I trust in Mike Shanahan — his coaching, his system and what he can get out of a quarterback — enough to know that signing Donovan McNabb to an extension was the right move for the Redskins.
I know Shanahan well, and he’s one of the best coaches in the league. He can coach the quarterback position as well as anyone. The realization for Shanahan is that if he feels he has a quarterback he can win with, go ahead and lock him up.
Everyone wants to talk about the circumstances surrounding how McNabb was benched, but the bigger picture was that Shanahan tried to offer some criticism to help his quarterback realize there was a sense of urgency and he needed to improve. Just because the two sides were approaching a new deal didn’t mean McNabb didn’t have to practice hard. Shanahan was going to dish out some criticism and have a measure of correction, just like a coach should.
McNabb isn’t above that.
Coaches are cryptic people by nature. They’re never going to tell us everything that’s going on. That’s one part of this league to which I’m not naive. I talk to coaches every week, and it would be foolish to think everything I’m told is exactly what’s going on. A coach can never step up to the microphone and tell us every single thing we want to know and answer every question truthfully and with full disclosure.
Rex Grossman didn’t give the Redskins their best chance to win. Everyone knows that wasn’t true. But people, let it go. What did they expect Shanahan to say? That McNabb was horrible that day, he hadn’t practiced well all week and that Shanahan saw exactly that on the field? That would have been throwing McNabb under the bus.
I’ve always said it’s the coach’s job to have his finger on the pulse of his football team, and he needs to know how to motivate players individually. You have to find ways to criticize players just enough to spark motivation to go out and fix problems, but not so much to damage their psyche or your relationship. Shanahan knows best what that is, much better than we do.
Players aren’t like regular people and can’t be overly sensitive to criticism. It’s critical that a player can receive coaching. If they get benched, then what? Are they going to play or quit? Coaches have to test players to find out if it’s fight or flight. Shanahan was going to find this out before extending McNabb. I believe McNabb responded the right way, and it’s a big part of why he got the big deal.
The extension might be premature, because I would have liked to see McNabb play better before giving him a contract. But if I’m Shanahan and I just criticized McNabb that way and he responded the way that he did, it’s a sign that I can give him the money because he can be pushed hard but won’t break. Maybe that was a sign for Shanahan that he could push McNabb to a higher level.
What Shanahan can trust is McNabb, who will be 34 soon, has always been a character guy who will work to improve. That’s what you bet on. McNabb won’t run and hide when there’s adversity. Shanahan was testing McNabb and the criticism was fair, how he responded was the most encouraging aspect for the Redskins.
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