QUOTE: “There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…not going all the way, and not starting.” — Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta
I’m a huge fan of writer John Irving’s work. From his classic book, “The World According to Garp,” to “The Cider House Rules” to my personal favorite, “A Widow for One Year,” he starts his books all in the same manner — which is to write his last sentence first. Once he has the ending in mind, Irving then proceeds to write his stories backward — which is rather unorthodox but seems to work well for him. Today, former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan takes over the Washington Redskins (officially — I think this deal has been done for two months) and begins to rebuild, restore and reinvigorate this once proud franchise. And much like John Irving, Shanahan already knows the ending — he must produce a Super Bowl champion.
Shanahan took the last year off from the game, but he was far from being off. Setting up an office in the Denver Tech Center, he took a step back from the daily grind, which allowing him to move forward. He visited training camps last summer to watch other teams practice and prepare. He searched for new ideas, new methods and new ways to make him better prepared for his final run as a head coach in the NFL. Shanahan is very smart, and with that comes the curiosity to learn new ways, to not be reluctant to change, to be willing to step outside the comforts he has grown accustomed to. This step back will help the Redskins move forward.
Shanahan will have the power to control the players — no longer will the door to the general manager’s office be swinging open to welcome players complaining about practice or working too hard. Everyone will report to Shanahan, and that ultimate power will place accountability on the entire organization, specifically the players. Owner Daniel Snyder will have his ideas — but he will clearly defer to the coach. New GM Bruce Allen will also have ideas, but he’ll also defer to Shanahan. Allen is not going to buck the chain of command, no matter how much he makes it appear at today’s press conference that they both have equal power. They do not have equal power — Allen will work for Shanahan as he would for any head coach. Being the son of a coach makes Allen empathetic to coaches, and his job will be to make sure the owner doesn’t interfere and that he does what Shanahan wants done.
George Young, the former GM of the New York Giants, once said to me, “The hungry soldier is the best soldier.” Shanahan might want to take that advice to heart. Often times, Snyder’s large pocketbook allows the organization the freedom to pay coaches large sums of money, so Shanahan must be careful that coaches, like players, are not coming for the big paycheck. Everyone shouldn’t feel content with being paid; they must work very hard to earn their money and maintain their hunger for achievement.
Shanahan must drive this organization. He must re-establish a work ethic and show everyone what it takes to win a Super Bowl. He can’t overpay everyone as they start out or else he runs the risk that everyone is content. In Denver, there was never a fear of being fired because Shanahan supposedly had a great relationship with the owner, but as time moved on, that relationship went south. In the NFL, most organizations run best when there’s some fear in the air — remember, fear does the work of reason — for players and staff members. I’m not suggesting that he run a boot camp inside the Redskins offices like Eric Mangini in Cleveland. What I’m suggesting is that he keeps people on edge and not over-hire and overpay. Leaner and meaner worked for John Candy in “Stripes”; it can work for the ‘Skins as well.
To get to the Super Bowl, the ‘Skins must find a way to rebuild their talent base on the offensive line and get consistent production from their quarterback. Shanahan can make a difference in both of these areas. With a year off, he has a better focus and a more determined outlook, and he has his edge back. Being fired might not be the best thing that ever happens in anyone’s life, but it can help you to refocus and retool — something Shanahan has done.
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For more on Shanahan’s arrival in Washington, check out this article from Bleacher Report.