A couple of readers have commented lately, including the esteemed Rich Tandler, senior Redskins blogger and editor of Redskins Warpath Insider, on my takes on Redskins owner Dan Synder and his choices and his intentions. Redskins fans are struggling to figure out what is happening to this team. Joe Gibbs lasted twice as long as any other head coach hired by Dan Snyder and for better or worse, for Gregg Williams or not, Redskins fans thought this team was on the right track and was going to keep building in the same direction. That all changed when it became clear Dan Snyder was taking this team in an entirely different direction. The team now risks paying a price on the field and with the fans for failing to deliver a consistent product.
Part One: Norval Martyball the Ol' Ball Coach and Saint Joe
Part Two: A Failed Coachinomics Policy
Dan Snyder had no idea when he bought the team in May of 1999 how lucky he was. Despite going back on his word and firing longtime general manager Charley Casserly in July of that year, along with 25 other Redskins employees he had pledged not to fire, the team came together as it was built, won ten games and the NFC Beast, beat the Lions in a playoff game and then lost to the Buccaneers in the last second on a bad snap. That first year must have infused Dan with the sense that this was the way things went, the Redskins were good and his job as owner would be fun and people would love him the way they loved that old codger Jack Kent Cooke.
Sadly though with few exceptions Dan's methods have not been consistent, have not shown commitment and have not produced a winner. Make no mistake, Redskins fans do not believe Dan is actively trying to tank the team, he is not some agent of Jerral W. Jones, intent on keeping the team down forever. Redskins fans do believe that Dan has the team's best interests at heart. Personally and I am not alone in this feeling, Dan simply does not have the skills to make the Redskins a long term success on his current path.
Fans are discontent with all the coaching options now because Dan has established a body of work with this team and the returns keep falling into the negative.
With the start of the 2000 season Dan Snyder began implementing his signature team policy. Dan collected veterans such as Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeff George and Mark Carrier and put together a 100 million dollar payroll. While it may have felt good to be the architect of that team all the new faces set the team off its center and they were not spectacular. Threatening to fire head coach Norval Turner for not playing Jeff George over Brad Johnson and if the team did not make the playoffs did not help matters.
After losing at home 9-7 to the Giants Dan kept Norval waiting around for over two hours, likely while Dan and that Snake Vinny Cerrato and spicy Pepper Rodgers decided Norval's fate. Tired of being disrespected Norval went home and was fired the next day. The team was 7-6 and still in the playoff hunt. Terry Robiskie finished out the year as head coach going 1-3 for an 8-8 2000 season.
Policy verdict, Norval Turner and the 2000 season: botched. It was known going into Dan's ownership of the team that he was not a fan of Norval Turner. In retrospect it was obvious that Dan wanted to take his new toy out for a ride hard and fast but something held him back, he fired Charley Casserly but could not bring himself to fire Norval even though he wanted to. Although Dan was no doubt happy the 1999 team won the division and a playoff game Dan was likely also bummed he did not have a reason to fire Norval and quote unquote start fresh. Sure fire the guy if it's your team but the roadblocks Dan put up with Jeff George and the micromanagement made it impossible for Norval to succeed and Redskins fans knew it.
So in 2001 Dan moved on to Marty Schottenheimer in what is to date still his brightest football move. Marty is a Joe Gibbs contemporary, had lots of experience and when Dan responded to fan and media charges of meddling to the point of team detriment fans applauded, I don't really remember anyone thinking Marty was a bad idea. Marty fired Vinny Cerrato, a move that was applauded, even though many Redskins fans had tired of Charley Casserly, he never had the independence or judgment of Bobby Beathard, fans did not appreciate how he was treated and how Vinny came to the team.* Marty was in charge and Vinny was not in the plan.
Although it was a smart football move to hire Marty the team he inherited was not tooled to Marty's ways. Marty is a strict disciplinarian, given to long speeches intended to infuse players with motivation and direction. The 2001 Redskins were a bunch of been there done that veterans. Recognizing this, Marty put together a three year plan for the Redskins.
Year one would be to dump as many expensive contracts as possible, take the dead cap hit while installing the offensive and defensive systems and using known quantity veterans to hold the line. Gone were Mark Carrier and Deion Sanders and Brad Johnson and Tre Johnson and Adrian Murrell and Dana Stubblefield and Larry Centers and their contracts. In were Donnell Bennett and Ki-Jana Carter Tony Banks and Kevin Lockett and Eric Metcalf, all affordable or veteran players with small contracts.
Year two would be the year the team made a run at the free agents needed to exploit the systems and year three would be the year the Redskins were a seriously dangerous team.
But the veteran leadership on the team yearned for a players' coach and tuned Marty out. There was Bruce Smith bitching to Mark Maske about the Oklahoma Drill. There were the under the breath player accusations to the media that Donnell Bennett and Kevin Lockett, Marty's former players in Kansas City, were locker room snitches. Marty was above it all and never retaliated in the media.
The real problem of management there was that the owner never stepped in to advocate for his football director Marty. When a project leader has no executive champion, the line workers will disrespect the leader with no fear of consequences.
Despite all that Marty won them over in the end and despite a 0-5 start still finished 8-8. What did Marty get? Fired and his staff accused Dan Snyder of bugging their offices.
Policy verdict, Marty Schottenheimer and the 2001 season: botched. As spectacular a move as hiring Marty to run the team was, it was more than offset in the negative column by Dan's indifference to Marty's struggles with veteran players and persistent rumors that Dan felt uninvolved even though he had hired Marty to run the team because people had said he was too involved. Dan never forgave Marty for firing Vinny and as the season went I can imagine Dan spiraling into a paranoid rage, wondering at the motives and conversations of the coaches that were certainly conspiring against him, leading him to plant listening devices in their offices at Redskins Park.
Steve Spurrier arrived on the scene in 2002 and it was Dan Snyder making his play. Steve was fresh to the NFL as a coach and the NFL had had a crush on Steve for some time. Dan gave him the world and Redskins fans be damned, turns out it was not so hard for Dan to do things his way, the fans were not happy with Steve per se as he was a pitch it around guy and not a power running coach but there was an electricity to Steve and the owner was so confident that all of us three yards and a cloud of dust fans were going to convert to Team Ball Coach once we saw the Redskins demolishing the rest of the league.
I'll spare the details, Redskins fans remember Danny Wuerffel with the glove on his right hand so he could hold the ball, Patrick Ramsey getting sacked 50 times, the Redskins were 7-9 in 2002 and 5-11 in 2003 with all major stats going downhill. Then three days of silence and the Ol' Ball Coach had exited the building.
Policy verdict, Steve Spurrier and the 2002 and 2003 seasons: botched. Dan Snyder's belief in Steve Spurrier never matured into success. Whether Steve and his system simply are not suited for the NFL is unknown, I tend to think he runs a pro style offense very similar to the Patriots spread offense. Neither Steve nor the team made any substantive effort to stock the Redskins with players that could really run that offense so whether it was the coach, the system or the players, it was likely a bit of all three. Dan rejected Marty Schottenheimer in favor of an unproven guy, gave him a lot of money and said to Redskins fans, we'll see if you are still complaining in a couple of years when we win the Super Bowl. Dan's football sense again proved exactly wrong.
Entering the 2004 offseason Dan was at a serious deficit of fan appreciation. He had leveraged so much fan interest and turned it into negative returns that a near revolt was on his hands. So far he had mishandled every situation and fan expectations were not lowering. This was not the Bengals with a fan base content to be whipping boys year after year. This was the Redskins. Dan was going to have to do better than Dennis Green or Jim Fassel.
And he did, he produced Joe Gibbs. Joe could do no wrong by Redskins fans. I'll spare readers the details here, they are well known. Of interest might be that I never personally believed Joe had the final say, Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato were always lurking, Joe was up there to take the glory and the responsibility and the hits when things did not go well. Otherwise why would we have read about conflict between Joe Gibbs and the team namely Vinny over the team's first round pick in the 2005 draft? Vinny had said to the press and the team had posted a press release stating the team would use the pick. However that same day Joe Gibbs contradicted the report stating all options were on the table. Maybe ticky tack maybe not. The team did eventually use the pick on cornerback Carlos Rogers.
Whatever problems existed were largely papered over and even though myself and others often wondered aloud whether the team was going in the right direction it has been accepted at the end that it was. A solid team, low round draft picks (gasp!) actually starting, solid free agent signings. There were problems, such as the hemorrage of free agents at the beginning, Walt Harris, Fred Smoot, Antonio Pierce, Ryan Clark, but the team recovered. Things were looking up.
Then Joe retired and the team was forced to move on.
At first Dan and Joe wanted continuity. Then when there was no more Joe Dan did not want continuity and that takes us up to today. Because of the abruptness of Joe's departure and the way the team has handled the search it is impossible to consider the policy verdict of the Joe Gibbs years and the ensuing coaching transition separately:
Policy verdict, Joe Gibbs and the 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons and search for a new coach: leading indicators point downward. I am not here to say that the successes of the Joe Gibbs II years are now irrelevant because the team trampled on him after he left. I am also not here to say that the owner is taking a team built for one system and is going to try and force it into a system it does not know, which he is. There were two winning seasons and two losing seasons so on it's face that's pretty average. Factor in the notion that most everything Joe worked for is now being discarded and it makes some sense why fans would be pretty fed up after nine years.
Dan Snyder has mishandled the team and fans do not trust him to put a good team on the field. Nine years and he still has not realized there is a way the Redskins can win, a way the fans want to see football played. Norval Turner came from the same Don Coryell system as Joe Gibbs. Marty Schottenheimer ran power football. Steve Spurrier and his aerial attack were rejected. Joe Gibbs came back and introduced us to Al Saunders, a flawed but workable Don Coryell alum. Except for the two years with Steve the Redskins coaching and philosophy stretches in a family tree back to 1981. Throw in the decade before of power running under Vince Lombardi, George Allen and Jack Pardee and that's nearly four decades of a thing.
Help us out Dan, pick up the thing.
* During the bidding process for the Redskins in March 1999 Vinny Cerrato was a consultant to then Redskins suitors Dan Snyder and Howard Milstein. Dan's and Howard's bid was 100 million more than John Kent Cooke could muster and the trustees of the team, put in place by Jack Kent Cooke's estate, approved the higher bid. Dan and Howard sent Vinny to get to work at Redskins Park but because the league had not yet approved the deal and finalized it, John Kent Cooke and Charley Casserly denied office space and access to team resources to Vinny. This story by Mark Maske in the Washington Post archives talks about this period, Vinny working out of a hotel room and allegations of smuggled team videotape.
Composite image by me; Marty Scottenheimer detail from here; Steve Spurrier detail from here; Joe Gibbs detail from here. results.