Mike Shanahan spoke about his four tumultuous years as the head coach of the Washington Redskins with a sense of calm — like a man who was finally free to tell everyone about the asylum known as Redskins Park.
He confirmed the worst fears of Redskins fans — that the owner, Dan Snyder, has continued to meddle in everyday football affairs, and that the quarterback, Robert Griffin III, is every bit the self-absorbed diva he has appeared to be.
None of this was a surprise — but to hear it right from Shanahan so explicitly was sort of like the bad news you get from a doctor after tests confirm your worst fears.
He told Kevin Sheehan and I on our show, “The Sports Fix” on ESPN 980 on Wednesday about how Griffin, coming off his rookie year, an NFC East title and a second reconstructed knee following the memorable playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, walked into Shanahan’s office and told the coach who had won two Super Bowls and coached the likes of Steve Young and John Elway that he — not the coach — was calling the plays.
“He actually said what plays were acceptable and unacceptable, and when he started talking about what plays were acceptable and unacceptable, and that he wasn’t a rookie anymore and wanted to voice his opinion … the term ‘unacceptable’ is used by Dan, the owner, quite often, so I had a little bit of a smile when I heard some of these complaints.”
Shanahan’s test results were detailed and conclusive — and startling. You rarely, if ever, hear revelations like this from a former coach about his team unless they are in a book years removed from the scene of the crime.
But the road to revelation had been paved by the coach who followed Shanahan — Jay Gruden — who spent much of the 2014 season as a corroborating witness before Shanahan came forward.
Shanahan’s tales of terror might have been dismissed as sour grapes — if it wasn’t for Gruden’s frank assessments during the season about Griffin and the stories, one after the other, about the frustration the current Redskins coaching staff had about the quarterback and the politics inside Redskins Park.
“His biggest thing, he’s been coddled for so long,” Gruden told the NFL Network in November. “It’s not a negative, he’s just been so good, he just hasn’t had a lot of negative publicity. Everybody’s loved him. Some adversity is striking hard at him now, and how he reacts to that off the field, his mental state of mind, how it affects his confidence, hopefully it’s not in a negative way. I read Drew Brees said after a couple interceptions, ‘I’m never going to lose confidence, I’m going to come out firing all the time.’
“He’s auditioned long enough. Clock’s ticking. He’s got to play,” Gruden said. “We want Robert to excel, we really do. But the last two games, it hasn’t been very good, anywhere. We got to play better around him. And the biggest thing for us as play-callers, and for him, we just have to come together and jell with plays he’s comfortable with. That takes time. But we don’t have a lot of time.”
Time. Shanahan repeated it over and over again in the interview about developing Griffin as a pocket passer, saying it would take years to happen.
“He wanted to be more of a drop-back, Aaron Rodgers-type guy,” Shanahan said. “He did a few more things, and basically what I did is I went and talked to Dan, and I said, ‘Hey, Dan, for a quarterback to come to me, a veteran coach, and share these things, number one, he can’t be the sharpest guy to do something like that, or he’s got to feel very good about the owner backing him up. And since you have been telling me from day one that he’s a drop-back quarterback and we should do more drop-back, and you guys have spent the last couple months together, I would think, or at least the last month, that this is an extension of you.’
“He said it wasn’t. I just told him that the only chance that this kid, Robert, has to get to the level that we need him to get to is for him to at least trust us that we’re going to run the offense that gives him the best chance to be successful. And if not, it’s impossible, because he’s not ready for it. I can see it, that he’s not ready for that type of offense. Not that he’s not good enough, he just has never done it before.”
Shanahan’s words carried more weight because Gruden had already said the same thing, more or less, following Washington’s 27-7 loss to Tampa.
“Robert had some fundamental flaws,” Gruden said. “His footwork was below average. He took three-step drops when he should have taken five. He took a one-step drop when he should have taken three on a couple occasions, and that can’t happen. He stepped up when he didn’t have to step up, and he stepped into pressure. He read the wrong side of the field a couple times. So, from his basic performance just critiquing Robert, it’s not even close to good enough to what we expect from the quarterback position.”
Even Shanahan’s revelations were not as blunt as Gruden’s comments about Griffin.
What happened on the same day that Shanahan was confirming the aura of self destruction that engulfs Redskins Park? Gruden — who at one point last season said Griffin wasn’t even “close to good enough from what we expect from the quarterback position” — named Griffin the starter for next season.
“We’ll go into the season with Robert as the No. 1 guy, and you know, it’s up to Robert to continue to grow and mature as a quarterback and as a person,” Gruden told reporters at the NFL combine. “Then moving forward, we just want to see some improvement. It’s up to us as a staff to get more out of him.”
Gruden might pay attention to these words from Shanahan after Griffin walked into his office and let the coach know who was running the team.
“I knew my time was short-lived with that type of mindset,” Shanahan said.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at email@example.com.
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