Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Shanahan's the Man

Washington 24, Bleak Future 0

The future, to quote a famous man in Washington history, is now. Redskins Vice President Bruce Allen introduced Mike Shanahan as the new head coach with this phrase: "We got our man."

What immediately struck me about the press conference, aside from the absence of Super Bowl trophies on display, was the businesslike atmosphere presented by Allen and Shanahan. Owner Daniel Snyder, who has introduced each new coach to the press was conspicuously absent. Allen briefly reminded the press of the qualities he outlined in a prospective coach, including a knowledge of Redskins history, said Shanahan's name, then let the new head coach field the questions.

To his credit, Shanahan said what would be expected, such as how great the opportunity is to work with the franchise, what a great relationship he has with Snyder, and so forth. When it came to Clinton Portis, a runner he coached in Denver, Shanahan took a more evaluative tone,
saying that he liked what Portis showed early last season (when the Skins were a promising 6-2), but there need to be some reviewing of tape and off season work to review him and other veterans. Contrast that to his thoughts on Jason Campbell: Shanahan said he was "looking forward to working with Jason" and thinks that "his best years are still ahead." Draw whatever conclusions you may; I'm inclined to believe that Mr. Campbell may be in burgundy in gold longer than Mr. Portis. Either way, the new head coach certainly has his hands full with the developing infighting between his team captain and star running back. Shanahan made a point to say that if problems develop, they will stay within the team and that they "will be strongly disciplined."

At the heart of the pathetic on-field results with the franchise is a deadly combination of ownership interference and poor player selection. According to the new head coach, he will technically have final say, but plans to work closely with Bruce Allen in such decisions. Shanahan sounded like he would take a methodical approach to reviewing his assistant coaches and players. Again, Snyder's lack of presence at the podium spoke volumes about who and how this team will chart its course.

My favorite Shanahan quote came right at the beginning of the presser. He said, to the press, the organization, and the fans, "I promise I won't disappoint you."
We'll see.

Monday, January 04, 2010

End of the Zorn Quo

To the surprise of no one except, apparently, Jim Zorn, the Redskins officially acknowledged the failure of 2009 with his dismissal as head coach early Monday morning. Owner Daniel Snyder (His "Snydely Whiplash" moniker will be reserved until he makes his first team-sabotaging move.) issued the following statement regarding Zorn's firing:
"This has been an extremely difficult season for our organization and for the fans. Bruce Allen spent many hours examining the football operations, and we are both determined to do whatever it takes to build a championship team. That process begins today.

"No one in the organization is satisfied with our record over the last two years, and I am sure that Jim would concur with that statement. It has been painful for him too. I certainly accept responsibility for mistakes that I have made. I am hopeful that our fans will accept my commitment and pledge to deliver a franchise that can compete in the NFC East every season.

"Finally, I am mindful that this is a tough day for Jim and his family, and I do want to wish him success in his next endeavor."
What Redskins fans may appreciate about Snyder's statement is the recognition of a few realities. First, the words "extremely difficult" and "painful" were used. It's likely politics at work (he couldn't call it Cirque de Suck as suggested here) but it at least says that, yes, seeing the Redskins become the laughing stock of the league really hurts. And for Jim Zorn, the process of being hired for a specialist job, unexpectedly promoted to leader, stripped of his specialist work, then have replacements interviewed while his name's still on the door...well, that hurts too.

I commented on the Official Redskins Blog that Zorn was handed Mission Impossible and nonetheless handled the absurdities of his owner's whims with a high level of class and dignity. As Zorn handles this "tough day," he can at least leave Redskins Park knowing that he never gave in publicly to the nonsense surrounding him. Some other team will want that in a quarterback coach.

Second, Snyder finally stood up and said that he accepts responsibility for the mistakes he has made. That is a profound admission from a man who in week nine of the season, with his team 2-6, made his only public statement about the Redskins, saying cryptically that "we're disappointed and embarrassed." For the owner to not only admit that there have been mistakes with the Redskins (which is like saying that Tiger Woods has made some bad choices), but to say that those mistakes were his speaks volumes about where the Redskins have been and where they will be going. Or at least think they are going. Courageously saying (to read between the words) that the atmosphere at Redskins' Park with the shuffling of personnel, "general manager" players, and lack of accountability is honorable.

Now, of course, Snyder doesn't enumerate the mistakes he's made. And he likely never will. But the third point made in the statement should help smooth over the omission, give Redskins an olive branch and a reason to consider renewing their season tickets. He said that he hopes fans will accept his "commitment and pledge" to deliver a competitive team. This is well said because it reminds fans of the goal that has been absent since his tenure and, most importantly, it humbly suggests that fans may not receive his offering. He is admitting not only that he's screwed up, but that maybe, just maybe he deserved the "Fire Danny!" banners on 495, the Burgundy Revolution web posts, and the empty seats at FedEx Field.

Hours after the press release, General Manager Bruce Allen held his first press conference and signaled a seismic symbolic change in the direction of the team. After stating that Zorn was "disappointed, maybe surprised" by the firing, Allen quickly moved to discussion of the future. He said that "we need to change the way we do business" and that "the status quo has to end." Allen would not take the bait on questions about Mike Shanahan or any other head coaching candidate, simply stating that "we will look for someone who can lead these men to levels that they haven't played to before....and understands Redskins history."

Allen made clear that the 2010 season begins now. Let's see if the Redskins begin the season with the right people, in the right places, creating the right results.

Rumors circulate that Redskins One, the private charter jet of Daniel Snyder, touched down in Denver, Colorado early Monday morning. And what precious cargo might it be receiving...?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Week Seventeen: A Fitting End

Washington 20, San Diego 23

It was as if the Washington Redskins wanted to leave its fans with a solemn, stinking reminder of the inferior mess of the 2009 season. Midway through the fourth quarter, Washington held a one-point lead and effectively drove twelve plays to reach San Diego's three yard line. A touchdown wouldn't have immediately won the game, but it would have forced San Diego, whose playoff-bound team fielded its second and third string, to score a touchdown and two-point conversion for overtime.

So what happened? After failing on third and one, Currently Packing Coach Zorn called the second of his three time outs to set up his fourth down attempt. The offense lined up with a heavy package...and Derrick Dockery, one of the few veteran offensive linemen still able to play, commited a false start penalty. Faced with the opportunity to display a win-at-all cost courage (that critics say was absent in losses to Philadelphia and Dallas), Zorn elected to kick a field goal.

San Diego's offensive backups, led by household name Billy Volek, needed just ten plays in three minutes to reach first and goal at the Washington one yard line. During the drive, cornerback Justin Tryon had an interception hit him between the numbers that would have ended the game. And just as they did in Detroit, the Redskins spent a precious timeout after standing around during a booth review because they didn't have the right personnel on the field. Then, the proper personnel cannot cover fullback Mike Tolbert, and he easily received the go-ahead pass.

With no timeouts left and just 35 seconds left to save the sliver of dignity left in Washington, Campbell threw passes that sailed over his receiver's heads. The final play of the 2009 season showed Jason Campbell, under light defensive pressure, winding up and launching a pass...that sailed so far out of bounds that it likely struck a Chargers fan in the fifth row.

After all the ridiculousness of this year, there was the smallest of hopes that the Redskins would send off this season with a win. After all the talk from players and staff of how much winning a fifth game would mean, there was the possibility that the Redskins would play with enough heart to at least hold their heads high in January after a forgettable December.

No, this is the Season of Discontent, one some call the worst season ever, if not in decades. For at least the next six months, the Redskins have forced their fans to have to find an answer to "Y'all couldn't beat San Diego's benchwarmers?!?"

Some analysts have dismissed this game as a glorified preseason contest, a forgettable footnote to the season. I disagree. You know what the Kansas City Chiefs, a 3-12 franchise with a coach on the hot seat and no reason to care, did on Sunday against a Denver team fighting for a playoff spot (with its starters, no less)? They went on the road, played with pride, and had their best output of the season in defeating the Broncos, 44-24.

It should be professionally demoralizing for Washington to eye Kansas City with envy, except for the fact that the 'Skins weren't good enough to beat them at home.

And thus the season draws to a close. The clock is ticking on Jim Zorn; reports from ESPN, the Associated Press, and heck, even my Aunt Gladys say that he will be fired by Tuesday. In his last interview as coach with the Redskins' broadcast crew, Zorn found the right word to sum up this game, this season, and the taste in every fan's mouth:


OFFENSE: B. Never mind the final score. Facing the Chargers' defensive starters, the offense had just one decent drive and zero points.
DEFENSE: F. Never mind the statistical rankings. If your starters can't stop their backups to win a game, then you have failed. The secondary has 17 takeaways in 16 games, none for a touchdown. That's the worst in NFL.
Sp. TEAMS: C. When it mattered least, Antwaan Randle-El had his best return of the year, 43 yards. He then reverted to form and returned the next punt for one yard.
COACHING: F. In the NFL, at the end of the day success is measured not just in wins, but how you lost. This game was yet another (of the six or more) that was easily within grasp for the coaches but slipped away.
OWNERSHIP: F. Snydely emasculated Zorn mid-season with the arrival of Sherm in the Box, then sabotaged any remaining confidence by interviewing Mike Shanahan and Jerry Gray with games yet to play.

The Redskins begin the arduous task of repairing all that is wrong with this franchise. Post-Zorn Reviews will follow as developments warrant; I will also review the intriguing question of whether Jason Campbell's final series in burgundy and gold will be that four-incompletion laugher in San Diego.

I will add that for as frustrating, bewildering, and downright sickening that this season has been, I count it a pleasure to have resurrected the Redskins Review for this year. If nothing else, my favorite team is the Britney Spears of professional football: a high-profile, moderately-talented soap opera that may never be as attractive as it used to be. However, it never leaves its audience without something to talk about. Here's to the Redskins winning the 2010 Offseason Super Bowl!