Cowboys vs. Redskins: Quarterback problems a lingering Mike Shanahan issue
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) - If these are indeed Mike Shanahan's final days with the Washington Redskins, his legacy will be the inability to make things work at quarterback.
From Donovan McNabb to Rex Grossman, from John Beck to Robert Griffin III, for one reason or another Shanahan has whiffed at the most important position on the field in his four years in D.C. Just when Griffin appeared to be the answer, a knee injury, a losing season and questions about chemistry have created a circus atmosphere around the Redskins (3-11).
The irony is that the Shanahan is associated with one of the most successful coach-QB combos in recent NFL history. He and John Elway won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998 with the Denver Broncos, although Shanahan doesn't pretend it was a rosy relationship.
"Me and John Elway used to have knock-down, drag-out fights all the time," Shanahan said recently. "And that's part of being a competitor, and that's another reason you have great relationships with your quarterbacks."
In Washington, where he has final say over the roster, Shanahan had his rebuilding project severely hampered by his choices at QB. An Easter 2010 trade sent two draft picks to Philadelphia for an aging McNabb, who was praised at his introductory news conference as a second coming of Elway.
"People were saying John Elway should retire," Shanahan said that day, "until he won the Super Bowl."
McNabb lasted 13 starts. There were communication breakdowns. He wasn't receptive to making changes in his game. After he was benched with three weeks to go in the season, he said he felt "disrespected." His agent made blistering statements about the coaching staff. He was shipped to Minnesota after the 6-10 season.
In 2011, Shanahan simply misjudged what he had in Rex Grossman and John Beck, but nevertheless doubled down by declaring at the start of training camp: "I've been doing this for a long time. And I put my reputation on these guys that they can play."
Grossman went 5-8 as a starter and threw 20 interceptions. Beck went 0-3 and managed to get sacked 10 times in one game.
"Everybody's looking for a franchise quarterback," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said at the end of the 5-11 season. "You want one of those guys that there's no question about."
So along comes Griffin, Heisman Trophy winner, No. 2 overall draft pick and NFL offensive rookie of the year - a run of quick success that empowered him enough to publicly call out Shanahan for "mistakes" made in last season's playoff loss to Seattle. He then publicly disagreed with the coach's practice plan at training camp while working his way back from major knee surgery.
Much like McNabb, Griffin had trouble adjusting to some of the concepts the Shanahans were teaching. As there was with McNabb, there is palpable tension between coach and QB. And just like McNabb, Griffin was benched for the final three games while medically cleared to play, this time justified by Mike Shanahan's explanation that Griffin needs to be healthy for offseason workouts.
Mike Shanahan has said he is Griffin's coach and "not necessarily his best friend." Finding the right balance can be tricky. When there were issues with McNabb, Grossman or Beck, the starting quarterback changed and the coach stayed. This time, even though Griffin is temporarily sitting out, the final result could be the other way around.
"I just think that relationship grows in time and the more time you spend together, I think the better the relationship gets," Shanahan said Thursday. "You're going through some tough times. You're going through some great times. But all relationships develop, and a lot of times when it's stressful, sometimes it's a little bit tougher than when things are all going great."