Saturday, November 13, 2010

McNabb benching sheds new light on Shanahan legacy

McNabb benching sheds new light on Shanahan legacy
Gregg Doyel National Columnist
Nov. 3, 2010

Mike Shanahan's treatment of Donovan McNabb earlier this week changes everything. After the way Shanahan screwed up the game, the explanation and his standing in the Redskins' locker room, it's time to reconsider Shanny's legacy -- from those Super Bowls in Denver to his preseason treatment of Albert Haynesworth.

It's time to ask a couple questions:

What if Mike Shanahan isn't a genius after all? What if he's just a mean-spirited, nepotistic little moron?

A smart coach -- a genius -- doesn't scan his sideline in the final two minutes of a one-possession game against Detroit and decide that the chubby dude wearing No. 8, a known loser named Rex Grossman, gives his team the best chance at a comeback victory.

A smart coach -- a genius -- doesn't have Grossman on the roster in the first place, unless it's to eliminate even the possibility of a quarterback controversy. Because if a team's backup quarterback is Rex Grossman, well, there is no controversy. Ever. The starter plays every down of every game, no matter who he is or how badly he's playing, because the team's quarterback could always be worse. It could be Rex Grossman, for god's sake.

But that's what Shanahan did. He benched McNabb, who wasn't having a great game against the Lions, no, but who wasn't playing all the badly either. McNabb had run for a team-high 45 yards, and he had completed 17 for 30 passes for 210 yards, one touchdown and one interception. That computes to a passer rating of 75.7. That's not brilliant, no.

But it's higher than any rating of any season in the seven-year career of Rex Grossman.

Benching McNabb for the ice-cold Grossman turned out about like you'd think. The score was 31-25 when Grossman walked onto the field. One play later, it was 37-25. That's all Grossman needed to work his magic -- one snap. He was hit, he fumbled, the Lions returned it for a touchdown.

One play. Nine seconds. Game over.

Impressive, even by Rex Grossman standards.

Afterwards, Shanahan lied once, and maybe twice, about the reason behind the benching. He initially said Grossman had a better understanding of the team's two-minute offense, given Grossman's time in 2009 with Houston under then-Texans, current-Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. A day later Mike Shanahan changed his story and said McNabb didn't have the "cardiovascular endurance" to run the two-minute offense with no timeouts.

Shanahan was calling McNabb fat, stupid or both.

Me, I'm calling Shanahan stupid. Because no smart coach screws up a franchise as quickly, unnecessarily and irrevocably as Shanahan screwed up the Redskins this week.

Makes me wonder about the man, all the way back to his days as a rising star in this league, hired as head coach by the Raiders in 1988 at age 35. What had Shanahan done to deserve such a job at such a young age? He'd been the offensive coordinator with Denver, which had one of the five best quarterbacks of all-time in John Elway. Doesn't take a genius to score points with Elway as the quarterback. Remember that.

Anyway, the Raiders bought it and hired Shanahan in 1988 -- and fired him less than two years later with an 8-12 record. No Elway, no genius.

Shanahan regained his genius tag as the offensive coordinator at San Francisco, where he somehow took a bunch of chicken crap -- Steve Young, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Ricky Watters -- and made chicken salad.

Shanahan then became coach of the Broncos. He was there 14 years and won two Super Bowls. Shanahan had Elway as his quarterback for four years -- and won two Super Bowls.

The 10 years without Elway? No Super Bowls. Just four playoff appearances. Just one playoff victory.

Genius? Not for winning one playoff game in 10 years.

Now he's with the Redskins, and to give credit where credit is due, the Redskins' 4-4 start beats the 4-12 record of 2009. But let's not go too far with the praise. The Redskins won eight games in 2008, and nine games in 2007. Much of that core remains, and Shanahan upgraded the quarterback position from Jason Campbell to Donovan McNabb.

Genius? Not for going 4-4.

Along the way Shanahan has made a mockery of Albert Haynesworth, who made it easy on the coach by cashing his $21 million bonus check in April, skipping offseason workouts and being unable to complete a baseline cardio test in preseason camp. Shanahan played hardball with Haynesworth, banning him from practice, and at the time Shanahan looked like a tough guy doing the right thing.

Now I'm wondering. Given the way he screwed up the McNabb situation from start to finish, I look back on that Haynesworth situation and I wonder about Shanahan's motives, about his understanding, about his intellect. Haynesworth is no sympathetic figure, but he did have knee swelling that required an MRI. He was out of shape, yes. But he was injured. Shanahan ignored that, and most of us ignored it along with him.

Now, I can't ignore anything. I can't ignore the way Shanahan took the Redskins job in January and almost immediately decided the best offensive coordinator he could hire was the only candidate from his own gene pool.

The Redskins locker room was rocked Sunday by the McNabb benching, but if I'm in that locker room, I'm starting to wonder about Kyle Shanahan, too. Looking back on it, what was the most important thing for the head coach to do in January -- hire the best guy for the job, or hire his son? We're to believe, of course, that the best guy for the job was his son. Coincidentally.

I don't believe in coincidences.

I don't believe in Mike Shanahan, either. Not anymore.

For more from Gregg Doyel, check him out on Twitter: @greggdoyelcbs

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