Meet the new boss

Same as the old boss? Not if Shanahan has anything to say about it

August 29, 2010

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -- Less than a month after taking the job of Washington Redskins coach, Mike Shanahan called a meeting.

A big meeting. Everyone who works for the franchise was invited, from secretaries to marketing people to the employees based at the stadium on the other side of D.C. The only people not there were the players, who were off because it was February.

It took place in the Redskins Park auditorium and lasted about an hour. Shanahan gave a power point presentation of some 50 points he thought were "very important for the organization."

"You talk to everybody," Shanahan said in an interview with The Associated Press. "And everybody's got a job to do. And you let everybody know how important their job is to the success of this organization. For us to win a Super Bowl, it's going to take everybody, not just the players, not just the coaches. We've got to have the best of the best in all different areas, secretaries, marketing, stadium personnel. Everybody's got a job to do, and that was the essence."


No one at Redskins Park had ever seen anything like it, not from a coach. Joe Gibbs, as the joke goes, was so football-focused he probably couldn't have found the marketing department if he tried. Steve Spurrier couldn't remember the names of his players, much less the random people he might meet in the hallway. Here was a new coach trying to unite the entire organization, an important step as he went about setting a new tone of order, discipline and control for a franchise that has been a roller-coaster of inconsistency for more than a decade and was coming off a 4-12 season.

While the players weren't at the meeting, they quickly got the message as well. When Shanahan made the following comment at a chamber of commerce speech in May, he might as well been speaking directly at a certain unhappy defensive lineman named Albert Haynesworth.

"I like the standard set high," Shanahan said. "The one thing that I found out players want is consistency. Once you give a special player or a star player extra attention or let him get away with things, it takes way the morale of the team."

So Shanahan is in charge -- in full, unyielding charge -- of one of the most storied organizations in the NFL, having been given contractual control by Dan Snyder, who seems to really, really mean it this time when he says he's become a hands-off owner. Gibbs, though in the Hall of Fame, never wanted his picture on the front of the media guide, but Shanahan is there in grand style -- holding a football while lined up ahead of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol.

It's certainly valid to say he's earned it, having won two Super Bowls in the late 1990s with the Denver Broncos. He's tied for 16th with 154 regular-season and postseason wins, only 17 behind Gibbs. He turned 58 this week, so he should have plenty of vigor left, and he's had a year off to recharge the batteries after being fired by the Broncos at the end of the 2008 season.

He spent the 12 months of downtime visiting other teams, watching games on television and making contacts with potential assistant coaches so he could assemble a staff quickly when he got a new job, but nothing that he saw or heard persuaded him to change his style.

"He's the same," said running backs coach Bobby Turner, who held the same job under Shanahan in Denver. "He's demanding. He's a perfectionist, and he's expecting perfection."

Some people inside Redskins Park initially thought Shanahan was a bit of a neat freak, but that's because the place was so cluttered. The training room and weight room were a mess, so Shanahan had them tidied up. Newspapers would pile up at the front desk; that's no longer the case. There's new paint, inside and out.

"He wants our building and everything to look like a professional building," said his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. "If it looks dirty and no one's addressing it, he's definitely going to notice it."

Mike Shanahan readily cites the people who have helped him hone his leadership style, among them Barry Switzer at Oklahoma, Darrell Mudra at Eastern Illinois (Shanahan's alma mater) and the winning machine that became the San Francisco 49ers under Bill Walsh and George Seifert.

The common theme: Come up with a vision and get everyone in the organization behind it. It was as the offensive coordinator with the 49ers in 1992 that Shanahan first witnessed a version of the all-inclusive meeting he led at Redskins Park in February.

"Everybody knew they were part of the winning process," Shanahan said. "Everybody's got to be on the same page. There was a culture. There was a standard that had been set. There was no substitution for the standard."

Shanahan took that philosophy to Denver and has now brought it to Washington. And it comes with no exceptions, as Haynesworth has been quick to learn.

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