ASHBURN, Va. — At the podium stood Mike Shanahan, who has a $35 million, five-year contract that gives him final authority over football decisions as head coach and executive vice president of the Washington Redskins.
Seated at a nearby table was Bruce Allen, the first general manager Dan Snyder has hired in 11 years of owning the team.
And nowhere on the stage was Snyder, who sat next to his wife Tanya as a member of the audience in the Redskins Park auditorium. It was the first time he hasn’t introduced a new coach, a powerful symbol of how the balance of power has shifted within a proud franchise.
“Dan Snyder has directed us to please get this team back to the levels where it’s been in the past,” Allen said. “And I believe he’s going to be our most supportive fan.”
Shanahan made his formal debut Wednesday, one day after signing his contract and just two days after Jim Zorn was fired following a 4-12 season. The winner of two Super Bowls in the 1990s with the Denver Broncos spoke mainly in generalities with polish and confidence, far from the nervous and ragged performance given by rookie coach Zorn 23 months ago.
“I’ve got very high standards, just like everybody in this organization,” Shanahan said. “I can’t tell you how long it’s going to take. But I can guarantee you: We’ll get better every day and hopefully it won’t take long to get back to where this organization has been.”
For most of his time as owner, Snyder has been a hands-on manager yielding a strong influence on roster decisions. But the Redskins are 82-99 on his watch, missing the playoffs in eight of 11 seasons, so three weeks ago he hired Allen and ousted longtime front office confidant Vinny Cerrato.
Therefore, in less than a month, the Redskins have gone from an organization that revolved primarily around Snyder and his yes-man to one that includes two established decision-makers firmly in charge.
“I wanted a guy that knows that like I know football. Bruce is that guy. So we will work together. Do I have the final say? Maybe you could say that,” Shanahan said with a shrug. “But you know what? I would never use that. … One of the reasons I was so excited about Bruce is I know Bruce will not agree with me on a lot of things, and that’s what I’m looking for.”
Snyder tried this once before, giving final roster control to coach Marty Schottenheimer in 2001 — before the two butted heads and Schottenheimer was fired after an 8-8 season. Snyder also deferred to Joe Gibbs when the Hall of Fame coach came out of retirement, but this is the first time the owner has taken this much of a back seat.
Snyder left the news conference without speaking to reporters but later did an interview with the team’s Web site.
“We’ve got the foundation here now … with Bruce, and coach Shanahan is our leader,” Snyder said. “They’re going to be a great team.”
It was no secret that Snyder had been planning to replace Zorn with Shanahan for months, and Shanahan’s comments supported that notion. He said he and Snyder talked “throughout the year like we have over the last 10 years,” and he all but lobbied Snyder on Allen’s behalf for the GM job last offseason.
“I said, ‘Hey, this guy, I can’t believe, is on the street,'” Shanahan said. “And so, when you get a guy like that, you say, ‘Hey, let’s gobble him up.'”
Things will surely be different under Shanahan. He said he’d prefer to move training camp away from the area, something the Redskins haven’t done since 2003. He said he won’t tolerate the kind of public bickering that surfaced in recent weeks from players such as Albert Haynesworth and Clinton Portis. The roster includes major questions at offensive line, quarterback, running back and defensive back.
Another symbol of change: Absent from the news conference were the team’s three Super Bowl trophies from the 1980s and early ’90s, the prized possessions Snyder used to always display whenever the team made major news.
Shanahan will spend his first days evaluating the roster and deciding on a coaching staff. One move already made: His son, Houston Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, is taking the same job with the Redskins to fulfill his dream of working with father.
“Once he got fired in Denver, I told him whenever he decides to come back that I’d go with him,” Kyle Shanahan told the Texans’ Web site. “I feel it’s now or never.”
Shanahan made the playoffs in half of his 14 seasons in Denver, and had only two losing seasons — 6-10 in 1999 and 7-9 in 2007. His greatest successes came early, winning consecutive Super Bowls after the 1997 and ’98 seasons with a team led by quarterback John Elway.
He was fired a year ago after Denver missed the playoffs for the third straight season. He had three years left on his contract, and the deal with the Redskins calls for the Broncos to pay about $3.5 million of his salary in 2010 and 2011. His career record, including two seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders, is 146-98 in the regular season and 8-5 in the playoffs.
“It’s been a good year off for me to sit back and really evaluate,” Shanahan said. “I’ve enjoyed watching more games and doing things that I’ve never done before, and at the same time, very anxious to get back.”