- Clinton Portis believes that Mike Shanahan may have sacrificed wins in the present to achieve greater success in the future. (Photo: Associated Press)
Of all the players at Redskins Park, none of them know Mike Shanahan better than Clinton Portis, who has experienced the coach in both good times and bad times.
The good: Shanahan drafting him 51st overall out of Miami in 2002, making him the Denver Broncos' feature back and guiding him to consecutive 1,500-yard seasons that first resulted in Portis earning offensive rookie of the year honors, and in 2003, him making his first Pro Bowl.
The bad: The offseason of 2004 when Portis sought a raise after earning $300,000 in 2003 only to have Shanahan refuse to reward him with a rich deal and instead trade the back to Washington.
The good: Shanahan arriving in Washington last January, sparking hopes of Super Bowl victories, and motivating Portis to renew his dedication to the game and achieve top physical shape.
The bad: Shanahan and the Redskins after opening the year with a 3-2 record taking a 3-7 nose dive while dealing with season-ending injuries to 13 players (Portis included), the Albert Haynesworth drama, Donovan McNabb drama and on and on.
But regardless all the ups and downs, good sides and bad sides, Portis still believes that Shanahan will restore the Washington Redskins to their former glory. And yet, as confident as he is in his coach, Portis is almost as equally critical.
He praises Shanahan for making moves to change the culture within the organization, yet in a round about way takes issue with how Shanahan has handled certain situations. But because Portis knows Shanahan’s only goal is to win, he keeps on stepping, and hopes to work his way back from abdomen surgery to again earn the feature back’s job in Shanahan’s offense next season.
“The difference between Coach Shanahan in Denver and now, is when I got to Denver, he’d been there and everything in Denver was Coach Shanahan. He put that organization in place, he had his players, he ran the show,” Portis said Wednesday at Redskins Park while speaking reporters for the first time in a month. “And here, it was taking over what was on the verge of being disaster.”
To save the Redskins from disaster, Portis (whom Shanahan named Washington’s starter this season after he beat out Larry Johnson and Willie Parker in the preseason) believes Shanahan had to make tough decisions -- even moves that proved costly to the short-term -- to produce success for the long-term.
“If you’re going to sacrifice a guy such as an Albert Haynesworth and just prove, ‘OK, this is my team, I’m in control,’ and you’re going to sacrifice a guy [McNabb] that you know can help you win as a head coach and that’s what it’s about: winning,” Portis says. “And we had a lot of close games where Albert Haynesworth making one play in that game could’ve easily turned and we would’ve won games. But to easily shelve a guy and say, ‘I’m going to get things right around here,’ it was [Shanahan] coming in, trying to filter out and get his guys in here. And that showed he runs the show and it his way is what goes. Basically, get with the program or get out.”
Portis was asked, so, basically, Shanahan was willing to take a step or two backward so he could ultimately take more steps forward?
“Yeah, I think he did,” the back replied. “It was a lot of learning curves. Coming here, it was a new quarterback, a new offensive system, again, having your son as a coordinator, having a distraction all offseason of whether or not people would be around, and having a running back controversy. It was so much to go along with becoming the head coach of the Washington Redskins. Only him, and Bruce Allen and Mr. Snyder know the direction we’re heading in and they know the overall plan. I don’t think they signed him thinking it was going to be winning right away. I think they knew it’d be a tough time and that to put his people in place, it’ll be better.”
When asked about Portis’ take that Shanahan made sacrificial moves backward to better move the team forward, the coach said, “I think it’s a constant evaluation period, watching guys in practice and in games. It’s part of the process. Some guys really step up and other guys are looking good, but maybe through the middle of the season they may tail off. It’s a long process over 16 games, but it’s one that’s very necessary and one that’s done every year. You’re hoping that you don’t have to [take steps backwards], but in some positions, you do.”
Portis believes he still can be one of Shanahan’s “people” although he has played only a combined 13 games in two seasons. (Last season was cut short by a concussion after eight games. This season Portis was limited to five games by torn groin and abdomen muscles). But Portis believes that his production in abbreviated work this season (227 yards and two touchdowns on 54 carries -- an average of 4.2 yards a carry -- and five catches for 55 yards) are indication enough that he still can be productive in the NFL. And the ninth-year veteran says because of the last two shortened seasons, he will be a fresher 30-year-old than most backs. But he doesn’t have a feeling one way or another about where he’ll be next season.
Portis, who is scheduled to make just more than $8 million next season says he “understands it’s a business,” and that Washington could choose to cut him rather than pay him that hefty salary given his age and injury history. But he hopes that all the work he put in during the last offseason, as well as his seven years of allegiance to the Redskins earn him a spot in their immediate future. Portis is aware that he could easily accept a release and then go be contributor on a more championship-ready squad rather than continue to lobby to be the feature back of Washington’s rebuilding franchise. But he believes he is better than “just a contributor” and that closing out his career on a victorious note with Shanahan and the Redskins would be more satisfactory.
“I don’t think I’ll be just a contributor on any team,” Portis says. “I don’t think any defensive coordinator will look and the game plan and say, ‘Oh, that’s Portis. Don’t worry about him.’ If he do, I would love that. I really would. But I think when you build and put so much time into an organization, and I helped with the rise and the fall so to speak. When it was good, it was like, ‘Portis is awesome.’ When it was bad, it was like, ‘Portis is horrible.’ So, just being part of this organization, and knowing that this organization is going to turn around for the change, you would love to see the good side.”