The Washington Redskins fired coach Mike Shanahan on Monday morning after one of the ugliest seasons in recent memory — and with too many losses in his four-year tenure.
Shanahan’s stint began with a massive rebuild and ends with a new coach facing a tough task as well, needing to at least overhaul the defense.
“Redskins fans deserve a better result,” owner Dan Snyder said in a statement released by the team. “We thank Mike for his efforts on behalf of the Redskins. We will focus on what it takes to build a winning team, and my pledge to this organization and to this community is to continue to commit the resources and talent necessary to put this team back in the playoffs.”
The 61-year-old Shanahan briefly addressed the media on Monday morning, making multiple references to the Redskins’ salary-cap issues during his tenure.
“When we first came here, we knew we were in some tough situations relative to the salary cap,” Shanahan said. “When we first came in as a staff, we knew we had to make tough decisions.”
The Redskins were 24-40 under Shanahan, the worst record of any NFC East team during his regime and the same winning percentage as two of his predecessors, Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn. The Redskins lost double-digit games in three of Shanahan’s four seasons.
“A lot has been done,” Shanahan said. “But anytime you take a look at the cap situations we went through, it’s always tough to have depth — and that’s what I thought hurt us this year was depth on our special teams, depth on our defense. We didn’t have the speed we had a year ago.
“But the thing I felt good about going into this year, we don’t have those problems financially and have to worry about us not doing things the right way relative to overspending. I think from now on, the problems with the cap are over with.”
The Redskins (3-13) finished 2013 with an eight-game losing streak, their longest since 1960.
“We are going to take a smart, step-by-step approach to finding the right coach to return the Redskins to where we believe we should be,” general manager Bruce Allen said in the team release. “We will analyze accurately and honestly all of the decisions that were made over the past year.”
Shanahan’s job security became a topic of widespread scrutiny due to his frosty relationship with star quarterback Robert Griffin III, who made a rapid comeback from offseason knee surgery but struggled throughout the season.
Griffin declined to speak to the media while he cleaned out his locker Monday.
Shanahan, who did not field questions during his media briefing Monday, had previously said he anticipated a quick decision on his fate and that proved to be accurate. There had been talk about his future when the Redskins started their eight-game skid, but the general belief was that he had a good chance to return. The fact that he was owed $7 million next season, in addition to the money owed to his staff, was a factor, as was the previous instability that defined Snyder’s era.
But an ESPN.com report stating that Shanahan nearly quit after the 2012 season over Snyder’s relationship with Griffin that ran the day of a 45-10 home loss to Kansas City on Dec. 8 was the beginning of the end. Snyder, team sources said, was caught off guard by the story and was not prepared to make a move at that time, having decided to wait until season’s end to review the coach’s tenure. That story gave way to multiple others, fueling speculation about the motives behind the leaks and returning a circus atmosphere to Redskins Park.
But this move was more than just about dissatisfaction over off-field issues. The team simply wasn’t doing enough to warrant a fifth season for Shanahan and a possible extension.
The Redskins went from 11-21 his first two seasons combined to 10-6 and an NFC East title last year. They seemed poised for a multiple-year run. But in that playoff loss to Seattle, then-rookie Griffin tore his anterior cruciate ligament and needed surgery to also repair two other ligaments.
Shanahan said Monday that he was “proud” of the Redskins for winning the division in 2012, the first season in a two-year, $36 million penalty levied against the team for salary cap violations during the previous year.
“Going into the third year, what I thought was something we had to do was get some defensive players,” he said. “When we got that $36 million hit, we weren’t able to get players we wanted to get.
“But to show you what our team did — we were still able to win the NFC East. I was proud we were able to do that.”
The Redskins went from being on the cusp to having stories written that suggested rifts between Griffin and Shanahan as well as his son, and offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. It stemmed from trust issues, with Griffin displeased over plays that were called for him after he returned from his initial posterior cruciate ligament tear in early December, multiple team sources said. Those issues only deepened after Mike Shanahan benched Griffin for the final three games, saying he wanted to keep him healthy for the offseason.
Issues resurfaced in recent weeks as the Redskins continued to lose, and their problems were dissected. Both Kyle and Mike Shanahan have said publicly that they like coaching Griffin and, while they might not be tight, that they could make it work and win together. But Griffin was lukewarm when it came to giving any sort of endorsement to the coaches returning.
He said before the Chiefs game, “I think these guys have a great future. I love having them here and that’s all I can say. We’re focused on Kansas City.”
During the summer, Griffin said he knew the importance that he and Shanahan shared.
“Me and Mike Shanahan’s relationship is paramount to this team being successful,” he said in training camp.
But there were many other issues aside from relationships, including Griffin’s return from knee surgery, abysmal special teams and a defense that struggled. The Redskins were hit with a $36 million cap penalty over two seasons, preventing them from adding veterans to their roster. They were able to re-sign all but one of their key free agents last season, losing special-teams standout Lorenzo Alexander to Arizona.
Still, they expressed optimism publicly and privately this summer that they could be Super Bowl contenders this season. But they started slow with a 33-27 home loss to Philadelphia, during which they trailed 26-7 at halftime. The following week they trailed Green Bay 24-0 at the half.
It never improved, though the Redskins reached 3-5 and spoke of a second straight turnaround (after winning seven straight a year ago to close the regular season). Instead, they blew a 13-point third-quarter lead to Minnesota, fell to 3-6 and the season unraveled. They never won again.