Nobody's going to defend Albert Haynesworth's performance with the Washington Redskins this season. He's been overweight, lazy, petulant, and just plain awful. Compounding the disappointment is the outrageous contract he was awarded two years ago.
In a sport where superstars routinely go underpaid, he's made $35 million in two years as a Redskin, and hasn't done much to earn it. We know all this, and after he was suspended for the rest of the 2010 season on Tuesday, nobody's looking to argue that Albert Haynesworth has somehow gotten a raw deal in Washington.
But what about Mike Shanahan, the coach that decided to suspend him?
It seems like everyone's painting the Redskins as the victims here, and that's not quite right, either. If Albert Haynesworth's been a failure, that's partly a reflection on the coaching staff. Part of Mike Shanahan and Jim Haslett's job description this year—a big part—was convincing Washington's only true superstar to buy into their coaching philosophy.
Last January, when Shanahan won the job and announced he'd bring Jim Haslett with him to convert the Redskins to a 3-4 defense, everyone's biggest question was whether they could get Haynesworth on board. As National Football Post wrote then:
...the Redskins will likely be counting on their $100-million man to convert to nose tackle, a crucial yet unglamorous role in the scheme. Haynesworth wanted more freedom in what he was being asked to do under Blache, and the nose tackle role will be even more restrictive.
...That's why the first order of business for the new coaching staff is going to be getting Haynesworth to buy in. Completely. The club paid a fortune to land him as the prize of free agency, and when he's playing up to his capability, he's dominant.
And... Well, we all know how that turned out. Haynesworth expressed skepticism from the start, and the relationship with the coaching staff has been contentious ever since. But who's really failed here?
We can point to Haynesworth's reluctance to "Buy in" and call him a lazy example of everything that's wrong with athletes. That story pretty much writes itself. But why hasn't anyone blamed Mike Shanahan for not being able to sell it? It's players that win games, and a coach's first job is to get the most out of his players. It's not always easy, and often times, a player as challenging as Haynesworth can bring the greatest rewards.
With the Redskins, though, as soon as Haynesworth challenged his authority by skipping mandatory mini-camps, Shanahan responded by questioning his commitment publicly. And then, when it was time to report to training camp, he made a weeks-long spectacle out of Haynesworth's lack of conditioning, as if to prove his point. And maybe Shanahan was right all along.
But there's an old saying, "It's better to be happy than right."
And it's better to find a way to keep your best defensive player happy than be right and starting Ma'ake Kemoeatu at the most important position in the new defense you're trying to implement.
Shanahan never got that far, though, and he never seemed to try. When Haynesworth was out of shape, he wasn't allowed to practice. When Haynesworth wasn't playing well, he was on the bench and, sometimes, inactive altogether. And when Haynesworth made some critical comments about the team making an example out of him in the media and his teammates making him the scape goat, the team made an example out of him in the media and once again, he was the scapegoat.
And just like that, the Redskins—a team whose current best players are probably Brian Orakpo and Brandon Banks—have thrown away their biggest, most expensive talent of all.
Again, I'm not arguing Albert Haynesworth's the victim here. If anyone deserves sympathy, it's the Redskins fans. I'm not arguing at all, really. Just asking: When people in D.C. talk about the Redskins and Haynesworth and an oversized ego, immaturity, unwillingness to adapt, and a lazy approach to a challenge... Why don't they ever talk about Mike Shanahan?