Mike Shanahan smiled, joked, looked positively giddy at times. He even allowed reporters to watch an entire Washington Redskins regular season practice for the first time, daring them to brave the 21-degree wind chill. It was hard to tell he has a team that's 5-7 and out of the playoffs.
That's what happens when the weight of eight months of Albert Haynesworth drama is lifted from a coach's shoulders.
Shanahan on Wednesday discussed his decision to suspend the two-time All-Pro defensive tackle without pay for the rest of the season, a move that brought a sense of relief to Redskins Park that a long-running soap opera of a distraction is finally over.
"I was going to share the conversation Albert and I had, but since he wouldn't talk to me I couldn't share that conversation with you guys," said Shanahan, opening his post-practice remarks with a bit of dry humor. "So that was a little tough."
Inside, Haynesworth's locker was cluttered as usual, with a towel, cleats and clothes. A shirt was draped over the front, obscuring the nameplate so all that was visible was "ORTH 92." The team's weekly schedule sat on the stool, a useless piece of paper for a player who won't be around.
For at least one more day, however, the player who wore No. 92 was the talk of the team, as he has been for countless days since the team begin offseason workouts in March. The battle of wills between Shanahan and Haynesworth got to the point where it was probably for the best that the two not share the same building, something that's now assured for the final four games.
"Albert probably don't care," cornerback Carlos Rogers said, pointing out the Redskins paid Haynesworth $41 million. "I don't think he'll miss $800,000."
Haynesworth might indeed get to enjoy a relaxing December, having played only 20 games for a team that signed him last year to a seven-year, $100 million contract with $41 million in guaranteed money. He is appealing the suspension, which would cost him $847,000 in salary if upheld, but he no longer has to concern himself with fitting into a defense in which he was "a square peg into a round hole," to use defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's words from earlier in the season.
Shanahan gave a more detailed play-by-play Wednesday, and it came to a stark conclusion: Haynesworth was impossible to please.
"He didn't like the 4-3 defense a year ago," Shanahan said. "He didn't like the base defense. He didn't like the nickel defense. He didn't want to play nose tackle, didn't want to play defensive end (in the 3-4 defense). We got him playing the nickel package, first and second and third down. He didn't like first- and second-down nickel, wanted to play third-down nickel in passing situations. Hey, it was just time. It was just time to go in another direction."
The suspension, officially for "conduct detrimental to the club," is the most emphatic statement yet that Shanahan is indisputably in charge in his first season with the club. Gone are the competing agendas of years past, when owner Dan Snyder and departed front office head Vinny Cerrato would share or diminish a coach's authority or question his decisions.
"I haven't even discussed this situation with Dan," said Shanahan, a stunning statement given Snyder's history of hands-on ownership.
"You've got to do it his way or you won't be here," special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said. "He just suspended a guy that's making $100 million and is probably the best at what he does, so what it's to stop him from doing this to anybody else on the team?"
Rogers was asked how Shanahan's I'm-the-boss style has affected the locker room.
"Some people are scared," said Rogers, who then laughed. "Not in a negative way, but he says it all the time: The teams that he's been on, Super Bowl teams and the experience that he's had in this league coaching, it's always everybody's together on one page. And if you're not, you're going to be out of here. That's his evaluation, especially for these last four games."
The Redskins (5-7) have conceded they're out of the playoff race, having lost four of five. They agree Haynesworth was a distraction they could have done without, and that the defense would have benefited if Haynesworth had committed himself to being an every-down player in the scheme.
"It was a lingering distraction. We had to talk about it constantly," Alexander said. "I wouldn't say it's good that he's gone, it's more that the situation is over with. We wanted him to play. He's a beast."
Shanahan said Haynesworth wouldn't follow coaches' instructions at practices and games. For quarterback Donovan McNabb, the conflict had a familiar ring: He was with the Philadelphia Eagles when coach Andy Reid suspended Terrell Owens in 2005.
Asked if Haynesworth will be doing push-ups for television cameras in his driveway — the way Owens did — McNabb laughed and said: "No, I don't think so."
"The relief of the whole deal is the fact that it could be possibly be over," McNabb said, "and we can focus on what we have to do, instead of answering questions all the time."
Shanahan wouldn't comment when asked if there was any way Haynesworth could be on the roster next season, although that seems highly unlikely. He said he waited this long to suspend Haynesworth in hopes things could be worked out.
"I really had a pretty good relationship with him," Shanahan said. "It was never argumentative. Pretty good for the most part. Lot of drama, obviously, with all the press coverage. But when someone dictates when they go in, when they won't go in, that just was a little bit too much for me."