Shanahan mailbag: Offense a family affair

ASHBURN, Va. -- One of the most common criticisms of Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan is that he's a slave to his own offensive "system," and more interested in finding players who fit that system than in finding the best possible players and constructing a system around them. Shanahan has heard this criticism, and when I brought it up in my interview with him last week, this is what he had to say about it:

"It's kind of funny, because when I had Steve Young and we had to run a West Coast offense [in San Francisco], and Steve was so much different than Joe Montana, you know, it was different. And then [John] Elway -- Elway didn't want to run the five-step drop. We were in a shotgun formation all the time. He hated the West Coast offense of three- and five-step drops, so with John it was a seven-step drop and a lot of shotgun. And then we wind up getting a guy like Jake Plummer, and of course Jake... totally different. He had to be outside the pocket, all those quarterback keeps, boots, none of the drop-back, none of the seven-step drop. He was good on the run, good on the play action, but the drop-back wasn't his game.

"So what you've always got to do is, whatever quarterback you have, you adjust your system to your players. The one thing I think I have been categorized with is the zone blocking scheme. People say, 'Oh, he loves the zone blocking scheme.' So I think I've been stereotyped there, relative to the running game. But in the passing game, if people look at what we've done in different places, they're gong to say, 'Oh, he adjusts the passing game to the quarterback.' Like with Rex [Grossman]. You can't run quarterback keeps with Rex, but you can do it with John [Beck]. So whatever somebody can do, you try to adjust accordingly."

Omar from Washington, D.C., sent in several questions for Shanahan last week, and one of the ones I used was about his relationship with his son, Kyle, who is his offensive coordinator. Omar wanted to know what Mike Shanahan thought of the criticism Kyle receives and how he feels his son has progressed in the role.

Mike Shanahan: "The important thing is that your coordinator knows what he's doing. Until you see a coordinator in meetings, or how he runs the meeting ... you're not really sure until you see him under the gun -- running game, passing game, installation of the run, installation of the pass, how he shows film, how he relates to the team. So that's where it's been very ... I shouldn't say a surprise, but it's natural for him, and it's easy to see that he understands the game. He can handle himself in any meeting, and until you see that as a coach, you just don't know, especially when it's your son. But he was very natural at that right away, so I became very comfortable with him, because I knew he knew what he was doing."

I told Shanahan that I often get questions from fans about whether Kyle will be fired, and that I generally respond to them by pointing out that Kyle's father is his boss and that a firing is therefore unlikely. He seemed to agree with my assessment, but here's what he had to say about the criticisms and the coaching staff in general:

MS: "I think what I've always been able to do is look at things very objectively in terms of where we're at. So when somebody says, 'Hey, your offense sucks,' I go, 'Hey, wait a minute. You look at my body of work over the last 27 years, we're No. 1.' And we’re going to continue to be up there. And I also know what it takes to have a good offense, in terms of coaches and personnel, and we're gong to get there, on both sides of it. And if I have a bad coach, I'm going to make changes, and if I don’t have the right personnel, I'm going to make changes. And we're going to get that thing fixed the right way."

Wendell Washington from Landover, Md., wanted me to ask the elder Shanahan about Redskins owner Dan Snyder -- specifically, whether Snyder has bought into Shanahan's belief that the way to build a long-term winner is through the draft rather than free agency and is sticking to his promise to let Shanahan do it his way.

MS: "Oh yeah, he's been very good. He's been very good letting me do it the way you want to do it. Been very supportive. I said to him, 'If you don’t count on me being here five years, you shouldn't sign me. Because this isn't going to happen overnight. We've got a lot of work to do. This is an older football team.' But he's been good."

Later on, though, I asked what impact the fact of his 11-21 record in his first two seasons as Redskins coach has on his faith that he's building the team the right way.

MS: "You just know that you've got two more years to get the job done, because they never let you go through the five years. You get it done in four years or you're gone. But that's what I love about this profession -- the pressure of it, what goes with it. The thing that I enjoy is that I've got an owner that's going to give me a chance to be successful. And if I can't get it done in four years, even though I've got a five-year contract, then I shouldn't be here."

We're going to do this every day until I run out of stuff. Thanks again for your help with the interview, and I hope you're enjoying what we've got out of it so far.