It is not surprising that in a culture that has overdosed on confidence and swagger, we have little appreciation for understanding the importance of humility.
False confidence forms the foundation of our individual and collective distorted reality. We lie to young people with phony affirmation. We’ve spent the past 30 years handing out participation trophies, masking our insecurities with overpriced Air Jordans, cheap, gaudy jewelry and prescription, mood-altering drugs and baiting our youth to create and live in fraudulent realities they can now construct on Facebook and Instagram.
We’ve produced a generation that values swagger over self-awareness and humility. We wrongly believe confidence is more essential to success than humility.
Football coaches, particularly old-school ones, don’t buy this notion. Football coaches recognize the transformative power of humility. They understand how essential it is for development.
At this point, it is easy and pointless to rearticulate the numerous mistakes Mike Shanahan has made during his four-year tenure as the Grand Poobah of the professional football team in our nation’s capital. In three weeks, when the regular season is complete, Shanahan and his son are done running Daniel Snyder’s franchise.
What is important is to evaluate Shanahan’s last decisive decision as Washington’s head coach — benching Robert Griffin III. It’s my belief that Shanahan has made the right decision for the right reason. Humility is the only thing that can save RG III as a franchise quarterback.
Griffin is a good kid raised by attentive, well-intentioned parents. But he is a product of the Swagger Generation. He spent the entire offseason rehabilitating his swagger rather than humbly preparing for a sophomore season his head coach knew would be dramatically more difficult than Griffin’s rookie campaign.
Despite the histrionics and theatrics you see on game days, football is a sport driven by humility. A humble spirit is what causes a football coach to sleep at the office. Humility is the reason Tony Gonzalez, at age 37, stays on the practice field 30 extra minutes catching passes from the Jugs machine. Humility wakes Peyton Manning out of bed during the offseason and forces him to organize practice sessions among his teammates.
Swagger is important on Sundays. Humility is the character trait that inspires a great football team the other six days a week.
Humility is at the foundation of virtually all athletic greatness. Floyd Mayweather’s ego is matched by his competitive humility. Boxing requires an incredible amount of humility.
“It’s hard to get up and do roadwork when you’re sleeping on silk sheets,” observed Marvin Hagler.
Mike Tyson lost all humility and became a poor boxer.
Griffin was spoiled by rookie success and a lack of self-awareness. He did not understand the foundation of his success. The Shanahans installed significant elements of Baylor’s spread-option attack to make Griffin’s transition to the NFL easier. The spread requires a lighter, more athletic style of offensive lineman than a traditional dropback-passing NFL offense. When RG III got hurt last season and it became apparent his development as a pocket passer would have to be accelerated, the offseason became even more important for Griffin.
Griffin’s goals of playing during the preseason and being the opening day starter were fueled by arrogance, a lack of self-awareness and insecurity. He has much to learn as a pocket passer. He is not adept at throwing a receiver open. He’s not adept at throwing in rhythm into a tight window. Those pocket-QB attributes are developed with relentless hours on the practice field fostering chemistry with a group of receivers.
A couple of weeks ago on “Sunday Night Football,” NBC showed a replay of a play where RG III took a sack allegedly because his receivers were all covered. All three receivers were wide open by NFL standards had the ball been thrown in rhythm in 2.5 seconds. They were the kind of throws Manning and Drew Brees complete with their eyes closed. RG III took a sack. Everyone blamed the offensive line and the receivers. The truth is, Griffin is every bit as responsible for the inefficiencies in Washington’s passing offense as the receivers and a group of linemen not quite sturdy enough for a dropback offense with a QB who doesn’t throw the ball on time.
Griffin is not ready to play the game consistently from the pocket. He no longer has the legs to mask his deficiencies as a passer.
Shanahan could see all this coming. Griffin could not. He spent the offseason making commercials and documentaries hyping his swagger. He’s BFF with the owner of the team. He orbited a different reality than Shanahan.
Washington (3-10) is not a playoff team this year. Shanahan is going to be fired. The absolute best thing Shanahan can do for the Washington franchise is deliver Griffin to the offseason physically and mentally healthy. Griffin has an overabundance of confidence. The key to his mental health is humility. Can he bring the right spirit to the offseason? Does he understand that his hey-look-at-me 2013 offseason was inappropriate on a team loaded with proud veterans such as London Fletcher and Santana Moss?
Again, Shanahan has made numerous mistakes that will cost him his job. There is no disputing that. But I think a fair reading of his latest decision puts him in a favorable light. Shanahan is falling on his sword. He’s trying to positively position Dan Snyder, the new coach and RG III. Hopefully Kirk Cousins will elevate his trade value by posting good numbers against Atlanta and Dallas. The entire franchise can benefit from Shanahan’s last act.
The reason Snyder has not fired his lame-duck coach is because he realizes he played a role in Shanahan’s inability to connect with RG III in a way that would’ve allowed Shanahan to humble Griffin and properly manage him. Snyder realizes Griffin needs to be humbled. Anyone objectively watching the Washington game film realizes Griffin is living in a false reality as a pocket passer. Anyone who witnessed Griffin’s Week 1, flag-carrying, drop-to-his-knees, pregame jaunt onto the field realizes Griffin has a lot of work to do as a locker room leader.
He’s lost in swagger, a bogus reality fueled by social media and a culture with little regard for humility and self-awareness. There’s no guarantee he’ll awaken from his fantasy world. But Mike Shanahan will soon clean out his office knowing he shook Griffin as hard as he could.
• Columnist at the Kansas City Star for 16 years
• ESPN.com Page 2 columnist from 2002 to 2006