Redskins coach Mike Shanahan’s job security took a dramatic turn for the worse last week. The cause for concern has been not only the Redskins’ poor play, but also revelations about apparent dissension between Shanahan and owner Dan Snyder.
It has been a disastrous season for the Redskins, who finished 10-6 last year and won the NFC East for the first time since 1999.
If the Redskins (3-10) fire Shanahan, Snyder should consider several ex-Redskins as candidates who have NFL coaching experience. That includes Russ Grimm, Ken Whisenhunt, Greg Manusky and Todd Bowles. They played under coach Joe Gibbs in the glory days of the 1980s and early 1990s, when Super Bowl wins came every few years and the organization was one of the best in the NFL.
First, though, back to Shanahan and the turmoil surrounding the current Redskins.
Shanahan’s already suspect status as Redskins coach for 2014 did not get any better last Sunday when the Redskins were blown out 45-10 by the Kansas City Chiefs in the snow at FedEx Field.
The Redskins came out flat against the Chiefs and appeared unprepared to play for at least the third time this season. In losses against Philadelphia, Green Bay and Kansas City, Washington has been outscored by a total of 88-17 in the first half.
Now speculation is mounting that Snyder will fire Shanahan because of disagreements between the two.
According to a report by ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano that was published before last Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, Shanahan was prepared to leave the Redskins at the end of last season. The article states through a source that Shanahan disapproved of what he perceived to be favoritism Snyder was giving to star quarterback Robert Griffin III over other players.
In his press conference after the loss to the Chiefs, Shanahan refused to comment on the report that he considered resigning after last season, but he did not deny it.
Then Wednesday, Shanahan announced that backup Kirk Cousins would start Sunday at Atlanta and for the rest of the season, and Griffin would be deactivated to prevent him from getting injured.
Eyebrows were raised at the timing of the decision, since Shanahan had recently said Griffin needed to continue to play to prepare for next season. The Redskins were also eliminated from playoff contention a week before playing Kansas City, and the slippery conditions Sunday could have increased the chance for an injury to RGIII.
Maybe Shanahan really is trying to keep Griffin from getting hurt behind an offensive line that has surrendered 25 sacks in the last five contests. Or perhaps Shanahan is trying to show that he is still the boss of the team, although that status may be short-lived. Or maybe Shanahan is daring Snyder to fire him so he can collect the final $7 million left on his contract for next year.
If Shanahan and his son Kyle, the offensive coordinator, leave the Redskins, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett would almost certainly depart as well because a new coach would likely want to choose his own assistants.
In the 15 seasons Snyder has owned the Redskins they have only made the playoffs four times. Much of Snyder’s tenure has been marked by poor drafting, overpaying free agents who did not live up to expectations, and discord within the organization.
However, Snyder granted Shanahan complete control of the team when he hired him four years ago, and it appeared until recently that any problems the Redskins had were not between Snyder and Shanahan.
During the first Joe Gibbs era from 1981 to 1992 the Redskins name was synonymous with winning. They appeared in four Super Bowls and won three. Just as important, the organization and team were known for stability, character and hard work, not to mention talent great enough to create a dynasty. Things were done the right way.
The coaches placed a high priority on special teams. The players had a blue-collar work ethic. Gibbs and his staff had an ability to deal with strong-willed or quirky personalities such as Dexter Manley and John Riggins.
Shanahan’s hard line stance did not work well with quarterback Donovan McNabb in 2010, and for whatever reason, the talented tight end Fred Davis spent most of this season on the bench, even when he was healthy.
If the Shanahans do not return to Washington in 2014, should Snyder consider hiring a former Redskin who played during the Gibbs Super Bowl era in an attempt to restore some of the greatness of the past?
Snyder has already tried hiring a great college coach (Steve Spurrier), a former Super Bowl winning coach (Shanahan) and a coach with no head coaching experience (Jim Zorn) and not much has worked.
When Snyder lured Gibbs out of NFL retirement in 2004 it seemed like a coup. Gibbs led the Redskins to two of their four playoff appearances under Snyder. But the Hall of Fame coach also posted an overall losing record (30-34) in his second go-round with Washington.
Some of the Redskins who played under Gibbs during his first stint with Washington are now successful coordinators and assistants who are ready for NFL head coaching opportunities.
The former Redskins who are defensive coaches also played under defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon, who crafted stellar defenses with players that were not considered as talented as those on the Redskins’ offense. Petitbon was famous for confusing quarterbacks with halftime adjustments.
If Snyder hires one or more of the Redskins listed below on the coaching staff who learned under Gibbs and Petitbon, it just might turn the team’s direction around as long as Snyder runs the organization in a professional way.
Grimm started at left guard in all four of the Redskins’ Super Bowls under Gibbs. The former “Hog” was named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1980s and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Redskins often featured Grimm in a famous “counter-trey” play in which he and left tackle Joe Jacoby would pull from the left side to the right side to lead running plays for John Riggins, George Rogers and Earnest Byner.
Grimm coached the Redskins’ tight ends and then offensive linemen from 1992 to 2000. He coached Pittsburgh’s offensive line from 2001 to 2006 and earned a fourth Super Bowl ring after the 2005 season. From 2007 to 2012 Grimm was the offensive line coach of the Arizona Cardinals, helping them to their only Super Bowl appearance after the 2008 season.
In 2004 Grimm was considered for the Chicago Bears’ head coaching position. Grimm was nearly hired to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007, but narrowly lost out to Mike Tomlin. If Grimm was good enough to almost get the Steelers’ job at a time when they were competing for Super Bowls, why has he been overlooked several times as a potential Redskins head coach?
Grimm’s expertise would also likely improve the blocking of the offensive line, which has been one of the Redskins biggest weaknesses this season. The linemen in Shanahan’s scheme have helped Alfred Morris become a great running back but have failed in pass blocking, leaving RGIII on his back far too often.
A hiring of the no-nonsense Grimm would send a message that for the first time in a long time, the Redskins would be making the offensive line a priority, which would be critical in preventing RGIII from suffering more injuries.
Unlike the other current NFL assistant coaches who are former Redskins, Grimm has name recognition as a former player, as a Hall of Famer. He would have instant credibility with the players. Hiring a former offensive lineman as coach could also lay the groundwork for a return to an emphasis that successful teams are built with a solid foundation in the trenches.
The Redskins haven’t been consistently good for more than two decades, and a hiring of Grimm could restore some of the luster to a franchise that has gone from one of the most respected in the NFL to one with less stability than most teams.
Whisenhunt only played two games for the Redskins as a tight end in 1990, but he was successful as a head coach, when he led the Arizona Cardinals to their only Super Bowl after the 2008 season.
Though the Cardinals had stars Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Warner appeared washed up four years earlier with the New York Giants and he experienced a resurgence under Whisenhunt’s direction.
The Super Bowl loss to Pittsburgh was a remarkable achievement for Arizona considering the Cardinals have only made the playoffs five times since the notoriously cheap Bill Bidwell took over the team in 1972. Two of those playoff appearances came under Whisenhunt.
Whisenhunt was fired as Cardinals coach last year, but this season as offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, Whisenhunt has helped another quarterback improve his game after a couple of off-years. With Whisenhunt calling the plays, Philip Rivers has thrown 28 touchdowns and just nine interceptions while completing 70 percent of his passes, a personal best.
Whisenhunt was also the offensive coordinator of Pittsburgh from 2004 to 2006, helping the Steelers to a Super Bowl win over Seattle 21-10 after the 2005 season.
Casual or young fans may not remember Greg Manusky, who played middle linebacker for the Redskins from 1988 to 1990. But Manusky was one of the Redskins’ top tacklers in his final two years with the team, with 72 in 1989 and 88 in 1990, good for third and fourth on the team respectively despite starting fewer than half the games.
Manusky went on to play for Minnesota and Kansas City. After retiring, Manusky coached the Redskins linebackers in 2001. He then coached linebackers in San Diego, and became the defensive coordinator for San Diego, San Francisco, San Diego again and now Indianapolis.
In the two seasons Manusky has coached the Colts’ defense, Indianapolis has improved its scoring defense from 28th in the NFL in 2011 before Manusky arrived to 21st in 2012 and 16th so far in 2013.
Manusky switched the Colts from a 4-3 defense to a hybrid 3-4 scheme when he arrived in Indianapolis, still using elements of the 4-3 defense.
As a former standout special teamer for the Redskins, Manusky could also help bring Washington’s horrid special teams back to respectability.
Bowles started at free safety on the Redskins team that won Super Bowl XXII 42-10 over the Denver Broncos after the 1987 season. He played for the Redskins from 1986 to 1990 and again from 1992 to 1993, intercepting 14 passes for Washington.
Bowles has been coaching as an assistant in the NFL since 2000, and this season he became a defensive coordinator for the first time, for the Arizona Cardinals. His specialty is the secondary, one of the areas in which the Redskins desperately need help.
Bowles is presiding over a Cardinals defense that ranks fifth in the NFL in overall defense and seventh in scoring defense. At 8-5, Arizona is surprisingly in the playoff hunt in the NFC.
Thomas, the current secondary coach for Kansas City, didn’t play for the Redskins but coached their secondary from 1986 to 1994 when Washington won two Super Bowls.
Thomas, who had 58 career interceptions as a cornerback for Kansas City, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008, along with Redskins Art Monk and Darrell Green. Thomas’ specialty is one of the Redskins’ most glaring weaknesses.
At age 70, Thomas may be a little old to be a head coach, but he would be a strong candidate as a secondary coach if he could be lured away from Kansas City.
Byner started in Super Bowl XXVI after the 1991 season for the Redskins as Washington defeated Buffalo 37-24. Byner came two yards short of rushing for 1000 yards for three consecutive seasons for the Redskins in 1992. Byner was known as a strong runner who played with heart and was named as one of the 70 Greatest Redskins.
Byner is the running backs coach for Tampa Bay. He served in the same position for the Redskins from 2004 to 2007 and also for Baltimore, Tennessee and Jacksonville.
Williams led the Redskins to a 42-10 rout over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII after the 1987 season. The Redskins set a record by scoring five touchdowns in the second quarter, and Williams was named Super Bowl MVP.
Williams has not coached in the NFL but he coached Grambling State University, where he starred in the 1970s, from 1998 to 2003 and 2011 until September of 2013. Williams led Grambling to four Southwestern Athletic Conference titles in his eight full seasons as coach.
Williams could be a candidate to become quarterback coach for the Redskins and serve as an intermediary between Griffin and the new offensive coordinator. Williams had some rocky times as Tampa Bay’s quarterback before leading the Buccaneers to a surprising berth in the NFC championship game after the 1981 season, his fourth in the league.
Green was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008. One of the fastest cornerbacks in the history of the NFL, Green played 20 years for the Redskins on three Super Bowl teams, winning twice. He was famous for running down opposing running backs from behind such as Tony Dorsett and Eric Dickerson.
Green advised Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall on how to improve his game last summer and Hall is having one of his best years in recent memory. Green and other ex-Redskins could be brought in during training camp to work with players to improve their technique.
The Redskins have been downtrodden for most of the last two decades, only making four playoff appearances in that span. The perception of the franchise has also fallen from one of the best in the NFL to one of the worst. At times the organization has even been called a laughingstock.
Hiring former Redskins who played during the franchise’s Super Bowl years just might help the team regain respect and winning ways. They learned under Gibbs and have had success as players and head or assistant coaches.
A successful pairing might be Grimm as head coach with Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator, or Whisenhunt as head coach and Grimm as offensive line coach as it was in Arizona.
If Snyder fires Shanahan, he should consider hiring Grimm or Whisenhunt. They were successful coaches in Arizona, and before that they learned winning ways as coaches in Pittsburgh, and of course as players with the Redskins.
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