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The immutable system engenders rot

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Close the book on the Deadskins
self, camphone, eye
This post is going to ramble a bit. You have been warned.

Well, the Deadskins go 6-10 for 2010. Along the way, we've seen a new coach, a new coach's son/offensive coordinator, two new quarterbacks, and, well, not much else.

Looking back at all the hype that surrounded the Shannahans' arrival in DC, I have to wonder why we even care about football head coaches. Most of the hype--and most of the criticism--has centered on aspects of the Shannahan "system."

Relatively little ink has been spilled on the fact that the Shannahan "system," if such a system ever existed, depended largely on the people Mike Shannahan had at his disposal back at Mile High in Denver. Now, I may be a bit naive as a football fan, but surely the measure of a good coach, let alone a great one, is not whatever "system" he carries with him, but the degree to which he is able to craft a system that suits his present situation.

Now, I must be an idiot, because nobody seems to evaluate football coaches on that basis. A number of NFL teams and more than a few college football programs will be shopping for new coaches this off-season, but everywhere the buzz will be about the merits of one "system" against another. What really matters is something we can't evaluate from the outside: the ability of a coach to organize the assets at his disposal to deliver. I appreciate that football can be a complicated game, but it's not as if football coaches have some sort of gnosis--some private revelation from the divine--that supplies them with a "system." These things are learned, taught, copied and adapted.

By that measure, I would give the Shannahans mixed reviews for their first year with the Redskins. They spent the first half of the season in what turned out to be a futile attempt to turn Donovan McNabb into John Elway. That didn't work. In the past month, we've seen the dawn of the Rex Grossman era, with equally mixed results: better offensive production coupled with crippling offensive mistakes.

On defense, we've seen a team that had been stingy in yards allowed to give up lots of yards--enough that they now rank, dead last in terms of yards allowed among NFL defenses. Redskins fans have watched too many opposing drives chew up precious seconds of game time as the defense has, again and again, conceded yard after yard to opposing rushers.

Things might have been better, I guess, if at least the Redskins could look forward to a rebuilding year in the draft. But the front office has shut down that path to improvement: they have consistently traded away draft picks for big-money free agents. This has been, and will continue to be, costly. It's hard to build a "system" if you don't have enough chances to get players to fill roles.

I don't know about you, but I keep imagining an alternate universe: a universe where we didn't care so much about a "system" or the off-season free-agent signing. I imagine a universe where the dozens of traded draft picks...weren't. I imagine a Redskins team coached by a reasonably-competent journeyman. I imagine that there were three or four terrible rebuilding years.

But I imagine, too, that a few of those draft picks had worked out; the oldest would be a veteran player now. I imagine organizational stability. I imagine timing-based passes that were in sync. I imagine fewer missed tackles and fewer blown coverage situations because, well, players would have had a chance to get comfortable in their roles. I imagine a Redskins team that might not have gone to the playoffs, but might have at least won half of their games.

I might even dare to imagine that in all of that, the Redskins front office and coaching staff would never have had to resort to humiliating NFL veterans by disparaging their "conditioning." We would never have had to worry about some overpaid Achilles sulking in his training-camp tent. We might have never witnessed the spectacle of a starting quarterback learning that he had been benched through media reports. We might imagine an organization so respected as to attract the attention of--dare I say it--ambitious free agents.

Instead, we Redskins fans can look forward to the off-season: the only time of the football year the Redskins can imagine themselves as real competitors.


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