Shanahan faces the man he wanted in 2010

2012-09-16T00:10:00Z 2012-10-14T02:02:52Z Shanahan faces the man he wanted in 2010BY JIM THOMAS stltoday.com
September 16, 2012 12:10 am  • 

If Mike Shanahan had his way, the Washington Redskins would stroll into the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday with Sam Bradford at quarterback.

Make no mistake, Shanahan isn't throwing Robert Griffin III back into the draft pool. Not by a longshot. But in 2010, the Redskins had the No. 4 pick in the draft and Shanahan coveted Bradford, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Oklahoma.

"Bradford is one of my favorite quarterbacks coming out," Shanahan said. "I think the world of him. How talented he is, how he handles himself. And it's just a matter of time, when they get a supporting cast around him where he feels comfortable with everybody, (until) he'll just light it up."

That probably explains why Bradford chuckled slightly when asked during the week if he knew Shanahan was such a big admirer.

"I actually did because to be honest, I really thought that I was probably going to go to Washington because they had told me that they were going to do almost everything they could to get me," Bradford said. "I knew that they were going to try to make a move to get me. He told me that."

But the Rams didn't budge out of the No. 1 overall draft spot, selecting Bradford. Three picks later, Shanahan and the Redskins took one of Bradford's Sooners teammates — left tackle Trent Williams.

A little less than two years later, Shanahan at least tangentially intersected with Bradford's career once again, in large part because of the 20-year relationship he has had with Rams coach Jeff Fisher.

"Jeff and I had a chance in San Francisco — when I was there in '92, '93, '94 — to coach together," Shanahan said.

Shanahan was offensive coordinator, and Fisher defensive backs coach, under George Seifert at the time.

"We came in at the same time, spent a lot of time together at the hotel — just like all assistant coaches do when they're coming into a new place," Shanahan said. "And we had a chance to get to know each other and become great friends through the years."

They've spent time together in the offseason away from football.

When Shanahan was in Denver and trying to keep his interest in Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler on the down-low before the 2006 draft, he consulted with Fisher.

The Titans were coming off a 4-12 season, the worst finish in Fisher's long career as an NFL head coach, and were picking No. 3.

So the Titans had all the top draft prospects in for private visits. Denver, meanwhile, was picking at No. 13. Based in part on what Fisher told him, Shanahan took Cutler without ever bringing him in for a meeting, moving up to No. 11 to take him thanks to a draft-day trade ... with the Rams.

At Eastern Illinois University, Shanahan's roommate was the late Mike Heimerdinger. With Shanahan's blessing, Heimerdinger left a job as Denver's wide receivers coach to become Fisher's offensive coordinator in 2000. Heimerdinger, who coached with Fisher in Tennessee for eight seasons over two stints, died of cancer on Sept. 30, 2011.

Less than three months ago, Fisher, Shanahan, and Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak lent their support to the Drive For Dinger, a two-day dinner, silent auction, and golf event in the Nashville area to raise money for the Heimerdinger Foundation. (The foundation helps cancer patients by providing support and healthy meals.) So Fisher and Shanahan are close, go way back, and value each other's friendship and counsel.

It was only natural then, that when Fisher was trying to decide on whether to accept the head-coaching job in St. Louis or Miami in January, that he picked Shanahan's brain. Particularly on that quarterback in St. Louis — Sam Bradford.

"I spoke with Mike," Fisher said. "I share the same opinion with Mike regarding Sam. But Mike and I have oftentimes talked about Sam. He has a great deal of respect for him, and he feels like he's got a chance to be a great quarterback in this league."

Who knows if Shanahan's words had any impact on Fisher choosing the Rams over the Dolphins. But they probably didn't hurt. In this instance, Bradford was unaware of any Shanahan-Fisher dialogue.

"No, I did not know that, but that's good to hear," Bradford said. "It's good to have someone like that in your corner."

Will the crowd in the dome for the Rams' home opener be in Bradford's corner if he struggles and RGIII sparkles?

This time, Shanahan got his quarterback thanks to a trade with Fisher and the Rams that saw the Redskins move from No. 6 to No. 2 for Griffin.

The Fisher-Shanahan relationship made it easier for both parties to cut through the mind games that can complicate or derail such trade negotiations.

"I think, obviously, the communication's a lot easier," Shanahan said. "But they're going to try to get the best deal they can possibly get on any front. It's a business. But we also knew that, knowing Jeff and obviously Kevin (Demoff, the Rams chief operating officer), that we had a chance at least to be in the hunt and we're happy we were able to make that trade."

As for Bradford and Griffin themselves, the rest of the football world might be viewing Sunday's game as some sort of Bradford vs. RGIII matchup. But they're not.

"I really don't pay attention to the media, No 1, so that's kind of easy," Bradford said. "I've been in games where they've tried to paint it where it's me vs. the other quarterback but it's never the case. It's the St. Louis Rams vs. the Washington Redskins this week. It's two teams going at it.

"I'm glad that I'm in this locker room and I'm part of this team. I can't wait to get out there Sunday and give them a battle."

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