CBS's Jason La Canfora Has Vastly Changed Portrayal of Kyle Shanahan Since Last Season [UPDATE]


Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports dropped a hammer on the Browns organization yesterday. If you haven’t perused it yet, it’s well-worth checking out, for the breadth at which it portrays Jimmy Haslam (who, in the best case scenario, presided over but was somehow ignorant of massive, systematic defrauding of high-volume customers as head of Pilot Flying J) as an intolerable micromanager with a sizable gap between his football acumen and what he thinks he knows.

Haslam purportedly overrode organizational consensus in opting for Johnny Manziel over Teddy Bridgewater, and pushed for Manziel to start when nobody thought he was “close to ready.” He also vetoed a trade that would’ve fetched a second round pick for Josh Gordon before his last two suspensions. The piece confirmed everyone’s obvious suspicions that you’d only deign to work for the Browns if you had no other options. You’re not a rat if you flee that sunk ship.

Which brings us to departed offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and La Canfora’s treatment of him as a subject:

At season’s end Shanahan, the lone bright spot on offense, perhaps, presented Pettine with a 32-point presentation on why he wanted to get out of his contract, sources said. And after much deliberation among lawyers and negotiation, in a bizarre precedent, a statement was crafted and Shanahan was a free man. He would end up in Atlanta, a coveted job, and a hiring that Banner, consulting for Falcons owner Arthur Blank, played a role in; Lombardi just won a Super Bowl ring as a personnel advisor to Bill Belichick. Allowing Shanahan to walk sent shockwaves through the building, with such a talented coach allowed to go at a time when the Browns desperately needed to develop a quarterback and with a quarter of the teams in the NFL needing a new offensive coordinator.

That’s pretty flattering! Within the piece, La Canfora also calls Shanahan “the best coach on the team’s staff,” says he did “an outstanding job, bereft of talent,” and refers to him as the “hottest offensive coordinator candidate in the NFL.”

And it’s quite different from the end of last season, when La Canfora painted Shanahan as an entitled, petulant, insecure, inexperienced nepotism beneficiary in Washington:

Conversations with several people within the organization have revealed a similar perception of Kyle Shanahan as someone who was empowered and enabled by his father, spending an abundance of time in his father’s office, given a wide swath of power, and rubbing many people — players, fellow coaches and members of football operations — the wrong way. At the same time, Kyle Shanahan has been the most heavily rewarded of the team’s assistant coaches, as team sources said the two-year extension Shanahan earned following the playoff run in 2012 will pay him $1.5M in 2014 alone. That’s money he’s almost certain to collect away from the team, with this regime widely expected to be fired after this season.

With the team in a 3-10 collapse, Robert Griffin III now inactive and the franchise in disarray, the composition of this staff has fallen under criticism, as has the work of the Shanahans in particular, with the lack of experience and pedigree on the offensive side of the ball seen as a particular problem both within the organization and outside it. “Kyle is the head coach, it’s just that no one knows he is,” said one member of the organization. “He gets whatever he wants. And he has no relationship at all with (quarterback Robert Griffin II). So how could it work?”

As a former member of the organization put it: “Kyle bitches about everything, and then his father has to fix it. He bitches about the food in the cafeteria, he bitches about the field, he bitches about the equipment. He complains and then Mike takes care of it. Kyle is a big problem there. He is not well liked.”

In fairness, La Canfora concluded that piece by noting that Kyle Shanahan had a good run with Gary Kubiak in Houston … but … we’re supposed to believe that he was this petty brat in Washington, and just one year later “the lone bright spot on offense” when he was in charge of a dreadful unit and bailed? Did he really improve by leaps and bounds? A cynic may wonder whether Shanahan and/or his agent was a source of Wednesday’s story.

If you’ll recall, the day before Shanahan obtained his release, there was a story by Mary Kay Cabot of which was clearly planted and similarly presented him as a knight in shining armor suffering the fate of organizational incompetence. (As an aside, that piece included the first account of the front office texting coaches during games, which has since devolved into the quintessential dumb NFL scandal with the requisite -gate attached at the end.)

Shanahan didn’t exactly have tremendous pieces to work with in Cleveland, but it’s revisionist history to say the offense was ever any good, even though the team was 7-4. (Leading “the powerful AFC North for much of the season” are the words La Canfora used.) The decision to start Johnny Manziel is supposed to have been an edict from Haslam, but it’s not like they were benching someone remotely competent — in Weeks 10-14, Hoyer threw one touchdown and eight interceptions.

None of that is Shanahan’s fault? And he deserves no blame for failing to better prepare Manziel? Why does he get credit for the team’s marginal success, but no share in the accountability for a woeful collapse down the stretch? (Weirdly, Hoyer also evades much scrutiny: Gordon “made some blunders” that contributed to picks. Also: “The run game dried up and his options were few.”) All of this continues to beg the question of how we can be so sure that Shanahan was so toxic in Washington, but marvelous in Cleveland.

UPDATE: La Canfora responded to this piece on his Twitter feed:

kyle shanahan’s game-day coaching caught attention of entire NFL. 8 openings – at least 6 wanted him. You don’t let him walk…teams stalled their searches to wait for him. Flamed out in DC, still can be very difficult, but few did more w/less in 2015. he got several HC interviews as well, a year after having to take bad OC job in CLE w/o a QB. His status changed -thats the pt. it’s not “my portrayal,” it’s his reality, going from taking OC job under 1st time HC to interviewing for HC jobs. But whateves.