ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Instead of playing for the playoffs, Mike Shanahan is playing to match Jim Zorn.
The Washington Redskins must win their regular-season finale Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles for Shanahan to equal the two-year record of his predecessor, a coach who was undermined by management and fired in the middle of the night.
But, unlike Zorn, Shanahan is not a condemned coach playing out his final days on the job under owner Dan Snyder. As the Redskins (5-10) wrap up a fourth consecutive last-place NFC East finish — an unprecedented run in franchise history — there is no sense that change is coming.
"There's no doubt in my mind. Hopefully, there's no doubt in Dan's mind, too," Shanahan said Thursday. "Like I talked to him about when I first got here, I said: 'Dan, if you don't plan on me coaching here five years and doing it the right way, you're hiring the wrong guy.' It's going to take some time to do it right."
Although Shanahan is 11-20, he has had it easy when considering what it was like before his arrival. Zorn's 12-20 record is somewhat remarkable given that he was at the mercy of a front office led by Snyder and personnel chief Vinny Cerrato, whose dubious drafts and free-agency choices weakened the roster and whose faith in the coach was so tenuous that Sherm Lewis was hired out of Bingo-calling retirement to call the offensive plays.
"I actually enjoyed playing for coach Zorn, and I enjoy playing for coach Shanahan," defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. "I think the difference is that right now we're building something not to be a flash in the pan. We're rebuilding something that would be able to compete and sustain for years to come. I often look at it like building a building: the higher the building, the lower you're going to have to dig the foundation."
After dismissing Zorn following a 4-12 season in 2009, Snyder gave Shanahan a $35 million, five-year contract and full control over football matters. Shanahan is likely safe for at least another year if only because another coaching move would again validate Snyder's reputation for impatience and thus make it difficult to find a quality replacement.
Of course, nothing is a guarantee, given Snyder's track record in 12 years of ownership. The owner has stayed mum all season, declining to answer questions about the team when appearing at various functions. Spokesman Tony Wyllie said Snyder was unavailable for comment Thursday.
Records aside, the Redskins appear in better shape than two years ago. Shanahan has instilled a sense of order and professionalism lacking under Cerrato and Zorn. Washington had the oldest opening day roster in the NFL last year, but a large draft class has added in some promising young talent.
Shanahan's major stumble has been his choice of quarterbacks. He wasted a year with Donovan McNabb, and neither Rex Grossman nor John Beck has proven this year to be the long-term solution, a significant setback to the rebuilding process.
"I've been here 3 1/2 years, and it's always been 'hopefully next year,' so you definitely get tired of it," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "And hopefully that won't be the case next year."
But at least he's not expecting any offseason chaos.
"I feel like from the top down we know who our coaches are going to be next year," Hall said. "That's a complete 180 from what happened with Zorn."
It's been decades since a Redskins coach had a winning tenure. Norv Turner went 49-59-1 and was fired. Interim replacement Terry Robiskie was 1-2. Marty Schottenheimer was dismissed after one 8-8 season. Steve Spurrier quit after going 12-20, and Joe Gibbs was 31-36 before retiring a second time.
The players and coaches are confident Shanahan will buck the trend — as long as he's allowed to continue his work.
"There's some stability," said safeties coach Steve Jackson, another of the dwindling holdovers from the Zorn years. "And the biggest thing is you know who the guy in charge is, and he sets the course. Regardless of how it looks right now, we know where we're headed."