ASHBURN, Va. – and it was just what the team needed.
"You want somebody that's demanding and has the discipline and gets the respect of the players," one of the players said. "And I'm not so sure we had that here last year."
Must be talking about 2010, right? Jim Zorn to Mike Shanahan?
Nope, 2001. The player speaking was Jeff George, of all people, summing up the 180-degree switch from Norv Turner to Marty Schottenheimer.
When the Redskins make a coaching change, they really make a coaching change. Every move in 11 years under owner Dan Snyder has flipped the needle completely, alternating back and forth between the laissez-faire of Turner, Steve Spurrier and Zorn and the unquestioned totalitarianism of Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs and Shanahan.
"One extreme to the other," said fullback Mike Sellers, who has spent nine of the past 12 seasons in Washington.
Each time a change was made, players said it was long overdue. Schottenheimer, it turns out, was eventually deemed to be too strict — so it was a much-needed breath of fresh air when he was fired after one 8-8 season and replaced by Spurrier.
"It's more laid-back," linebacker Kevin Mitchell said at Spurrier's first training camp. "Instead of somebody telling you what to do, it's more 'I'll leave it up to you.' It's up to you to get yourself in shape, and it's up to you to do all the other things, be on time. We're all adults now. It's your job, and you've got to take care of your job and your responsibilities."
And so on. And so on. Spurrier was such a class clown that players lost respect for him over two seasons of 12-20 football, so they welcomed the return of discipline under Gibbs. But Gibbs was so tense — and intense — during his 30-34 record over four seasons that players then welcomed the fly-by-wire Zorn.
"People aren't on pins and needles around him," center Casey Rabach said after Zorn was hired.
Now, of course, it's time to tee up Zorn, who was fired after a Spurrier-like 12-20 over two seasons. Shanahan is — you guessed it — just what the doctor ordered.
"I'm all about organization and structure," linebacker Brian Orakpo said earlier this year. "Last year was a mess."
Said Rabach: "He's not loosey-goosey like Zorn. He definitely has his script, where he has a plan laid out. There's no deviating from this plan. So yeah, it's fun. I like it."
So, once again, a coaching change has brought a renewed optimism to training camp. But, given the track record of the past decade, why should fans expect this change to be any different? When various Redskins were asked that question this week, they gave answers that could have been copied-and-pasted from the first camps under Schottenheimer and Gibbs.
"He'll put that hammer down on you if you don't act right, and I think that's what we needed around here," said six-time Pro Bowl tackle Chris Samuels, who retired last year and is working with the staff on a coaching internship.
For those wondering if the cycle will ever end, try looking at front office politics. Schottenheimer was given full authority over roster decisions and had a strong finish in his only season, but he was fired because Snyder wanted to regain some of that personnel control.
Gibbs, also a buck-stops-here Hall of Fame coach, had his struggles but managed to coax two playoff appearances out of the team before announcing his retirement.
By contrast, when Snyder and front office pal Vinny Cerrato were more hands-on, the team looked almost ridiculous. The combined records under the strict coaches is significantly better than those compiled during the laid-back regimes.
So now it's back to the firm hand. Shanahan has been given contractual control of personnel and isn't taking flak from anyone, even disgruntled lineman Albert Haynesworth. Cerrato has been ousted and replaced by general manager Bruce Allen. Snyder is letting his new hires run the show — at least for now.
"I think it's a whole change of atmosphere here," Rabach said. "It's not just a change of coach. With Bruce Allen coming in, Vinny out, Mr. Snyder being more hands-off and letting these guys do it, I think that's the biggest change."
But, having been through so many 180-degree turns, Rabach wasn't about to guarantee that this one will be a success.
"Who knows if this works?" he said with a shrug and a laugh. "You never know."
Notes: RT Jammal Brown did not practice Wednesday due to a mild hip muscle strain. Shanahan said Brown had an MRI but was fine and would return Thursday. Brown sat out last season with the New Orleans Saints because of a hip injury and sports hernia. ... WR Mike Furrey missed practice due to illness.