No matter how it ends, or when it ends -- this latest publicly displayed spasm of organizational dysfunction in Washington -- the Redskins and owner Daniel Snyder know their way home from here. They've been here so many times before, at the end of so many lost seasons and failed coaching tenures, that Snyder and his loyal minions could do this in their sleep.
The names always change, but the pattern remains the same. Nobody leaves Washington looking better off for their time in Snyder's employ. Not coaches. Certainly not headline-name players. Reputations don't get burnished with the Redskins. They get tarnished. And it's happening again, this time as head coach Mike Shanahan tries desperately to take the money and run as far away from Ashburn, Va., as possible.
When I wrote last week in my look at the hot-seat coaching situation around the league that the forecast in Washington was for more drama to come, with the odds of things deteriorating for Shanahan in Washington being pretty high, I was apparently overly cautious. I should have learned from history and predicted an all-out train wreck of a conclusion to the Shanahan era, with enough palace intrigue, deviousness and bitterness to assign blame to all sides involved in this sad but familiar Redskins debacle.
The end game is never pretty in Washington, is it? As it went with Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn, so it will now go with Shanahan as well. Only Joe Gibbs made his exit from the Redskins without drama, having put in four years during his second administration and cashed his big payday, with not even Snyder brazen or silly enough to mess with a Redskins living legend he revered. Gibbs went only 31-36 in his 2004-07 stint in Washington, but he didn't completely crash and burn at the end, and that makes him a winner by default.
When you add in the reputation damage that players such as Donovan McNabb, Deion Sanders, Albert Haynesworth and Bruce Smith incurred during their Washington tenures -- some of it deserved, perhaps some of it not -- it's a wonder that anyone ever persuades themselves, no matter how big the salary, that their experience will be different in D.C. Time spent with the Redskins seems to mark you with some sort of indelible ink, and it's not the kind of status tattoo that anyone ever cares to display.
To a degree, Washington is where careers go to die. That's a lesson we are learning anew this week.
The latest controversy involving Shanahan is shaping up to get as messy as any in the Redskins' long history of melodrama. I don't really know if Shanahan wants out of Washington to pursue another job -- Houston is the rumor -- as much as he just wants out of Washington. Like so many others before him have wanted out of Washington, he has waved the white flag and he's doing his darndest to bring about the divorce.
In fact, I'm convinced Shanahan made it past Monday as the Redskins head coach only because Snyder knows firing him would be giving him exactly what he wants: his walking papers and that $7 million he's owed in 2014, the final year of his contract. Shanahan as Brer Rabbit, begging to not be thrown into the briar patch, is not even a stretch in this case.
And if you think Shanahan on Monday raising the possibility of benching Robert Griffin III for the season's last three games is really about protecting the franchise quarterback for 2014, as opposed to say, trying to provoke Snyder into firing him post haste, well, you either haven't been paying attention or you're the kind of person who assigns good intentions to everyone until proven otherwise. That's admirable, but it's also not remotely what's really going on in this instance. Not even Griffin is capable of reversing field quite as deftly as Shanahan did on Monday.
This much is all but certain: There will be a forthcoming fight over Shanahan's 2014 money, possibly a settlement, and then the start of a new coaching search in Washington. But all of that is just details and exit strategy. Even once the autopsy on this relationship is conducted and we know how much blame to assign to Shanahan, who has not exactly bathed himself in glory in his four years in Washington, the larger truth will remain: Snyder, wrapping up his 15th season as the Redskins owner, still can't get it right. At least not for long. No matter what he does, or who he hires.
If nothing else, this latest unraveling of the Redskins should finally put an end to the storyline that Snyder has changed his ways and matured as an NFL owner, learning from his many mistakes and taking a less-hands-on approach. We're not falling for the banana in the tail pipe again. Snyder may have given Shanahan total control of personnel, built him a practice bubble, moved training camp to Richmond and did almost everything else the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach asked of him.
But that doesn't mean any of the methods practiced by the supposedly older and wiser Snyder have worked markedly better. Washington is ending the 11th non-playoff season in Snyder's 15-year tenure, and he has two playoff wins and two NFC East titles to show for his millions and his trouble. Once Shanahan leaves, Snyder will be searching for his seventh full-time head coach (not counting 2000 interim Terry Robiskie), and whomever he coaxes to town will arrive knowing the owner still gets accused of caring too much about the cultivation of a celebrity culture and a quick-fix mentality to roster and team building.
Snyder's love of the big splash and going for style over substance has gotten him into trouble before, of course. If the seeds of this latest disaster in Ashburn are really about Snyder's too-close relationship with and star treatment of Griffin, wanting to be more the friend of the team's superstar quarterback than be his boss, that's a very familiar development being repeated.
We heard similar things about how he tried to pal around with Redskins LaVar Arrington, Clinton Portis and Bruce Smith in the past, creating two sets of rules for the team's stars. And just last week, two sources close to the situation in Washington told me Shanahan had rebuffed all attempts by Snyder to make their relationship more buddy-buddy over the years.
"People are still trying to tell Dan that he doesn't have to be good friends with those he has in key managerial positions, or his players,'' one source said. "Shanahan had no interest in that. It was strictly a business relationship with him. Mike doesn't socialize with Dan, he doesn't hang with Dan. He never wanted to, and Dan always pushed that sort of thing. He always wants to socialize with his coaches, or the stars on the team.''
If those lessons have gone unlearned, then Snyder truly hasn't changed parts of the team culture that have been identified as problematic in the past. That's far from the whole story of the failure of the Shanahan era, but it's symptomatic of an owner who is still flailing to find a successful and lasting management style, with a structure that is built to get the best out of his team's talent and coaching resources.
For that, Snyder has no one to blame but himself. He is the X-factor in Washington's long and mostly tortured post-Super Bowl era. Shanahan will be gone any minute now, because with the Redskins, the names and faces always change. In D.C., only the dysfunction, disappointment and dismal results remain the same.