- The Washington Times
Monday, December 30, 2013

Inside the press room at Redskins Park, long strips of Scotch tape held shades against the four windows and two doors in front of the building.

Not long before 11 a.m. Monday, reporters in the sweltering room were warned not to look out the patched-up windows, shoot photos or venture outside.

The reason idled 20 yards away next to the main building: a black Audi with a suitcase in the trunk waiting to whisk Mike Shanahan out of the complex for the final time.

Staffers wielding walkie-talkies clustered around the sedan like make-believe Secret Service agents protecting someone other than the deposed leader of a 3-13 football team.

A team intern stationed at the room’s front door, walkie-talkie in hand, shrugged. This was a security issue, they were told, not one involving public relations.

Mr. Shanahan drove past the complex’s gate at 10:49 a.m., less than two hours after owner Dan Snyder fired the man once regarded as the organization’s savior. Mr. Shanahan waved to television cameras clustered outside the gate near the red mud and torn-up grass and, after four seasons, 40 losses and $35 million, disappeared into Northern Virginia’s sprawl.

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The Scotch tape on the media room windows, hastily put into place by team staffers after inquisitive media peeled back the shades, remained.

Although four other NFL teams fired head coaches in straightforward fashion Sunday and Monday, the dismissal of Mr. Shanahan matched the circuslike atmosphere that has dogged the franchise over the past decade and a half.

Earlier in the day, the ex-coach was caught in a traffic jam of media barred from entering the facility until 9 a.m. The familiar masts of satellite trucks towered over the complex. During general manager Bruce Allen’s press conference, the microphone to ask questions was taken from one local television reporter.

On a day when Mr. Snyder pledged in a written statement that Redskins supporters deserved better, the organization seemed beset by the same mentality that has left it in perpetual chaos. The more the Redskins talked about change precipitated by Mr. Shanahan’s forced departure, the more they seemed the same.

Since Mr. Snyder purchased the Redskins in 1999, they have gone 104-136 and been outscored by opponents in 10 of the 15 seasons. The next head coach will be the eighth in the owner’s tenure. None has lasted more than four seasons in an organization where instability is the lone constant.

They have thrown big money at players and coaches. Brought in future Pro Football Hall of Famers and, in Mr. Shanahan’s case, two-time Super Bowl winners. A hotshot college coach like Steve Spurrier failed as much as little-known assistant Jim Zorn. Nothing has worked for any extended period.

Seven of the past 11 seasons have ended in double-digit losses. The troubles transcend coaching staffs, playing styles, on-field personnel and front-office staffers. Dysfunction, the sort of anonymous finger-pointing that occupied much of the season’s final month, is more familiar than playoff victories. The Redskins have achieved just two of those during their 15 years under Mr. Snyder.

But fundamental change, the type to divorce the organization from the yearslong cycle of off-field dramatics and on-field woes, remains elusive.

In tones reminiscent of a salesman, Mr. Allen insisted that an overhaul of the front office wasn’t needed. He denied that the group had structural problems. Mr. Allen, hired in 2009 after time with the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, doesn’t have a background in player evaluation, but will assume the final say in personnel decisions that was among Mr. Shanahan’s duties. The responsibility of Mr. Allen’s lieutenants, Morocco Brown and Scott Campbell, will expand.

“Our front office believes we have the right people in place,” Mr. Allen said.

The message to a weary and cynical fan base was simple: Trust us. That was a message heard many times before in Washington. The sell is difficult, even for Mr. Allen’s silver tongue.

This is the same front office, for example, that assisted Mr. Shanahan in assembling a roster outscored by 144 points en route to losing eight straight games to finish the season.

Was Mr. Shanahan an obstacle to the organization’s return to the distant days of success? Or, instead, a high-profile symptom of larger, longer-term issues in an organization loath to acknowledge mistakes?

The Redskins will retreat to the same basic formula that has served them under Mr. Snyder as Mr. Allen opens the search for another head coach. Left unanswered in Monday’s slew of written statements and press conferences, though, is whether the configuration that hasn’t worked thus far will ever lead to sustained success.

Otherwise, the latest reinvention of the Redskins could be nothing stronger than a flimsy strip of Scotch tape.

• Nathan Fenno can be reached at nfenno@washingtontimes.com.

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