It’s the biggest ego battle in sports right now (except, maybe for Brett Favre’s battle with retirement) – Mike Shanahan vs. Albert Haynesworth. And the truth is that if Shanahan wins, he’ll lose.
The new Redskins head coach is forcing Haynesworth to pass a conditioning test before practicing, in part as a punishment for Haynesworth’s decision to skip offseason training work with the team. Haynesworth, who got a ginormous $100 million contract in 2009 (before Shanahan hit town) and who has already pocketed tens of millions in guaranteed money from the deal, is bent out of shape about being potentially moved to nose tackle in the 3-4 so much that he decided to get out of shape. He skipped offseason work in protest, showing the kind of superstar ego we normally associate with diva receivas.
Now Shanahan is trying to exact his pound of flesh. He’s being a stickler to the conditioning test rules, refusing to let Haynesworth practice until he passes the test. And Haynesworth, who reportedly lost 30 pounds before training camp, seems unable to (or perhaps uninterested in) passing the test at this point so that he’s eligible for two-a-days.
Shanahan is using his head-coaching hammer to show Haynesworth who’s boss. But if he keeps lording over Haynesworth in this way, in an effort to win this pissing contest, the coach will end up losing. And here’s why:
Haynesworth is a great player. He’s disruptive off the field, but he’s even more disruptive on the field. His teammates know this. And they know that if the Redskins’ defense is going to be scary, Haynesworth needs to be on the field. No matter how much other players dislike Haynesworth’s work ethic or practice habits or selfishness, they dislike losing more. Losing costs them money and jobs.
So at some point soon, Shanahan will have to concede defeat in this conditioning-test pissing contest, or else he’ll be accepting defeats come the regular season. Players know grandstanding when they see it, and they’re seeing it from Shanahan now. The coach must back down, knowing whatever credibility he loses by backing down, he’ll get back by winning.
Haynesworth isn’t going to buckle under Shanahan’s iron will. Haynesworth has his money, and missing training-camp practices isn’t a punishment – it’s a blessing. Haynesworth has the leverage, and he has the talent and the contract that lets him live by rules different than everyone else. Blame the system, blame the ego, blame the contract Daniel Snyder gave him, but that’s reality.
The bottom line is this: Shanahan must realize that winning training camp isn’t as important as winning in the regular season. He will lose by winning this pissing contest with Haynesworth.