The problem with the Redskins
The main problem with the Washington Redskins is majority owner Dan Snyder — The Li’l General. I will explain why.
The Redskins finished 8-8 this year, out of the playoffs once again. Opinions are divided about whom to blame. Some blame rookie head coach Jim Zorn, who matched Marty Schottenheimer and Joe Gibbs by winning half of his games in his first season coaching the team. Some blame an offensive line that is old, slow, creaky and injury-prone. Some blame a corps of wideouts that consists of one genuine playmaker — Santana Moss — and a collection of rookie busts and veterans asked to do more than they can. Some blame the quarterback Jason Campbell, who has learned to prevent the big mistakes, but hasn’t learned to make the big plays. Finally, a popular target is “General Manager” Vinny Cerrato, a man has enough free time to host a truly awful talk radio show twice a week and whose services in the job he allegedly occupies are not sought by any other NFL team.
All that misses the point. The problem with the Washington Redskins is Dan Snyder.
Snyder took over the team after the 1998 season, but so late into 1999 did he take the reins that he couldn’t have any impact on the personnel of the team that year. Those Redskins finally made it to the playoffs under Head Coach Norv Turner, winning 10 games and the NFC East division title. The Redskins crushed the Detroit Lions in a home playoff game and then lost narrowly and comically to a fine Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. It seemed the Redskins might have finally turned the corner after drifting between atroicious and mediocre since the retirement of Joe Gibbs after the 1992 season.
Then Dan Snyder began to make decisions.
Snyder paid a mint for an old and over-the-hill Bruce Smith, a once-great pass-rusher the Buffalo Bills didn’t want anymore. Smith had one good season for the Redskins and then lapsed into a lame and purpose-less [for the Redskins, anyway] pursuit of the NFL career sack title. Deion Sanders was also brought in despite repeated warnings from the Dallas metro area that recent injuries meant he only had 9 working toes and wasn’t the player Snyder thought he was getting. Sanders was a slightly-better-than-average cornerback, no improvement on the man shoved into a reserve role, Darrell Green. As a punt returner, Sanders made WR James Thrash look good; Thrash averaged over 3 yards more per punt return than Sanders did. To make room for Sanders on the roster, the Redskins cut RB/RS Brian Mitchell, perhaps the most talented and useful player on the offense.
And let us not forget QB Jeff George, who lobbied endlessly for the starter job over incumbent [and future Super Bowl champion] Brad Johnson. George, who famously said leadership is “overrated,” failed utterly in Washington, finishing the 2000 season ineffectually as the starter and then being cut after two weeks by new Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer in 2001. This article from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen explains the situation nicely:
George was not a Schottenheimer guy. Never was. George was once a free agent with designs for the Kansas City Chiefs when Schottenheimer was the coach there. Marty didn’t want anything to do with him.
On the surface, it appeared Schottenheimer had options. There has never been an offseason stretch like 2001, when so many quarterbacks were available. And almost any of them would have embraced a chance to play in a Redskins uniform. Doug Flutie was in that group.
Problem was, Schottenheimer was handcuffed by owner Daniel Snyder’s spending. There was no room left under the salary cap to make a run for one of the other quarterbacks, and the coach fell into the trap most coaches fall into: He thought he could make a difference with George.
The Redskins started 0-5 in 2001, in no small part due to Snyder’s costly decisions the year before. With money tied up in Jeff George and other veterans who would never earn their salaries, the Redskins couldn’t pursue the quarterback they needed. Still, Schottenheimer righted the ship in October and the team finished a respectable 8-8.
But Dan Snyder was unhappy. After firing GM Charley Casserly and failing so spectacularly with his own personnel moves in 2000, public criticism of Snyder reached deafening levels. In response, Snyder hired respected veteran coach Marty Schottenheimer, with the understanding that Marty would have control over all personnel decisions and Snyder would retire to his luxury suite and watch the games like most NFL owners. This was the key to Snyder’s unhappiness. So Schottenheimer was fired and Steve Spurrier, who cared only about designing touchdown passes and was happy to cede GM duties to Dan Snyder, was hired. More expensive players were brought in and valuable players, like Stephen Davis, who took his team to a Super Bowl, were shown the door. Draft picks were wasted, years went by, losses piled up.
Dan Snyder didn’t buy the Redskins to make money, though he does intend to make money with the Redskins and does, indeed, do so. Dan Snyder didn’t buy the Redskins to win Super Bowls, though he does hope to do that, too. Dan Snyder bought the Redskins to be general manager because being general manager of an NFL team is fun — particularly if you’ve got a lot of money to spend and have no boss to fire you.
I’m going to repeat that because it is important for understanding Snyder and why the Redskins have endured so much losing: Dan Snyder bought the Redskins to be general manager because being general manager of an NFL team is fun — particularly if you’ve got a lot of money to spend and have no boss to fire you.
What fan hasn’t fantasized about being the GM of his favorite NFL team, making the big calls, reshaping the roster, gathering the glory when all those wise and far-sighted decisions yield a Vince Lombardi trophy? All fans have done that. What else is fantasy football, a hugely popular pasttime, if not an attempt to live out GM dreams that will never be realized? Well, Dan Snyder gets to realize those dreams. And it’s fun.
The problem is, Dan Snyder doesn’t know how to be the GM of an NFL team. He’s the worst sort of ignoramus — the kind who thinks he’s got it all covered and is completely unaware of how little he knows. It’s not just that Snyder doesn’t know what he’s doing. If that were the only problem, it would be easily fixed: Snyder doesn’t know what he’s doing. He realizes this. He hires someone who does. Problem solved. But that’s not the case. The real problem is that Snyder thinks he DOES know what he’s doing. When asked if there would be changes in the front office, Snyder has replied that you don’t fix something if it isn’t broken. As far as Dan Snyder is concerned, the front office of the Washington Redskins is working .
To sum up the situation:
1. Dan Snyder bought the Redskins to be the GM of the Redskins;
2. Dan Snyder is a terrible GM;
3. Dan Snyder thinks he’s a good GM.
That’s why the Redskins are where they are. And that’s why the Redskins will stay where they are until something or someone changes Dan Snyder’s mind about his talents as a general manager.
Of course, Dan Snyder has his defenders. These are mostly people who draw a salary from Dan Snyder, of course, but not all. There are fans who appear to appreciate Snyder, who say that the way he spends money proves that he cares about the team and wants to win.
This is irrelevant. Of course Dan Snyder wants to win. Mike Brown, owner/GM of the Cincinnati Bengals wants to win. Al Davis, owner/GM/Coach of the Oakland Raiders wants to win. Bill Bidwell, owner of the Arizona Cardinals wants to win. Every NFL owner wants his or her team to win a Super Bowl every year. The real question is this:
What is Dan Snyder willing to do to win?
And that’s where the problem with the Redskins becomes persistent and chronic. Bill Bidwell wants to win, but not if it means he has to spend a lot of money. Same with Mike Brown of the Bengals. They both want to win on the cheap. Al Davis wants to make all the personnel decisions on his team and pay his coaches a pittance. Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, the owner Dan Snyder most closely resembles, wants to be GM and head coach of his team. He does serve as GM and he maintains some functions of a head coach, such as hiring various assistant coaches — something Snyder now does, as well. Jerry Jones wants to win so badly his head is ready to explode. He spent a ton of money assembling the team he has now and is about to move the Cowboys into a gigantic and hugely expensive state-of-the-art stadium. Yet for all his money and all his wishes, Jones’ team hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1996 season — a record of futility that dwarfs even Snyder’s.
Clearly, then, wanting to win games and Super Bowls isn’t enough. What else does an owner need to do?
Answer: He needs to recognize his limitations. The Cowboys haven’t won a playoff game in 12 years because Jerry Jones took over as GM and he’s a terrible GM. The Redskins lose so many games despite a high payroll because Dan Snyder is the GM and he’s a terrible GM. In general, owners don’t make good general managers. To be a good manager or coach or general manager of a sports team, you really need to spend your adult life, at the very least, working at football. You need to be learning about it, watching it on film, talking to other experts, and listening to mentors who know more than you do. A lot of the time what you’ll be doing isn’t very exciting, but it is necessary to learn your trade. One doesn’t wake up and decide that today you’re a chemist or a molecular biologist or a neurosurgeon. You have to study for years to be good at those things. The problem with running a football team is that there are no official qualifications you need to have; all the qualifications are real and important, but they’re entirely unofficial. But being unofficial doesn’t make them any less important or necessary.
By now it must be clear to all, except for Daniel Snyder himself, that he’s not competent to run an NFL team. There’s no shame in that. There is no reason why he should be competent to run an NFL team. He didn’t spend most of his life studying the things you need to know to run an NFL team well. We don’t assume that someone who is rich enough to buy a hospital is qualified to perform brain surgery. Why should we assume that somone who is rich enough to buy a football team [after borrowing from every bank and relative he could find] is qualified to be an NFL general manager? We should not.
Dan Snyder has fun being a GM. He fired Marty Schottenheimer because the contract he had with Marty didn’t allow him to be GM. And having fun is the #1 reason Snyder bought the Redskins. Apart from the Gibbs hire, Snyder has hired coaches who will not object to working for an amateur GM who thinks he’s a pro. Nobody was offering Jim Zorn a head coaching job, so when Snyder offers him one, he takes it, even if it means working for a boss who is a fool. That’s why Snyder WANTED to hire Jim Fassel — because Fassel was so desperate to get back into NFL coaching that he’d work for a fool of a boss. Steve Spurrier thought his system was so great he could win in the NFL with any players, just as he’d done at Florida. Therefore, he didn’t care if his GM was a fool.
Dan Snyder didn’t want to hire Zorn as his head coach, but he wound up doing so because the sort of people he wanted to hire wouldn’t take the job. Jim Spagnuolo, the Defensive Coordinator of the New York Giants, was offered the head coaching job in Washington, but he turned it down. Why? Why would anyone turn down a promotion, a chance to coach one of the NFL glamour teams, get a fat raise, and work for an owner who will spend how ever much money it takes? Because Spagnuolo knew that Snyder the GM would ruin Spagnuolo the coach, leading Snyder the owner to fire Spagnuolo the coach. Bill Cowher refused to work for Snyder for the same reason. Coaches are seeing how important a good GM is. They see what happens to coaches in Dallas and Washington and Cincinnati and they don’t want that to happen to their careers. Thus, those teams can’t attract top coaching candidates. Cowher or Spagnuolo won’t work for Snyder unless Snyder promises to step away from personnel decisions, which Snyder doesn’t want to do because making pesronnel decisions is the single biggest reason he bought the team in the first place.
The Redskins will not be a consistently good team until Dan Snyder stops making personnel decisions and hires a competent GM to do so. Oh, sure, they can have the occasional good season. It happens. The team gets career years out of a few players and gets lucky with injuries, while key division
rivals get wiped out by injuries. The conference is weak and/or the division is weak. A few football bounce the right way and a mediocre team has a good year and makes the playoffs. That’s what will happen for the Redskins every now and then if Dan Snyder is the GM. But consistent winning? Winning games and playoff games like the Steelers do or the Eagles do? Forget it. Those teams are owned by people who know their limitations.
Does Dan Snyder want to win? Sure, he does. But not enough. He doesn’t want to win more than anything. If Snyder wanted to win more than anything, he’d fire himself, hire a real GM, and stay in the owner’s box, making lots of money and entertaining the elite of Washington, D.C. In other words, he’d be Jack Kent Cooke.
More at Dc pro Sports Report