There are two lessons from the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl yesterday. One is that receivers are as important to the passing game as quarterbacks (Patriots receivers let the team down yesterday). The second and more important lesson is the value of standing beside your man. This lesson applies to the Washington Redskins and Mike Shanahan.
Bill Belichick has been the football czar of the New England Patriots since 2000. Tom Coughlin has been head coach of the World Champion New York Giants since 2004, the same year Joe Gibbs returned to the Redskins. Longevity in position is an ingredient for winning programs.
Art Modell will go down in history as the only man who fired Belichick, as Cleveland's head coach, in 1996. Belichick coached the Browns to the playoffs in 1994, then fell on hard times with a 5-11 season in '95. Even then, Belichick was putting together the ingredients of a Super Bowl team—a task finished by GM Ozzie Newsome. The Browns-Ravens and Patriots franchises might have been very different if Modell stuck with Belichick.
Need coaches that can fight through adversity
The Patriots aren't about to fire Belichick any more than they are to dump Tom Brady. New York's Tom Coughlin is regularly in hot water with fans, as he was in December after the Redskins swept his team. The Giants stood at 7-7 with looming showdowns against the Jets and Cowboys. Coughlin and the Giants dug in and drew an inner strength to overcome the odds. They did not lose another game that season that ended with yesterdays Super Bowl win over Belichick's Patriots.
Coughlin was in real hot water after the 2006 season. The Giants finished 8-8, losing six of their last eight games. The smart guys and a legion of Giants fans, expected the team to fire Coughlin after that fiasco. Instead, the Giants worked with Coughlin to become a better coach, mostly by improving the way he dealt with the players.
The Giants were rewarded when Coughlin put together a Super Bowl season in 2007.
You hire the right people from the beginning. Then you let them work through adversity. It's football. It's life. There will always be adversity. The best people do their best work under pressure when things look bleakest. As long as they are trying, you don't fire them.
Lesson plan for Dan Snyder
Daniel Snyder hasn't always made the best hire decision. His fire decisions haven't been too swift either. Snyder did not stand by Jim Fassel during the fan revolt when news of Fassel's imminent hire became public. In effect he fired Fassel before he was hired and after Snyder milked him for all his football ideas. The goat rodeo that followed led to the 12-20 finish in Jim Zorn's two-year run that thankfully ended Vinny Cerrato's association with the Redskins.
If given four years on the job, Zorn would have found his rhythm and a way to win with the Redskins. He would have done no worse than the last two years under Shanahan. That's not to say he would have made the playoffs.
Joe Gibbs was not fired and he was not making the best decisions as football leader. But, the Redskins improved under his second run here. Sean Taylor's death and a family medical emergency burned the coach out and he left a year before his contract expired. Ideally, The Redskins would have extended Gibbs contract, or retained his ready-made coaching staff of Gregg Williams and Al Saunders who would have done better with the talent at hand than Zorn did.
We just are not going to go into the whole Spurrier, Schottenheimer, and Turner history. The lesson is the same.
There is too much talk now about "Shanahan's last chance" and "Shanahan must win to save his job." That is just the thinking Snyder should not want.
The Redskins do not need Shanahan to feel pressured to make tactical—short term—roster decisions. We need strategic decisions born of critical thinking about who can help the team now and in the future.
It was at a point like this when the Giants sat with Coughlin to help him become a better coach. The reward was now two Super Bowls. I don't think Snyder has the executive savvy or football smarts to help Shanahan become a better coach. But he can be an enormous help by telling (threatening?) Shanahan the football executive to make strategic roster decisions now because Shanahan will be here to fix the mistakes he makes.
Regardless of how the 'Skins finish the 2012 season, keeping Shanahan is the fastest way to the Super Bowl. Tom Coughlin can tell you all about it.