A short history of Mike Shanahan benching his quarterback
As you've probably read, former Broncos QB Jake Plummer weighed in on the Donovan McNabb situation this week, in a long Yahoo! profile. Here's part of the relevant quote:
"I had a coach that, regardless of how well I thought I was playing or how well the majority of fans across the country thought I was playing, it was never good enough for him," Plummer said, not bitter but very matter-of-fact. "And that kind of gets frustrating.
"It just seemed like every game I could have completed these four more passes or these five more shots here and it would have been perfect. And that just wasn't my personality....But Shanahan wanted perfection and he wore a lot of us down there."
Plummer went on to say that Shanahan "is still searching for John Elway," but in fact, Shanahan said this week that he also benched Elway five or six times in Denver. (He meant while he was an assistant coach, in case there's any confusion.) Figuring this deserved a bit more research, I present a short and possibly incomplete history of Mike Shanahan benching his starting quarterback.
Schroeder vs. Beuerlein: Up by four points going into the fourth quarter against the Chiefs in October of 1988, Raiders Coach Mike Shanahan benched Jay Schroeder in favor of former starter Steve Beuerlein. Beuerlein then led two scoring drives and the Raiders won.
"Jay will be our quarterback," Shanahan said after the game. "We're not going to have that kind of controversy every week as most people try to have as soon as you put another quarterback in. We're not going to rotate quarterbacks as soon as someone throws a few incomplete passes. It's got to be a gut situation and a gut feeling. And that was my gut feeling."
The Raiders had recently traded Jim Lachey and draft picks to acquire Schroeder, and over the next week, Shanahan stated definitively that Schroeder would remain the starter. The next week, he changed his mind after a second straight benching.
"This is not to take anything away from Jay and his potential as a quarterback on this team," Shanahan said, after announcing the switch. "But anytime you miss a quarterback camp and you miss a preseason, you get put in a situation that is tough and not as fair as it should be. It's just not comfortable for him....I've got a lot of confidence in Jay, but the bottom line for our team right now is the second half of the season and the ability to win, and right now, I believe the best direction to go is with Steve Beuerlein."
About a month later, he switched back to Schroeder.
Brister vs. Griese: Two weeks before the Broncos' 1999 season opener, Denver Coach Mike Shanahan benched Bubby Brister in favor of Brian Griese. Brister took the news hard; Shanahan said he had to fight back tears.
"If we didn't feel like Brian could take us all the way, we wouldn't have made the decision," Shanahan said. "'It was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make, to bring him in and tell him. He didn't miss an off-season workout. He studied his rear end off. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, but I had to take a look at what I thought was in the best interest of our football team."
Brister stayed away from the team for several days, then returned with an emotional press conference.
"If it was just between me and Mike, I probably wouldn't have come back," Brister said. "But I can't walk out on (Bill) Romanowski and (Ed) McCaffrey and Brian (Griese) and the guys. I can't do it; can't do it. Now if it was a one-on-one card game and Mike dealt me that hand, I would probably do like they did back in the old days....It was my job. There was never any competition, a situation where one guy gets the first half and the other guy gets the second half, or vice versa. I am still (4-0) as a starter around here during the regular season, when it counts. That's what is upsetting, because I have earned the right to start opening day, but Mike obviously doesn't feel that way. I don't agree with him at all."
"Everybody's job is on the line, everybody's on our football team," Shanahan responded. "There's not one position on our football team that someone has that position won. I don't care if you're a six-year Pro Bowl player or if you're a free agent and you're starting for the first year. We have competition, which I've shared with everybody all along."
And with reports of locker room discontent, Shanahan told the New York Times that controversy can be a good thing.
"I'm not trying to create it. But I embrace it," he said. "Now, I could have done it the easy way. I could have let Bubby start, just play the whole thing out, but that was not best for our football team. Our players don't know the position like I do. As far as Bubby or any of them, I'm not trying to be popular. I'm doing it for the team."
The Broncos lost their first four games, and Shanahan then benched Griese in favor of Brister.
"He gives us the best chance to win now," Shanahan said. "We're not playing for the future. We're trying to do the best we can right now and obviously trying to find a way to win a game."
"I was surprised, but it wasn't my decision to make," Griese said. "So he made the decision, and I've got to live with it."
But Brister was hurt before the next game, which Griese started and won. The Broncos were fined $25,000 for failing to properly disclose the Brister injury. After another win as the starter, Shanahan said Griese would remain the starter even if Brister were healthy. The Broncos finished the season 6-10 -- one of only two losing seasons during Shanahan's tenure -- and the coach later said he had mishandled the Brister situation.
"I made a mistake in not telling them more specifically why I was making the change," he said. "I should have done a better job of telling everybody at that time why I was making the decision.You don't always do everything right. If I had to do it over again, that's what I would have done. I apologized to the team for not telling them why I made it....Obviously, any time there's speculation in radio, TV and the press, any time you have that type of controversy, it surely doesn't help the team."
Griese vs. Beuerlein: With the Broncos leading the Rams by three late in their 2002 season opener, Shanahan instructed Steve Beuerlein to warm up. Apparently, the backup was told he was entering the game, and Griese was told he was done. But then the Rams missed a short field goal, which prompted Shanahan to stick with Griese.
"I felt like we would have needed a spark [if the Rams made the kick]," Shanahan said. "Brian had a quarter in there when things went flat, and he was really pressured. All of a sudden when they missed the field goal, I said to (Griese), 'It's yours. Stay in there and get it done.' "
Over the next week, Shanahan said he wouldn't let hurt feelings get in the way of his personnel decisions.
"I can't worry about those things," he said. "I have to find a way to win."
The Broncos and Griese were 8-7 heading into their finale, when he was benched in favor of Beuerlein.
"You've got to have people who go out there and perform," Shanahan said. "Our decisions will be based on people performing, not money."
"When I was growing up as a kid, I always wanted to be a fireman. I never dreamed of being a football player," Griese said after his benching. "All my life people have told me that I can't do something, and I always thought that was my motivation to prove people wrong. But when I did accomplish something, it was such an empty feeling because it really didn't matter what everybody said about me. It mattered how I felt inside and what I accomplished for me. And it's no different here. No matter what people say about me, I'm going to continue on and find the strength to bounce back from this. For me, not for anybody else."
Griese was released after the season.
Plummer vs. Cutler: After a two-game losing streak sullied a 7-2 start to the 2006 season, Jake Plummer was benched in favor of Jay Cutler.
"A lot of times I get too much credit and too much blame. Right now, the blame is there. I didn't make the plays," Plummer said after his final game as the starter.
"I like the way he handles himself, and I think he gives us the best chance to win," Shanahan said of Cutler. "This hasn't been made because of (Cutler's) draft status, I'll tell you that. It's about winning, and he's our best chance."
Cutler went 2-3 as a starter and the Broncos missed the playoffs.
| November 5, 2010; 11:11 AM ET
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