WNYT.com

Column: Mike Shanahan sets up a messy departure

Updated at: 12/14/2013 3:57 PM
PAUL NEWBERRY

(AP) ATLANTA - ATLANTA (AP) — The Washington You-Know-Whos sure know how to diffuse the debate over their nickname as they head to Atlanta to face the Falcons.

In fact, Dan Snyder and Co. must be preparing us for an impending change.

The Washington Bizarros, anyone?

Coach Mike Shanahan's decision to bench healthy quarterback Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season — purportedly to make sure he stays that way for Washington's offseason program — is so strange on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin.

Are we really supposed to believe Shanahan's explanation that Griffin will benefit more from taking part in scripted drills over the spring and summer than he does from playing three actual games, even if we make the very big leap that he won't be able to do both because he is sure to get injured again if he keeps playing?

Are we really supposed to believe this isn't Shanahan flexing his muscles one last time in a power play he is sure to lose before he is sent packing at the end of a disastrous season?

Are we really supposed to believe anything Shanahan says, for that matter?

The only thing we know for sure is Washington (3-10) isn't intentionally tanking its final three games just to lock up the top overall pick: The first-round selection in 2014 was dealt to St. Louis as part of the trade to land RG3 in the first place.

The Rams are the only sure winners in this whole fiasco.

"My job is to build this organization the right way," Shanahan said in what might have been the most ludicrous statement of his absurd news conference this week, the one that dragged on for nearly a half-hour as he kept spewing the same nonsense about why he was shutting Griffin down for the rest of the year.

"I think," the coach added, somehow maintaining a perfectly straight face, "we've been able to do that."

Now, back to reality.

Washington is right on Houston's heels for the worst record in the NFL and the handling of the quarterback situation — Kirk Cousins will start the last three weeks — has made the organization a total laughingstock, the sort of perception Snyder was looking to change when the mercurial owner hired Shanahan almost four years ago and handed him the keys to the franchise.

Granted, Shanahan has done some things to restore a modicum of credibility, which was totally lacking when he arrived due to Snyder's meddling. But the fact remains: Shanahan's record in the nation's capital is a lousy 24-37, with one quick exit from the playoffs.

If anything, he's been fully exposed, a guy who built his reputation largely on the good fortune of having John Elway as his quarterback during his early years in Denver.

After winning back-to-back Super Bowls with Elway, Shanahan's record is 115-106, with two division titles and an ugly 1-5 mark in the postseason.

Not terrible. Certainly not greatness.

In a few weeks, Shanahan will surely be fired by Washington. We can all hope that's the last we see of this snake-oil salesman, who pretty much reaffirmed what he is when telling reporters, again trying to persuade them of his reasoning for benching Griffin before his nose grew out of the room, "What I'm trying to do is be as honest as I can. And I don't normally do that."

Since there's no reason to believe anything he's said before — we'll take that to mean he also stabbed Dan Reeves in the back to land the Broncos job — we'll just assume that Shanahan benched his quarterback for the same reason he does most things: To make himself look good.

If he had just said he was wrong all along, that Griffin clearly wasn't fully recovered from a devastating knee injury and shouldn't have been playing in the first place (no argument there, given RG3 clearly isn't the same dynamic player he was a year ago), maybe a shutdown would've been seen as a logical move.

Instead, it comes across as Shanahan taking his final swing at Griffin and Snyder, whom he apparently believes had grown too close and undermined the coach's authority. He may even have a leg to stand on, given RG3's sense of entitlement and Snyder's track record. But this wasn't the way to do it, to make this ridiculous gesture simply to show who's in charge.

Also keep in mind: Shanahan made this move with Washington closing out against the Falcons (3-10 and ranked 27th in total defense), the Cowboys (dead last in yards allowed) and the disappointing New York Giants (playing out the string). If Cousins plays well — and he very well could — Shanahan will surely look to parlay his Washington exit into another coaching job.

Where does Washington go from here? If Snyder is wise — quit laughing, everyone — he'll pass on those suggesting he hire Griffin's coach at Baylor, Art Briles. Bringing in someone who'll be viewed as RG3's lackey is no way to clean up this mess.

And, rest assured, it's a mess.

For that, Washington can thank its soon-to-be former coach.

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Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry@apr.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)