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Shanahan biting tongue (for now)

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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining FOXSports.com. Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

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LANDOVER, Md.

If Redskins coach Mike Shanahan had asked my advice, his postgame remarks Sunday probably trend toward snarky and gloat-y. “How do you like me now, boys?” sounds about right considering how he has been piñata-ed for almost 12 months for giving up on a QB Philly had been praised for giving up on, criticizing a lazy fat butt who was roundly criticized in NFL circles and going 6-10 with a Washington team with barely four W’s worth of talent.

DC had turned this Super Bowl-winning coach into a whipping boy in less than a season based on a big bag of nothing, in other words.

On second thought and in light of that, I would have gone with, “Go to hell or some other big city,” as my dad loves to say.

Shanahan did not, however, listen to me nor quote my dad, thus we were treated to more coach speak than media slap in aftermath of Washington’s somewhat shocking 28-14 victory against the New York Giants on Sunday. Too bad, he deserves to shout a “go to hell.” And if he were younger or as big an idiot as he has been painted to be — The Washington Post recently wrote the lockout was good for the ‘Skins because it prevented Shanahan from doing more damage than already inflicted — he might have waded into this fray. Shanahan instead seems determined to grow a winning team in what has become a football wasteland under owner Danny Snyder, so his message to his team went something like this:

We won a game. Big deal. Until we win and win consistently, they get to talk. We do not.

Talk has been particularly vicious — even by nasty DC political standards where blue state-red state rhetoric has become blood sport—with regards to Shanahan.

“Our media is brutal and we haven’t won football games in 20 years so everybody understands, the guys in this locker room understand, the coaching staff understands, we don’t need to tell people we are going to be a good football team,” ‘Skins tight end Chris Cooley said. “We have to go out and play well. And until we play well, everyone gets killed.”

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And Shanahan gets killed-killed, more than dare I say past-his-prime McNabb, more than fat-and-lazy Albert Haynesworth, more than that idiot meddler Snyder responsible for the sorry state of this once-proud franchise. Shanahan's treatment in DC reminds me very much of what coach Bill Parcells discovered in Dallas, only devolving much faster and becoming much nastier. Too old, too done. Game has passed him by; his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, has never caught up with game. Awful, bad, embarrassing, every adjective imaginable has been employed to detail just how badly Shanahan has screwed up this Washington team. How exactly can y’all tell again?

Fire him has been broached. No, seriously, firing him was presented for debate eight weeks in. Eight freaking weeks.

He has been torched, locally and nationally. Even my man Whitlock, usually a voice of reason in such matters, joined in a chorus of criticism for benching McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman for a two-minute drill midway through last season and for his fumbled explanation for doing so. His screwup? He tried to say everything except for the truth because, well, the truth was harsh. What Shanahan probably wanted to say was, “I did not want this guy, he is done, he is not a winner, and I have enough skins on the wall that y’all need to trust me when I say this.” Instead, he fumbled around with silliness about McNabb not knowing the two-minute drill, followed by McNabb not being in condition, followed by more silliness.

And I almost guarantee what he wanted to say is, “Because I said so,” and for that to be enough. Forgive Whitlock, for he has forgotten whom he criticizes. He obviously has forgotten that his two favorite quarterbacks — Jeff George and McNabb — have won exactly squat in the Super Bowl department while Shanahan has two rings. He has a track record. He knows what he’s doing.

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Welcome to DC, I guess.

Buyer-beware signs should be posted on Snyder’s plane considering what has happened to Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs 2.0 and now Shanahan’s reps with only minimal contact. How quickly Shanahan has gone from sought-after commodity to football idiot. In an infinitely fascinating story in Sunday’s WaPo by Mike Wise, we were treated to details of Shanahan’s recruitment. My favorite part detailed how Snyder had called, courted and then flown to Shanahan in Denver in a drunken aftermath of an ugly loss.

“A lot of calls, a lot of booze that night” the paper quoted a source as saying. “We were just like four college roommates drowning their sorrows with alcohol after our team lost. The difference was, one of our college buddies was the owner of the team. And he called an ex-coach to make himself feel better.”

It would be a while, but eventually all the drunk-dialing would pay off. So how exactly has this already turned into a walk of shame in a few eyes? OK, a lot of eyes? I have no idea, especially once you talk with his players.

His team, with his fingerprints on every smooth surface, loves him. No, really loves him. Belief in Shanahan borders on fanatical in that locker room, which is tricky considering his public feuding with McNabb and Haynesworth. Players tend to support their own, especially when a coach looks to be dangling a little.

“What I would say personally? I would do whatever Coach asked me. I love him as a coach. I thought he has done an amazing job building a team and establishing a culture in our locker room,” Cooley said. “Then what I would say is the guys believe. Coach Shanahan doesn’t have to stand up and ask guys to buy in. He doesn’t have to tell guys to believe. You get the sense guys are all on the same page, and that is not because they are being told to.”

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Where does this belief come from, I asked.

“I do know I grew up in Wyoming and celebrated when he won Super Bowls,” Cooley said, emphasizing the “s” that signified plural. “I don’t really know how he ran teams there. I know it’s made me love the game. It’s made me love the game more than I ever had. I hope that doesn’t sound weird. It’s made the game fun made me want to go to work.”

I have heard plenty of feigned votes of confidence from players in my sportswriting days, most recently Cowboys players on Wade “Coach Cupcake” Phillips. I have heard tepid and “Sure, I like that guy” endorsements. Cooley sounded very much like a guy ready to go to battle for Shanahan, not bad for a supposed idiot, past-his-prime coach who's enabling his son and blamed for single-handedly destroying the Redskins. How exactly do y’all differentiate Jim Zorn destroyed from Shanahan destroyed?

I do not know for sure if he will win big, or win at all in DC. Having Danny Snyder as an owner is a wild card, and I wish him Godspeed with Grossman as a long-term option. Sexy Rexy has tended to give way to Vexy Rexy eventually, wherever he has been.

All I know for sure is Shanahan has earned the benefit of the doubt by what he has done, and the right to tell all of us where to go based on what he did Sunday and what now looks like possibly the season.

Tagged: Redskins, Rex Grossman, Chris Cooley

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