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Mike Shanahan signs autographs following the morning practice session yesterday. Shanahan has a big task
Redskins general manager Bruce Allen is a key piece of the team's plans to win another championship.
BY RICH CAMPBELL
ASHBURN--When owner Daniel Snyder introduced Bruce Allen as the Washington Redskins' new general manager last December, he called Allen a "proven winner," citing the five divisional championships Allen's teams have won during the last decade.
Three weeks later, when Allen stood at the same lectern and presented Mike Shanahan as the franchise's new head coach, he touted Shanahan as "one of the most consistent winners in the history of the NFL."
The trend was clear. After first-time head coach Jim Zorn flopped in a two-year stint and longtime front-office chief Vinny Cerrato was ousted, Snyder was ready to change course. It was time to establish some credibility and winning experience at the top of the organization.
The moves fueled optimism throughout the fan base that, despite being just days removed from the franchise's worst season in 15 years, the Redskins' steady downward trajectory would reverse.
Fast-forward to training camp yesterday, where that hope was as palpable as ever. One vociferous fan watching practice got a little carried away after a long gain by running back Clinton Portis and started yelling, "16-0, baby!"
And while that's going too far, the foundation for that optimism can't be ignored. It stems from Allen's and Shanahan's extensive experience. They are proven commodities, and the credibility that provides seems to be a necessary starting point for the Redskins' rebuilding process.
"I know Bruce, and I know what Mike has done," said Doug Williams, the former Redskins Super Bowl MVP quarterback who worked with Allen in Tampa Bay's front office from 2004 to 2008. "I think with that combination what you probably have is a lot more stability than they've had over the last few years. I think what Bruce and Shanahan bring is a different feel. I think they'll get the best out of the guys."
WORKING OFF THE PLAN
Allen and Shanahan spent a good portion of their first two months on the job developing a plan for the Redskins' turnaround.
Crafting a detailed vision for such an extensive task might seem intuitive, and to Shanahan and Allen it is. It's a key step that Shanahan has followed at all of his coaching stops since famed University of Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer impressed its importance upon him at his first coaching job in 1975.
Allen learned its value from his father, George, the Hall of Fame coach who guided the Redskins from 1971 to '77.
Specifics of the plan are guarded for strategic reasons, but some steps already are clear. The Redskins upgraded the quarterback position with the April trade for Donovan McNabb, and changed their defense to a 3-4 base front. They did not commit to long-term contracts with veteran restricted free agents, considering the uncertainty with the NFL's labor situation and the fact that they are still evaluating how players fit into the team's new offense and defense.
The foundation, however, is more basic than just personnel. It's a mind-set.
"The key formula for success hasn't changed over the decades," Allen said. "It's a team playing together. We play in the ultimate team sport. The idea is--this is about the Redskins. I've really been pleased this offseason by how the coaches have embraced that and how the coaches have implemented that in our locker room and the practice field. It's about the team."
Together, Shanahan and Allen during the plan's design phase drew from a wealth of experience that the team's brain trust had been lacking since Snyder took over in 1999. Shanahan's two Super Bowls speak for themselves. But before his 25-year NFL coaching career, he won national championships as an offensive assistant at Oklahoma and as an offensive coordinator for Eastern Illinois, his alma mater.
Allen was the Oakland Raiders' front-office chief when they went to the Super Bowl in 2003. As Tampa Bay's general manager, he helped the Buccaneers to two division titles.
Long before that, though, Allen grew up in an NFL environment because of his dad's access.
"When you have experience, you've learned from some good things that you've done and you've learned from your mistakes of the past," Allen said. "Experience just says you've had a bunch of opportunities to look back on and hopefully make the right projections."
As that applies to Allen, he is adept at managing the personalities that make an NFL franchise. Many people who know him or have worked with him say he seems to have a gift when it comes to dealing with people.
That was evident shortly into his Redskins tenure when he took steps to repair the organization's damaged relationship with some of its former players. He helped organize an outing at Redskins Park in June that ended up being a feel-good reconciliation of sorts.
"I think what he's doing is actually with the owner," Williams said. "He can easily sit down with the owner and make sure that the coach has everything he needs to put a good product on the field without the owner going straight to the coach or what have you. I think that's what Bruce does. I think Bruce probably brings people in that he can work with, that can work with other people."
FAITH IN THE COACH
Shanahan's experience, meanwhile, is evident on the field.
He honed his training-camp structure--an intense 21/2-hour morning practice in full pads, followed by an afternoon "jog-through" for 70 minutes--during his 14-year tenure as the Denver Broncos' head coach.
There is no music blasting during warm-ups--a trademark of Zorn's practices last season--or "Z-shades," portable shelters that shaded players from the sun.
With Shanahan, there are a lot of 11-on-11 drills. Offense versus defense, with both sides working on their plays.
"When you have 80 guys [the current training camp limit], if you are practicing a legitimate two times a day, and with my history with 90 players or above, you are going to lose a bunch of players," Shanahan said. "What we are trying to do now is keep our players in shape. I don't think we need a second practice to kill them every day. What we need is repetition, to be out there so we can stay on top of our game mentally."
That sounds good to players. Thing is, after going a combined 12-20 under Zorn, they embrace Shanahan's winning history.
When the 16th-winningest coach in NFL history says or does something, it's a lot easier to buy into.
"You can't second-guess his methods in the back of your mind," veteran defensive end Kedric Golston said. "Not to say that I second-guessed Coach Zorn. But even with the media, if Zorn said 'right' and it didn't work, it should have been 'left.'
"I think Coach Shanahan, the fact that he has won two Super Bowls and has that credibility, you can't question what he says. Even though it could be the same call as another coach and it doesn't work, in the back of our minds that was the best call for us because he has that credibility built up that he can lead us to the promised land."
And for a rebuilding organization, such strong faith is a start.
Rich Campbell: 540/735-1974