The 1996 Redskins: A season of missed opportunity
By Kyle Hundley
We’re getting into the slow time of the NFL offseason. With this extra time, let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at the 1996 Redskins team and the opportunity that they missed out on as a team.
When legendary coach Joe Gibbs surprisingly retired after the 1992 season, the Washington Redskins suddenly found themselves in search of a new coach to lead the team. They promoted longtime defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon, who ran the defense on all three Super Bowl teams, only to fire him after one 4-12 season. After Petitbon’s firing, they then hired Dallas Cowboys’ offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
Despite being an offensive coordinator in the league for just a few seasons, it was obvious that Turner was a coaching star who was on the rise. The Cowboys had just won their second consecutive Super Bowl, with a 30-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills while Turner called plays for the potent Dallas offense. With the hiring of Turner, the Redskins believed they had just found their next young, offensive-minded coach who would bring a Super Bowl back to D.C. They just found the next Joe Gibbs.
Gibbs was unique as he built a diverse dynasty, winning three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. Turner had experienced his success working extensively with Troy Aikman under center. With the release of Super Bowl XXVI MVP Mark Rypien after the 1993 season, the team was now in search of a starting quarterback. Wanting stability at the position and holding the third pick in the 1994 draft, one of the first things they attempted to do was add a franchise quarterback.
With his first pick in the 1994 draft, Redskins general manager Charlie Casserly selected Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler to be the teams next franchise quarterback. Athletic, mobile, and a can’t-miss prospect, Shuler was supposed to lead the Redskins for the next decade. Later on, in the seventh round, the team also drafted Gus Frerotte.
The 1994 season had its share of growing pains for Shuler as he struggled to adjust to the NFL, and was later benched in favor of Frerotte. The Redskins as a whole struggled as they finished just 3-13 and were eventually awarded the fourth pick in the 1995 NFL Draft. That pick was used on explosive wide receiver Michael Westbrook.
The 1995 season saw Frerotte ultimately win the quarterback competition to be the team’s starter going forward, as they finished the season 6-10 and appeared to be a team ready to break out in 1996, as they had all the pieces to do so.