joined at the hip, Pat Bowlen. Denver was shocked, the NFL was shocked, I was shocked.

After taking a year off, during which he learned to use email (he told me so), Shanahan agreed to take $35 million of Dan Snyder’s money to try to rebuild the Washington Redskins. It hasn’t gone especially well. The Redskins lost six straight games this season, the longest streak of the coach’s life—not of his 18-season NFL head-coaching career, of his life. They are tied for last in the NFC East with a 4-7 record. Since arriving in D.C. (well, actually Virginia for practices and Maryland for games), the coach whom Deion Sanders, on the back cover of Shanahan’s post-championship autobiography/how-to-succeed-like-me book, called “a magician,” is 10-17. Sonny and Sam are not thrilled.

There are lots of ways to parse an NFL coach’s career. Winning percentage is only the most obvious. Playoff record. Super Bowl rings. Branches on the coaching tree. Reputation among players and executives. Contribution to the evolution of the sport. Perception among fans. All are relevant to a coach’s biography. None is necessarily definitive. Shanahan’s second act in Washington hasn’t done much, yet anyway, to abet his unspoken quest to someday don a yellow jacket. But it got me thinking about what we expect from our pro football sideline generals, and how we evaluate them in the near and long terms.

After halting that losing streak with a 23-17 win in Seattle, the Redskins are enjoying a weeklong shift in the media narrative: Eh, maybe they’re not as bad as we thought. But for the previous two months, the quotidian issue for the sports babblers in D.C. has been why the Redskins suck. Is it their mediocre quarterbacks? Is it the rash of injuries? Is the offensive coordinator—Shanahan’s son, Kyle—an incompetent play-caller? Is his dad a bad coach who was always overrated? Or a terrible evaluator of talent? Or is he both?

The problem with trying to answer any of those questions is that, when it comes to coaches like Shanahan, the truth is as slippery as a wet football. I spent a summer on Shanahan’s fields and in his office working on a book about life in the NFL. I feel like I got to know the guy better than most writers and as well as most players. Which is to say very well (Shanahan’s personality and his philosophy are as straightforward as a handoff into the line) and not at all (there has to be more there, right?). He is unarguably a model of discipline and hard work, a control freak who marks time to the second and demands everyone in his organization “do the little things the right way” (possibly his most-repeated coachphrase). The plays might not work every time his players run them, but Shanahan’s football acumen, much of it acquired as the 49ers’ offensive coordinator in the early 1990s, was not perceived as a shortcoming. All coaches know the game. Players respected Shanahan’s command of it.

That’s not to say Shanahan isn’t without flaws, big ones, which (as with most coaches) tend to be magnified when things are going badly. So failing to secure a top-flight quarterback, or stubbornly believing that he can win without one, has led reasonably to the conclusion that Shanahan is a lousy judge of quarterback talent who only won in Denver when he had a great one (John Elway) or a very good one (Jake Plummer). The lack of playmakers among the Redskins’ receivers and running backs—and the lack of a top-flight quarterback—has led to the conclusion that Shanahan overvalues the importance of his extremely rigid system of play execution compared to the talent hired to execute it. (More temporally, injuries on the offensive line, and elsewhere, haven’t helped.)

click link for the rest of the article.
Mike Shanahan like Joe Gibbs is a much better coach than he is a talent evaluator. And since both men decided they were going to be the ones providing the players as well as coaching them, their results on the field were sometimes diluted by the lack of talent they had put in uniform.

Coaches also seem very willing to trade draft choices for veterans when they take on the GM role as well, and over time that penchant is what robs teams of depth and a chance at continued success.

Gibbs and Shanahan both made moves at quarterback immediately upon coming to Washington for older players (Brunell, McNabb) who were past their primes and cost valuable draft picks.

Then when both players showed their age and fragility with frequent injuries, the team was stuck in neutral with no Plan B, because no one else was available.

Bellichick has continued to garner accolades based on his reputation and the winning seasons NE has managed to string together, but the fact remains the Patriots are nowhere near as talented overall or as deep as they were in the mid-2000's when Scott Pioli and the front office were evaluating the talent in the draft and working with Bill in making final decisions.

Since then Bellichick has been hit or miss in the draft and a number of his free agent moves have failed to bring needed relief at crucial positions.

Although Brady (like Manning) continues to carry the offense without a star runner or receiver, you can see the difference in the defense, where the Patriots are now ranked #30.

Where are the Willie McGinnest, Asante Samuel, Richard Seymour, Ty Law type players this team used to bring in each season?
This is not about Billichick or Gibbs, its about Shanahan nose dive in the coaching ranks. Bowlen gave him all the latitude one needs to field a winner, he failed to restock his roster with players that could excel in his system. That's a fundamental flaw of talent evaluation. Its not whether he could ascertain what separates the skilled/talented players from average players, its that he placed the wrong guys in his system and could not get the most out of them. That would not be so bad, if only he knew what his errors were, and to that end, I don't think he ever got it, so Bowlen finally had enough.

Shanahan has yet to recover from his regression, and missed badly on our QB situation. Now he's in denial, just like in Denver. That's all you need to know, can he right the ship? From the path he's on, I don't see it. Here's how I see it. Shanahan is attempting to purge the team and rebuild the fundamentals by building the foundation first. Except he has omitted the most important aspect of a solid foundation, the cornerstone. You can't build the house without the cornerstone, i.e., the franchise QB. And he is trying to, won't work, can't work. What is the single most telling sign that Shanny doesn't get it? Its his emphatic denail that we are rebuilding. He denies that. Everyone in the league, and at home knows the truth.
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