For 28 minutes Wednesday, Mike Shanahan stood behind a podium and in front of a dozen cameras at Redskins Park, passionately working through the circumstances that led to the decision to bench franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III in favor of Kirk Cousins.
It was not an undoing of his decision a year ago, when he allowed Griffin to play in the Washington Redskins’ playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks after aggravating his previously injured right knee. It was not an evaluation of Griffin’s performance, despite his markedly different results from a year ago.
And, as the coach insisted, it was not the next step in a well-orchestrated ploy to force his seemingly inevitable exit from the Redskins.
“If I’m trying to get fired, I’m not going to call up Dan Snyder and ask his opinion on a player,” Shanahan said. “I don’t have to. If he says no, I’m not going to go in that direction.”
Shanahan shared many details during the press conference, which was among the longest he’s had during his nearly four years with the Redskins.
Not a single question was asked about the Atlanta Falcons, the Redskins’ opponent on Sunday. The injury report, publicized on Wednesday, was disseminated for the first time by e-mail later in the afternoon. Coaching decisions and missed plays from the previous game, frequent topics of conversation in a normal week, have been rendered irrelevant.
Rather, the 33 questions Shanahan answered — and the few more he cut off with answers mid-stream — were focused on the coach’s treatment of his quarterbacks, his relationships with Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen, and the expectations he has for his players moving forward.
“I know it’s tough,” Shanahan said, “and they’re sometimes hard questions to answer, but they have to believe you’re doing the right thing for the organization.”
Shanahan has one year remaining on the five-year, $35 million contract he signed prior to the 2010 season, when he became the sixth full-time coach since Snyder purchased the Redskins in 1999.
The franchise has faced its share of follies during that period, and Shanahan’s hiring was supposed to quell the embarrassment it often faced as a result of Snyder meddling in football operations.
By running the decision to bench Griffin for the final three games of the season by Snyder and Allen, as Shanahan insisted he did each of the last two weeks, the appearance persists that Snyder is continuing to do have some role in the franchise aside from being its owner.
Shanahan said ordinarily, it wouldn’t.
“But would you ever make a decision like that, with your franchise quarterback that you gave up two [first-round picks and a second-round pick for], without having the courtesy to talk to the owner and say, ‘Hey, would you make this move?’” Shanahan said. “‘If not, this is your football team. I’m the head coach. I would not make it unless I’ve got your blessing,’ because I don’t want to do that to him if he feels it’s not the right thing to do.”
The idea to do so, Shanahan said, came from a gut feeling he had entering the Redskins’ game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, an eventual 45-10 loss that was the latest in a string of defeats that has ranked amongst the worst in Shanahan’s tenure.
While it’s a similar feeling to what he had in January, when Griffin aggravated his sprained right knee in the first quarter of the playoff loss to the Seahawks, the decision was not made as an attempt to set right what he admitted what he believed was wrong at the time.
“I could have kicked myself in the rear end,” Shanahan said. “Even though the doctor said, ‘Hey, he was fine, it was all stable, you don’t have to worry,’ and Robert said it was fine, I knew in my gut [that it wasn’t] as I watched him.”
Griffin, for his part, said he can’t think about being used as some type of pawn in a power struggle between the coaching staff and team management. Cousins, too, said he’s trying to ignore that possibility, focusing only on his start on Sunday, but believes it would be silly to sacrifice Griffin given his value to the organization.
“I do believe that Robert is the franchise quarterback here in Washington,” Cousins said. “He was drafted No. 2 overall. A lot of picks were traded to get him. Common sense would say that this is his team, and I’ve never wanted to take that away from him or do anything to undermine his role. And, I’ll say it again even as I start this week, I believe that at the end of the day, this is Robert’s team going forward into next season.”
Yet exactly what happens next season seems increasingly unclear.
“I think we all understand what goes on with the length of a contract, but that’s the nature of the National Football League,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got to perform every year, you’ve got to perform at a very high level, and you’ve got to do what you think is in the best interests of your organization.”
• Zac Boyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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