The Mike Shanahan Era ended weeks ago in Washington when the first reports surfaced of a rift between him and owner Dan Snyder. The rift was apparently over Robert Griffin III, the franchise quarterback, and there was no way that the coach could survive being on opposite sides of the owner over that.
Maybe it was never meant to last anyway. They are two high-profile NFL people with major personalities and an apparent need for control. Things sure looked rosy in 2012 when they won a division championship, though we later learned that the seams were popping, even then.
So now Shanahan leaves with a 24-40 record in four seasons, including 3-13 in 2013 — the Redskins’ worst record since 1961. Still, it’s a good job with an owner that is willing to spend, presumably a franchise quarterback in place, and the talent left over from a division title just one year earlier. Maybe not everyone will want to work for Snyder. But with his money and the prestige of the job, it’s possible he’ll be able to lure anyone he wants.
Who will that be? Here are five who will likely be at the top of Snyder’s list:
Lovie Smith, former Bears head coach – Quite possibly the most respected name on the market, given the good work and rave reviews he got in his years with the Bears. He’s known for his organization, his professionalism and having the respect of his players — and those are three things the Redskins absolutely need. The Bears, by the way, went 81-63 in his nine years as head coach and 10-6 in his final season. The only downside is the Redskins could have competition if they tried to hire him now.
Ken Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator San Diego – Not only is he having a very good year getting the most out of quarterback Philip Rivers with the Chargers, but he also had a pretty good run as head coach in Arizona where he – with the help of Kurt Warner – very nearly won a Super Bowl with one of the worst organizations in the NFL. He’s an offensive whiz, too, which will help the development of RGIII, which stalled in 2013.
Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator Cincinnati – I know, everyone would prefer his brother, but the NFL has taken notice of what the “other” Gruden has done with the Bengals offense and specifically quarterback Andy Dalton. Again, he’d be a great choice if Snyder’s primary focus was finding someone who could turn RGIII into what he’s supposed to be.
Art Briles, Baylor head coach – Of course, maybe nobody knows RGIII better than his college coach, who not only helped turn the quarterback into a star, but turned Baylor into a power. A perennial conference doormat, the Bears won the Big 12 this season and are on track to their fourth straight bowl game. He’s a risky hire, but Snyder isn’t risk averse and he won’t be afraid of hiring a college coach. The downside here is he would be seen clearly as a choice to benefit RGIII, and it might be hard to ever separate the two in the future.
Russ Grimm, former Steelers and Cardinals offensive line coach – A very interesting name floated by the Washington Post. He’s a beloved former Redskin and a Hall of Famer and a very well-respected offensive line coach who spent 2013 out of football. He was once a candidate to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers (and may or may not have been offered the job, depending on who you believe). He has no coaching experience above the offensive line, but many think he’s qualified and he’d electrify the fan base. A risky choice, but one that would be very popular.
Bill Cowher, former Steelers coach – Most people swear he’s done with coaching, but even if he does return he’d likely be looking for an organization with stability. The Redskins most definitely don’t have that.
Jon Gruden, former Bucs and Raiders coach – He may be the biggest, most electric available name and the feeling is that for the right price he could be lured out of the ESPN booth. He’s been away from the game for a little while, though, and there are better candidates.
Bill O’Brien, Penn State coach – It sounds as if he’ll have his pick of jobs, and there may be no more attractive one than the Houston Texans. Plus, he comes off the New England coaching tree and there might be a little too much chaos in Washington for his liking.
Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator New England – A former head coach in Denver, he’s got the credentials and the offensive background that most people think Snyder will favor. But there appear to be others higher on the list, and as another Patriot prodigy it’s hard to see him jumping at the Redskins mess.
— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN