During his press conference as the newly hired head coach of the Washington Redskins, Mike Shanahan was asked about his assessment of oft-criticized starting quarterback Jason Campbell. Listening to his answer to that question seems to indicate that Campbell is going to be Shanahan's starting quarterback until further notice.
"I'm looking forward to working with him. I love the way Jason handles himself," Shanahan said. "I'm looking forward to sitting down and watching film and going through every play that he's had throughout his career and sitting down and talking to him. Hopefully, the best years are ahead of him."
Campbell, who threw a career- high 20 touchdown passes and a career-worst 15 interceptions this past season, has had seven different offensive coordinators from college to the pros and he has had his share of injuries. Shanahan's presence might bring the kind of stability and nurturing that Campbell needs as a quarterback.
If the new Redskins head coach, who is also the vice president of football operations, can find some good offensive lineman to protect Campbell and if he can motivate running back Clinton Portis, whom he coached in Denver, to be the impact player he has been throughout his career, Shanahan could be to Campbell what former Buffalo Bills head coach Lou Saban was to O.J. Simpson back in 1972.
NFL history is full of players who have proven that if they were in the right system or had the right coach they could blossom and be superstars in the league. For example, after Simpson's first three years in the league, many football observers at the time viewed the 1968 Heisman Trophy winner as a bust.
When Saban assumed the coaching reigns in Buffalo, he decided to build the offense around Simpson's unique talents. For the next five years, Simpson had five straight 1,000-yard plus seasons-including a then NFL record of 2003 yards rushing and he made the Bills into a legitimate contender for a division title during that span.
Then there's the case of Randall Cunningham, who impacted the game with his mobility at the quarterback position. During his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles, Cunningham didn't have the offensive weapons and outside of quarterback coach Dick Schofield, who passed away early in his career, didn't have the kind of coaching that would have made him a complete quarterback. At the time, Buddy Ryan, who was more concerned about his defense than he was about his offense, was Cunningham's coach in Philly for much of his time there.
After he was unceremoniously dumped by former Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes, Cunningham resurfaced in Minnesota in 1997. In 1998, armed with future Hall of Fame receivers like Cris Carter and Randy Moss, a legitimate running game with Robert Smith and offensive-minded coaches like offensive coordinator Brian Billick and head coach Dennis Green, Cunningham, had a Pro Bowl year, throwing 34 touchdown passes. If Gary Anderson hits a game-clinching, chip shot field goal in the NFC Championship game, Cunningham would have been a Super Bowl quarterback.
That's the kind of impact a new coach can sometimes have on a player. If you look at Shanahan's last coaching experience in Denver, you'll see in a similar situation. By the time Shanahan arrived in Denver in 1995, John Elway had already led the Broncos to three unsuccessful trips to the Super Bowl.
Shanahan drafted running back Terrell Davis and built one of the league's best offensive lines behind Elway and the Broncos wound up with two Super Bowl titles. Those wins made a great quarteback even greater. In 14 years in Denver, Shanahan only had two losing seasons.
No one's suggesting that Campbell is going to be as great as Elway, but I do believe that Shanahan can perhaps tweak a few things in the young quarterback's arsenal. Maybe the Redskins new head coach can point some things on film that Campbell is not seeing on the field.
In his career in Washington, Campbell has had his ups and downs, but not all of his mistakes were his fault. Injuries, not having a consistent offensive line, and a stable offensive coaching staff has certainly hinderd Campbell's development.
At the same time, Campbell has shown flashes of brilliance and has shown some mental toughness in what has been a very difficult situation in Washington. Outside of this year's 15 interceptions, Campbell has made steady progress. His passing yardage, completion percetange, touchdown passes and quarterback rating has improved with each year.
If Shanahan commits to Campbell as his starting quarterback, you will probably have a better quarterback in Washington and who knows? The Redskins maybe next year or two years from now will be a contender again and make an already competitive division even tougher.