Friday, January 08, 2010

Being and Becoming the Team Fans Want

Bet his first film study was this press conference

Mike Shanahan has begun his tenure as head coach of the Washington Redskins. It is true, that is a true fact. And that guy seated next to him at Wendesday's introductory press conference was not team owner Dan Snyder, it was new actual general manager Bruce Allen. The Redskins have a real actual general manager, also a true fact, that actually happened.

You are not dreaming. Rub your eyes, it is all still there.

Will it work out? Impossible to tell and for Curly R this is not the time to deconstruct the reasons why not.

The owner is mad with power, that much we know, the last time he did this step aside gig head coach and president of football operations Marty Schottenheimer fired Dan's toadie shadow general manager Vinny Cerrato within days of taking the job and as the 2001 season waned and with the team on an 8-3 tear after an 0-5 start when Dan asked Marty if he was ready to cede some of his contractual authority back to the owner and Marty said GTFO it was worth nearly eight million dollars to Dan to shitcan Marty and take it back.

So no, it may not work out, we will get hints all along the way, how coach Shanahan's staff is formed, how current players and coaches are dealt with, if coach Shanahan's operations muck with tradition or history, how the team handles free agency and the draft, offseason workouts, by training camp in July observers will have a legitimate body of evidence to start making informed judgments on early returns.

On the surface though you have to look at this as clear progress: a real actual general manager and a real actual coach with real actual Super Bowl experience, neither of which have real actual reasons to kiss Dan Snyder's ass and both of which have real actual reasons for wanting to succeed and show the world they can succeed.

I have been a Redskins fan long enough to know that Dan Snyder does not care much about anyone outside his bubble or what they have to say so the notion that any of what has happened over the past two years has been fan driven or the result of pressure by the media or football tastemakers still seems far fetched to me, there is a paper trail forming:

Jim Fassel gets one hair from being named head coach of the Redskins during the search without end in January and February 2008. When word leaks out that Jim Fassel was the quote mystery candidate unquote there is a fan uprising that is so severe the Washington Post reports on it in the Sports section. After Jim did not get the job he blamed bloggers, message board posters and sports talk radio callers for influencing Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato. Dan Dan the Sports Bog Man singles out four bloggers for behavior detrimental to Jim Fassel's candidacy.

Then all through the fall and collapse of 2009, the fights with fans over signs, the stripping down of the head coach, the failure, the lack of talent, spark and execution, a common thread formed outside the Ashburn bubble: Dan Snyder needed to get out of the way and turn the business over to professionals, like a small businessman with too much success too fast and not enough skill or confidence to delegate, Dan was stuck trying to shove too much through a small pipe and was making bad decisions. Enter professional management and a gentle invitation for the owner to go spend some time on his private island.

Dan's kneejerk reaction to go from trying to hold the status quo in the face of a customer revolt to becoming a humble man of deference in itself is suspect. After firing Norval Turner at 7-6 and still in the playoff hunt pissed off Redskins fans, his kneejerk reaction then was to throw it all at Marty Schottenheimer, then when the team was 0-2 then 0-3 then 0-4 then 0-5 Dan, who was then still engaging the media and the public, made his message basically, don't look at me guys, you wanted me to find a football guy and put him in charge, none of this is my fault.

And because he did not give Marty even two years of his three year plan in his mind Dan gets to rescue the team from a problem he does not realize he has created.

The same thing could happen this time, it would cost him a lot more money and this time he is not playing with Monopoly money, Redskins fans are seriously ready to drop their tickets, something they were not ready to do in 2001.

We can quibble and oh believe you me I intend to address the disastrous end of the Jim Zorn era next week, we can quibble over how we go to this moment, the journey to becoming a good NFL owner starts with hiring a general manager to oversee operations and a head coach who has the vision and capacity to shape the team on his own. There will be other hires designed to bolster this new power structure and we will analyze them all. Maybe Dan Snyder will let them work.

Today, I am happy with my team's owner.

Mike Shanahan: AP Photo from here.