Keeping Tabs on Washington's Team

Redskins Drama Endures, Even With Coach Shanahan

Season marred by controversy

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Head coach Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins watches the action during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on December 26, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

    The 2010 Washington Redskins will be remembered for two catchphrases: "conditioning test" and "cardiovascular endurance."

    Here's another one worth noting, uttered by general manager Bruce Allen one year ago this week: "Last place two years in a row is not Redskins football."

    As it turns out, Redskins football is now last place three years in a row.

    For the first time in franchise history, Washington sits at the bottom of its division in the final standings for the third straight season, showing only marginal statistical improvement in the transition from Jim Zorn's 4-12 team to the Mike Shanahan squad that wrapped a 6-10 record with Sunday's loss to the New York Giants.

    The no-nonsense coach's attempt at bringing stability to a franchise that has bred turmoil and mediocrity for nearly two decades is proving to be a mightier task that most in the organization would have imagined. One piece of evidence speaks volumes: The final tally of money collected from players who showed up late for meetings and committed other indiscretions.

    "I've had more fines here my first year than I did with Denver, then I did with the Raiders," Shanahan said Monday. "That's what I mean (by) just a sense of responsibility, people doing things the right way. Sometimes it takes some time for people to understand that everybody's got a piece of the puzzle, that everybody's got a sense of responsibility, and unless you have everybody going in the same direction, it's hard to get to that next level.

    "After your first year, usually they understand the standard that you've set, and people comply a lot quicker."

    While Shanahan wants to run the Redskins more like a professional organization, the coach himself was a major contributor to yet another circus season in the nation's capital. He alienated the two biggest names on his roster -- Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb -- in very public fashion, eventually benching one and suspending the other.

    While it can be argued their punishments were deserved -- Haynesworth had a questionable attitude, McNabb wasn't playing well -- the coach lost ground in the court of public opinion for the way he handled both situations. The fact that he made Haynesworth take and retake the team's conditioning test at training camp was just part of a contentious back-and-forth that started in March and climaxed when Shanahan suspended Haynesworth for the final four games in the season, creating a distraction that players said affected the team's focus.

    McNabb's fall was even more startling. While Shanahan inherited Haynesworth, McNabb was the coach's hand-picked quarterback, acquired for two draft picks in April. McNabb's "cardiovascular endurance" in the two-minute drill was one of several explanations Shanahan offered when he benched the quarterback late in a game at Detroit in October, and McNabb's three-game benching at the end of the season triggered a set of terse exchanges between the Redskins and McNabb's agent.

    "I wish I would have handled the one in Detroit a little differently," Shanahan said. "I should have been a little bit more honest than I was. Sometimes you do things to protect players, and at the same time you are actually hurting them, so I wish I would have handled it differently. Relative to the other things -- you are what you are. Our job is to get better as a team, as an organization. We will do that."

    Haynesworth returned to Redskins Park on Monday to take his obligatory physical and clean out his locker, perhaps making his final appearance in the building. He didn't meet with Shanahan and told reporters: "I've got nothing to say."

    McNabb did not appear in the locker room while it was open to reporters. The only remaining suspense surrounding both McNabb and Haynesworth is how long they'll remain on the roster before they are traded or released. Asked if there was a sense of urgency to make a final decision on both, Shanahan cited the "fine line" between doing what's best for the team while being fair to the players involved.

    McNabb's benching gave Rex Grossman a three-game audition for the starting job. The results were mixed: seven touchdowns, four interceptions and a 1-2 record. Grossman is set to become a free agent, but a feasible scenario has the Redskins re-signing him to help bring along a rookie quarterback. Washington will have the No. 10 pick in the draft.

    Shanahan said he will review the game videos over the next two weeks before deciding on a plan for his quarterbacks and the rest of the roster heading into free agency and the draft. He said he plans to retain his entire coaching and front office staff, while adding a tight ends coach to replace Jon Embree, who left last month to become the head coach at the University of Colorado.

    "Anytime you're 6-10, obviously that's a big disappointment," said Shanahan, who matched his worst full-season record in his 17 seasons as an NFL coach. "But I think the key is where you're headed, and we're headed in the right direction."

    Which means, maybe, just maybe, playing for the Redskins won't feel like such a soap opera anymore.

    "I hope so," said cornerback Carlos Rogers, an unrestricted free agent who said he wants to return. "Shanahan's trying to clear it all up, he's trying to clear up everything."

    Notes: Shanahan listed five players having surgery this week: TE Chris Cooley (left knee), DL Kedric Golston (hernia), S LaRon Landry (right shoulder), S Kareem Moore (right knee) and C Casey Rabach (right shoulder). ... The Redskins set season franchise records for pass attempts (605) and completions (349). ... After spending most of the season ranked last, the defense moved past Denver into 31st in the final rankings. ... Only three NFC teams had worst a points-differential than the Redskins' minus-75. One of those teams _ Seattle (minus-97) _ is in the playoffs. ... Washington didn't win a game by more than six points.