Shanahan was fired after a morning meeting with owner Dan Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen at Redskins Park, a formality expected for several weeks as the losses mounted and tension rose among Shanahan, Snyder and franchise player Robert Griffin III.
Shanahan went 24-40 in four seasons in Washington and had one year remaining on his five-year, $35 million contract.
Snyder will now be seeking his eighth head coach for his 16th season as an NFL owner — a span that includes just four winning seasons, two playoff victories and seven last-place finishes in the NFC East.
"Redskins fans deserve a better result," Snyder said in a statement. "We thank Mike for his efforts on behalf of the Redskins. We will focus on what it takes to build a winning team, and my pledge to this organization and to this community is to continue to commit the resources and talent necessary to put this team back in the playoffs."
Shanahan captured Super Bowls titles with quarterback John Elway and the Denver Broncos after the 1997 and 1998 seasons, but he won only one playoff game over his final 10 years with the club and was fired after the 2008 season.
Shanahan's career regular-season record is 170-138 over 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders, Broncos and Redskins, but his two worst years have come in Washington — 5-11 in 2011 and this year's 3-13. The 2013 record was also the worst for the Redskins since 1994, and their season-ending eight-game losing streak is their longest in more than 50 years.
Shortly after his meeting with Snyder, Shanahan made a five-minute statement thanking fans, players, reporters and Snyder but did not take questions. He defended his efforts in rebuilding the Redskins while repeating his assertion that an NFL-levied salary cap penalty hindered his ability to improve the roster even more.
"We're better off today than we were four years ago," Shanahan said.
Shanahan's first two years with the Redskins were mostly spent trying to settle on a quarterback and cleaning up the mess left behind after the dysfunctional reign of front office chief Vinny Cerrato and coach Jim Zorn.
The selection of Heisman Trophy winner Griffin with the No. 2 overall draft pick and a season-ending seven-game winning streak propelled the Redskins to 10-6 record in 2012, their first division title in 13 years.
But Griffin was injured in the playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks and required major knee surgery days later, setting the stage for a year of conflict as the quarterback vowed to return in record time and felt empowered enough to openly challenge some of his Shanahan's decisions.
Griffin returned for Week 1 of the regular season — just as he said he would — but he wasn't the same dynamic player who won the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2012.
The Redskins also struggled on defense and special teams, with Shanahan repeatedly citing the handicap of the two-year, $36 million salary cap penalty imposed by the league for the way Washington restructured contracts during the uncapped year of 2010.
Shanahan eventually benched Griffin for the final three games of the season. Even though Griffin was medically cleared to play, the coach said the move was best for the organization because it was important for the quarterback's development that he be healthy for the upcoming offseason. Griffin was clearly unhappy with the decision.
Snyder's search for a new coach presents plenty of intrigue. He's tried nearly every angle: the hot college coach with no NFL experience (Steve Spurrier), the franchise icon (Joe Gibbs), the promising youngish coordinator (Jim Zorn) and the established demand-control-over-everything big names (Marty Schottenheimer and Shanahan).
Snyder's hands-on reputation and history of developing close relationships with star players have made candidates wary of the job, and his ties with Griffin did nothing to help matters this year.
"We are going to take a smart, step-by-step approach to finding the right coach to return the Redskins to where we believe we should be," Allen said. "We will analyze accurately and honestly all of the decisions that were made over the past year."
Shanahan demanded — and received — contractual control over all football matters when he joined the Redskins, and he repeatedly emphasized the need to run a disciplined organization with a sense of decorum.
He weeded out the disgruntled players — most notably Albert Haynesworth — but ultimately was unable to stymie what he called the "circus atmosphere" that has permeated the Redskins under Snyder.
Leaks, rumors and power struggles were just as bad as before. He leaves with the same regular-season winning percentage (.375) in Washington as Spurrier and Zorn.
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