Why did Shanahan say what he said?

Why did Shanahan say what he said?
November 5, 2012, 11:30 am
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I’m not sure how to find out what is trending on Twitter with any reliability but I would guess that words like “evaluate” and “disappointing” are appearing in a lot of tweets, at least among Redskins fans.

Here is what Mike Shanahan said after the game when asked about where the Redskins are after losing what he called a “must-win game”:

“[It’s] obviously very disappointing. A must-win game is a game that gives you a chance to play for a playoff spot. At the midway point when you’re 3-5, it’s going to be must-win to get in the hunt. When you lose a game like that, now you’re playing to see who obviously is going to be on your football team for years to come. Now, we have a chance to evaluate players and see where we’re at. Obviously, we’re not out of it statistically. Now we find out what kind of character we have and how guys keep on fighting throughout the rest of the season.”

So, what we have is the head coach and the guy who chooses the talent that the Redskins are turning the last seven games into a cold-weather version of the preseason.

It appears that some of the players aren’t ready for this. Trent Williams and Darrel Young both said that they are not going to give up hope that they can make a run and make the playoffs. Other players said privately to reporters that they were bothered by what Shanahan said.

Lorenzo Alexander said as much to reporters. “I’m not thinkin’ about next year. That’s an offseason thing for me,” the veteran linebacker and special teams captain said. “But you know it’s hard when you see yourself in that type of position and your head coach is saying those types of things. It’s disappointing.” 

“Disappointing” was the word of the day. Mike Shanahan used it or “disappointed” seven times in his postgame remarks, which lasted about seven minutes.

Has Mike Shanahan lost the locker room? Prior to yesterday there has been no evidence of that but this may be a first step down that road or, after two and a half years with a .341 winning percentage, further momentum down that road. At some point, chronic losing will make a team question a coach’s ability to turn things around regardless of the resume he brought to the job.

Shanahan rarely says things without thinking them through first. That makes what he said even more of a head-scratcher. What could possibly be gained by announcing that the meaningful part of the season has concluded?

The thing is, as Shanahan himself pointed out, the Redskins are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot. Sure, it’s unlikely but every few years a surprise team goes on a tear and steals a playoff spot.

The Redskins, in fact, could emerge from this weekend with nearly as good a chance to make the playoffs as they did going into it. The Cowboys and Giants both lost last yesterday and the reeling Eagles are facing a Monday night game in the Superdome. If the Saints win, the Redskins are in exactly the same position in the division that they were on Sunday morning, albeit with one less game to make up ground.

OK, cue the Mora “Playoffs?! Playoffs?!” rant. Still, there are plenty of benefits to winning more games including, well, learning how to win games, a skill this team has yet to acquire.

It’s also hard to justify this “evaluation” frame of mind to the fans, especially those who spend hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars on tickets to FedEx Field. The slate of home games is only half over. Fans have already paid for tickets to two “evaluation” games in August. Now they find out that they are paying for four more games that really don’t mean anything. That can generate the kind of angry outlooks that don’t tend to evolve into warm and fuzzy feelings when the invoices for season ticket renewals arrive in the spring.

The best defense of what Shanahan said is that he was being honest. He has admitted on a few occasions that he is frequently less than candid when speaking to the media and he has drawn fire for it. Here, he’s speaking truthfully about how he views the team right now and is taking a ton of heat for it. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

He set himself a trap on Monday when he called it a “must-win” game. During the week, the players didn’t seem to buy into that line of thinking completely with many saying that they didn’t think that the season was over if they lost on Sunday. But Shanahan had already painted himself into a corner and he was stuck.

We will see how this plays out. Shanahan will have his press conference this afternoon and the media will have access to the players tomorrow. A lot is likely to be said to rewrite what was said. But what is done over the coming seven games and how the team plays will tell the tale of what long-term impact Shanahan’s words will have. 

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