The incident began, as the police like to say, when ESPN came out with one of its patented, ‘sources say,’ reports last Sunday. This one came from Chris Mortensen, someone I’ve known for years and someone who has absolute credibility when it comes to reporting what he’s been told. Mortensen reported that sources had told him that Mike and Kyle Shanahan had been forced to cut their playbook in half for Donovan McNabb.
That’s when I really got angry.
This came one week after the Shanahans had benched McNabb with 1:45 left in the Redskins game at Detroit with Washington trailing 31-25. They brought Rex Grossman into the game in McNabb’s place. Grossman hadn’t taken a single snap from center all season and isn’t exactly known for his mobility. In fact, McNabb had been dodging Lions all day because the Redskins STILL haven’t fixed their problems on the offensive line.
On his first snap, Grossman got sacked, fumbled and the Lions picked the ball up and ran into the end zone to end any chance the Redskins had to win the game.
Once it became clear that McNabb wasn’t hurt, that the Shanahans had simply decided to bench him, it was just as clear they had made a mistake. Check the results.
But that’s really not that big a deal. Coaches make mistakes all the time, just like players, officials and writers make mistakes. Here’s what you do when you make a mistake: You say, “I made a mistake,” and you move on. If Mike Shanahan had done that it would have been a one-day story.
But football coaches have more trouble saying the words “I made a mistake,” than any group of humans on earth this side of the BCS Presidents. So, instead of coming in after the game and saying, “Hey, I got mad at Donovan for a poor decision on an interception and played a hunch with Rex and it didn’t work,” Shanahan came in with some sort of hooey (a kind word) about McNabb not knowing the ‘two minute terminology.’ As if two minute terminology appears in the playbook in Swahili. I’ve read NFL playbooks. They are NOT that complicated in spite of what coaches try to tell you.
No one bought that story. So, the next day Shanahan tried something different. This time he said he was worried because McNabb had been hurt going into the game—he was the Redskins leading rusher in the game and had a 36-yard run at one point—and (I love this one) he was worried about his ‘cardiovascular,’ because he might have to call two plays in the huddle at once.
My first thought at that moment was that Shanahan must think the average IQ of people in Washington is about 12.
But okay, I wrote it off to Shanahan being one of those God-like football coaches who will do anything to avoid admitting a mistake. He’s like Fonzi in ‘Happy Days,’ when he used to try to say, ‘I’m ssssssssssssssssssssssorry.’
Then I saw Mortensen’s ‘report.’ That’s when I went on Washington Post Live and accused Shanahan of racial coding because I believe if he was Mortensen’s source that is absolutely what he was doing. In the last few days people have suggested to me that there are many, many people who could have fed Mort the information on McNabb’s alleged playbook inadequacies. In theory, I guess that’s true. I don’t buy it. Shanahan (Mike) has a direct pipeline to ESPN through Adam Schefter, who WROTE HIS BOOK. He negotiated with the Redskins through Schefter all of last fall: “ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Buffalo Bills will offer him ONE BILLION DOLLARS.’ That sort of thing. Drive up the price, make it look as if everyone is after you. If someone told Schefter, ‘exclusively,’ that the moon was made of swiss cheese, he’d report it. Maybe that’s why the Shanahans didn’t go to Schefter this time. Mort certainly has far more credibility in general and especially in a Shanahan-related story. So, someone whispered to Mort that McNabb couldn’t learn the playbook.
I don’t think it was a player and I don’t think it was another assistant—unless he was acting under orders. I believe it was someone named Shanahan.
And if it was, Shanahan is a despicable human being and, yes, I think he’s using racial coding and yes I think he should be fired. If anyone wants to disagree with me about that; fine, just don’t give me the Steve Czaban (WTEM) copout that I’ve, ‘lost my mind.’
Really? Remember this was a week later. It wasn’t postgame frustration or even trying to cover yourself the next day. Shanahan had time to think about it and he decided that rather than continue to listen to people rip him not so much for making the move (everyone agrees he had an absolute right to bench his quarterback if saw fit) but for his ridiculous explanations as to why he made the move. So, somehow, someway, he got word to Mortensen that McNabb couldn’t learn the playbook. If someone was going under the bus it was going to be McNabb.
Now, I have serious problems with ‘according to sources,’ stories that simply allow one guy to rip another. The only time to use a blind quote as far as I’m concerned is if someone’s safety or job would be endangered by going on the record. Check my history you won’t see a lot of blind quotes. If I had a dollar for every time a coach told me NOT FOR ATTRIBUTION that someone was a cheat, I wouldn’t be writing this blog; I’d be sitting on my estate someplace warm deciding whether to start my day with a swim, a round of golf or by sitting by my pool reading a book.
But the way of the world today is ‘sources say.’ If the Shanahans were NOT the source—which I don’t believe—Mort should have called them to say, ‘true or not true?’ If they denied it, there’s no story. If they ‘no commented,’ and you HAD to go with the story—ESPN puts ridiculous pressure on these guys to produce alleged ‘news,’ all the time—you quote Mike Shanahan as saying ‘no comment.’ And then you call Donovan McNabb for a comment or a no comment. (His comment to the media when he came back after the bye week was that the notion that he couldn’t learn the entire playbook was, ‘hilarious.’)
But this isn’t about Mortensen. He’s a damn good reporter almost all the time. I’d like to have his batting average. This is about Shanahan. And if he did what I think he did it means, after giving it a week of thought, he was willing to have it put out there that his African-American quarterback wasn’t smart enough to learn the playbook. One week after FIRST calling him too dumb to learn the two-minute terminology he goes back to the same well.
And please don’t tell me he could have said the same thing about a white quarterback. He didn’t. Even in 2010 there are people who are going to instantly buy into the ridiculous stereotype. In fact, many of the e-mails I’ve gotten have been saying, ‘well what if he didn’t know the playbook?’ Let me tell you something: Donovan McNabb hasn’t had a borderline Hall of Fame career because he’s stupid. Let me tell you something else: before he traded a second and third round draft pick for McNabb, Mike Shanahan looked at tape of him running the Eagles offense; running their two minute drill and making decisions. He also talked to people about McNabb and what he could or could not do. And THEN he traded for him. So if McNabb is so damn stupid he can’t learn the playbook, how stupid is Shanahan for trading for him?
The funny thing about all this is Redskins fans will forgive Shanahan for this despicable behavior if McNabb performs well the second half of the season and the Redskins make the playoffs. Of course if McNabb DOESN’T perform well people will say Shanahan was right all along. In a sense, Shanahan can’t lose on this one. And I think he knew that even before Mortensen ‘broke,’ his story.
Trust me, I don’t think he's stupid. But I do think he's a very bad guy.
One note: I've been behind reading posts because of baby-duties (Jane, for those who asked was just a name my wife and I liked and I was a big Blythe Danner fan years ago and thought the two names combined were cool) but someone reading my BCS column asked why I don't rip my colleague in the AP for being a part of the BCS conspiracy: Here's the problem: The AP dropped out of the BCS several years ago BECAUSE it didn't want to be part of the system anymore, believing it should not have any influence on the national championship. That said, I DID plead with my colleagues publicly before the final vote last January to vote for Boise State to send a message to the BCS that they don't completely control the sport. I think Boise State got two votes. Ouch.