Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Rant: Shanahan Latest of Recycled Coaches to Re-Surface

The Washington Redskins', um, eccentric, owner Daniel Snyder has made a big splash with his seventh head coaching hire in 11 seasons as owner. Of course, he made splashes with his third (Marty Schottenheimer), fourth (Steve Spurrier), and fifth (Joe Gibbs) coaches as well, so hiring Mike Shanahan is really nothing new for Mr. Snyder, as I like to call him.

Just days after firing his sixth head coach in 11 seasons (Jim Zorn), Snyder brought in Shanahan to run things on the field and also gave him the title of VP of Football Operations. This is interesting because Snyder had previously brought in former Raiders and Buccaneers' football guru, Bruce Allen, to be the Redskins' GM. Now, Shanahan has ultimate say over personnel matters. Yeah, THAT'S going to work!

You have three strong personalities running football operations here: Shanahan, Allen, and Snyder. There is a decent chance that Allen and Shanahan will work well together. There is a 100% chance that Snyder will mettle, undermine one or both of them, and that things will end badly. However, that's a topic for another day.

The issue here is that Shanahan was hired at all. Yes, he is a two-time Super Bowl champion, winning his last title the season before Snyder bought the Redskins (the 1998 season). Shanahan's Denver Broncos also won the title the year prior, and his team qualified for the playoffs seven times in 14 seasons )I won't even mention Shanahan's one season-plus coaching the Los Angeles Raiders for the crazy Al Davis back in the late 80's). He has a reputation for success, built on his two Super Bowl titles in Denver, but his teams were a combined 24-24 in his final three seasons as head coach, missing the playoffs all three times, and he was fired by Broncos' owner Pat Bowlen after the 2008 season.

Shanahan also has a reputation for being the smartest man he knows. He has clashed with players over the years and his run-first style seems to be out of favor with today's NFL. Still, Snyder handed him a five-year, $35M contract to coach his Redskins.

Of course, the last time Snyder brought in a control freak as his coach was in 2001, when Marty Schottenheimer was brought in, and that ended after one season. Few expect Shanahan to last much longer.

Just why Shanahan was hired is debatable, but should be no surprise. Teams are always searching for the "secret sauce" and bring in retreads who have had previous success in the hopes they can turn franchises around quickly. Take Bill Parcells. He is also a two-time Super Bowl champion, last winning in 1990 with the Giants. He has also coached in New England (1993-1996), New York Jets (1997-1999), and Dallas (2003-2006). After retiring in Dallas, he sat idle for one season and then went to the Miami Dolphins as EVP of Football Operations after the team's disastrous 1-15 2007 campaign, and helped orchestrate a turnaround to 11-5 the next season. Despite being 67 and in poor health, the Dolphins gave him a four-year deal to hopefully provide a quick fix. For now, it has worked well, and there are no rumors of him returning to the sidelines, but stay tuned.

Cleveland recently brought in Mike Holmgren to run their football operations. Since being re-established in 1999, the Browns have employed four coaches, have made the playoffs once, and are a complete mess. The hope is that Holmgren, despite having rather limited success in Seattle (where he had ultimate authority) will be able to capitalize on his three Super Bowl appearances (and one title - 1996) and give the Brownies a quick fix. Good luck there.

It doesn't stop with the NFL. In the NBA, the recycling of coaches - both successful and less - is almost legendary. Two coaches have been fired this season (Byron Scott by New Orleans and Lawrence Frank in New Jersey), and one is hanging by a thread (Vinny Del Negro in Chicago). Once Del Negro gets axed in Chicago, look for Scott and Frank to get a look.

The NHL has become just as "green" when it comes to coaching recycling. St. Louis fired Andy Murray last weekend after a disappointing start to the season, and the coach is expected to take a few months off. Of course, Anaheim is struggling as well, and coach Randy Carlyle is on a bit of a hot seat (despite winning the Stanley Cup in 2007). It is rumored that Murray would be a good fit with the Ducks, and he has experience in Southern California, coaching the Kings for a number of years last decade - of course.

None of the NBA and NHL coaches described in the examples above have the track record of Shanahan, Parcells, or Holmgren, but the examples display the coaching carousel in action.

We'll have to take the long view (defied in Snyder terms as one season) to evaluate whether or not Shanahan will work with the Redskins. At first blush, it seems like the Skins have managed to muck things up again and crowd themselves with strong personalities, the strongest of which is Snyder himself. If Snyder chooses not to intervene often, maybe it will work. Shanahan's monstrous ego is matched only by Snyder's narcissism, and it likely spells impending doom for one of the NFL's most storied franchises. It will certainly be fun to watch - unless you're a Redskins' fan. In that case, you're probably used to front office drama. Previous owner Jack Kent Cooke was one of sports' most colorful and eccentric characters, and Snyder's actions make him look almost milquetoast.

Of course, why Shanahan was hired in the first place, given his poor record during the final three years of his tenure, is debatable.

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