In Dan Snyder's world, this is the way business is conducted:
Last July, a couple of days before the start of training camp,
the Washington Redskins' imperious new owner summoned coach Norv
Turner and new player personnel director Vinny Cerrato into his
office. Snyder had just demoted general manager Charley Casserly
to consultant, and now Turner--with input from Cerrato--would
have final personnel authority over the Skins. So Snyder, the
34-year-old Boy Plunder, sat the two men down. "You two guys are
joined at the hip," Snyder said. "If we lose, you're both fired."
The gall! The nerve! The reality of working for Snyder!
As he told this story last Saturday in his Redskin Park office,
Snyder lit a Cohiba and tried to explain why he has come into
this easy chair of a football team firing, quite literally, on
all cylinders. Snyder looks accountant bookish, but he doesn't
sound like a CPA. "In the world I come from there's pressure
every minute to perform," said Snyder, the CEO of a
billion-dollar marketing and Internet-service firm, Snyder
Communications. "So on this team, those who don't want to play,
like [waived tackle] Joe Patton, we'll pack up all their s--- and
throw it out in the parking lot."
It's likely that there was quite a lot of, er, stuff Snyder
wanted to throw into the parking lot of soon-to-be FedEx Field
around dusk on Sunday. (Snyder is crossing the last few t's on a
27-year, $205.5 million contract--the most lucrative
stadium-rights deal ever--to sell the name of Jack Kent Cooke
Stadium to Federal Express.) Washington's state-of-the-art
offense had had an off day against the Buffalo Bills, while the
defense, the worst in the NFL, had stayed on its wayward course,
letting a good but not great offense control the ball for 41
minutes. The only question after Buffalo's 34-17 win was this:
Would the office keys of Washington defensive coordinator Mike
Nolan still work on Monday?
The answer was yes, but the stiff-upper-lipped Nolan probably
won't work for the Redskins much longer. Two months, tops. How
Washington, now 5-3, fares the rest of this season will determine
whether the rest of the coaching staff joins Nolan surfing
nflemployment.com in January.
At the midpoint of Snyder's raucous first season on the job, the
Redskins can point to three positives. First, they're tied for
the NFC East lead. Second, their owner has effectively rattled
their comfortable cage. "Before Snyder got here," says radio
color man, local legend and buddy-of-the-boss Sonny Jurgensen,
"this place was Club Med." Finally, Washington's off-season
acquisition of quarterback Brad Johnson from the Minnesota
Vikings has paid off handsomely. Johnson, the league's
second-highest-rated quarterback, has thrown 15 touchdown passes
and only three interceptions.
But the vital hammer provided by Snyder and the first golden arm
Turner has had since taking over the Redskins in 1994 can't cure
what has ailed Washington since the best defensive mind in its
history, Richie Petitbon, was fired as coach after the '93
season. The Skins can't play defense. That's strange to hear,
given that Washington has a $57 million pair of defensive
tackles, six starters who were first-round draft picks and a
future star cornerback in rookie Champ Bailey. Nevertheless, it's
rated last in the league in defense. Until the Redskins show they
can stop someone, they're nothing more than pretenders in a
wide-open race for the Super Bowl.
In 1997 Washington barely missed the playoffs with an 8-7-1
record, and the big reason was a soft interior defense that
allowed 4.35 yards per rush. So before the '98 season, Casserly
signed two expensive defensive tackles--Dana Stubblefield, who was
coming off a monster year with the San Francisco 49ers, and Dan
Wilkinson, who had been designated the Cincinnati Bengals'
franchise player. Surely this 628 pounds of meat would plug the
middle. Wrong. Since adding Stubblefield and Wilkinson, the
Redskins have been last in the NFL against the run, allowing 4.54
yards per rush. The league average is almost a full yard less.
It's no coincidence that during that span Washington is 1-10
against teams with winning records.
On Sunday, Stubblefield and Wilkinson continued to play like NFL
Beanie Babies, combining for five tackles and no sacks on
Buffalo's 72 offensive plays. "We did nothing special," Bills
center Jerry Ostrowski said with a shrug after Buffalo ran for a
season-high 204 yards. "They're good players. We usually
double-teamed one and singled another, which isn't unusual for
good tackles. Then we just ran the ball right at them."
The great Stubblefield-Wilkinson experiment is a colossal
failure, even though Stubblefield doesn't see it that way. "No,
no, oh no," he says. "We just need to do a better job on the
Cutback, schmutback. Make some plays. The Redskins would have
been much smarter to sign one of the two tackles and acquire or
develop a granite-block-type nosetackle who could have been had
for a bargain price. Then, instead of being reduced to playing
three light linebackers (average weight: 233 pounds) with poor
pass-rush ability, Washington would have had the dough to sign a
run-stopping middle linebacker. Derek Smith, a 239-pound tweener,
isn't the answer. Against Petitbon, opponents never knew where
blitzes were coming from. Against Nolan, opponents don't respect
the blitz. None of the linebackers has speed, and the Skins don't
send their fast corners. On Sunday, Washington vainly devoted
eight men to stopping the run and left star Buffalo wideout Eric
Moulds single-covered most of the second half against 39-year-old
and noticeably fading cornerback Darrell Green. Bad matchup.
Moulds finished with five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Expect Snyder and his general manager of choice (Cerrato,
perhaps, if he hasn't walked the plank by then) to clean
defensive house in the off-season, though Stubblefield and
Wilkinson would be very hard to cut loose. If they released both
before June 1, the Redskins would have to count $11.64 million in
prorated signing bonuses against their 2000 salary cap.
Nevertheless, after Sunday's debacle Stubblefield said wryly, "I
better go in early in the morning to make sure my nameplate's
still on my locker."
Snyder is getting his point across. He began his reign by firing
26 employees--13 in stadium operations, 10 in team operations and
three groundskeepers at Redskin Park. "The stadium had
out-of-control costs," says Snyder, who claims that the fired
stadium staff wasted about $800,000 in utility costs this year.
"They were running the air-conditioning in the off-season
needlessly in the suites and club seats. At Redskin Park the
fields were in bad shape. There were three guys trying to kill
the players with their crappy fields, so I brought in the head of
the grounds crew at the stadium to oversee the fieldwork. Shame
on me for trying to make the fields perfect."
What about canning Casserly, the entire public relations and
marketing staffs, including two loyal secretaries who had been
employed by the Redskins since the 1970s? "I don't get turned on
by firing people," Snyder says, "but I bought the team. I brought
in all my own people, like I'd do in my businesses. Who can blame
Snyder says that the once-close relationship between Casserly and
Turner had deteriorated, hurting the organization's ability to
make decisions. Snyder says he had to choose one, and when he
purchased the team and stadium in May for $800 million, it was
too late to find a new coach and assemble a staff. Maybe, but
Casserly and Turner worked together just fine on draft day in
April, when Casserly oversaw the selection of Bailey and right
tackle Jon Jansen and dealt for a third first-round pick in the
"In the end," Snyder says, "none of this is about individuals.
It's about reaching the promised land. That's all I'm in this
Snyder's management style is impulsive. When he heard talk in the
front office that Patton, a favorite of Casserly's, was dogging
it, he backed Turner's wish to cut him late in the preseason--even
though Patton was the starting left tackle. When Atlanta Falcons
All-Pro running back Jamal Anderson was holding out, Snyder had
Turner call Falcons coach Dan Reeves to discuss a trade. A source
close to the Redskins says if Atlanta hadn't signed Anderson to a
long-term extension in August, he believes Washington would have
acquired Anderson for first- and third-round draft picks and
Stephen Davis, who leads the league in touchdowns and the NFC in
In July, Snyder was watching ESPN when he saw that the Arizona
Cardinals had released fullback Larry Centers. It was 12:20 a.m.,
Snyder remembers, but he immediately called Turner and said, "The
Cardinals cut Larry Centers. Can you believe that?" Turner said
that if Centers could be had cheaply, he would love to have him.
Casserly, still the general manager, wasn't crazy about the idea
because the Skins didn't have much salary cap room, but he signed
Centers (who's on pace for a 58-catch season) to a reasonable
one-year, $800,000 deal.
Turner says he got used to owner involvement when he worked for
Jerry Jones's Dallas Cowboys from 1991 to '93 and for Jack Kent
Cooke, when Cooke owned the Redskins during Turner's first two
years. He insists he doesn't mind Snyder's almost daily meddling.
"Dan is a fan, and all he wants to do is win," Turner says.
"Without his involvement we probably wouldn't have Centers,
[linebacker Marco] Coleman or [tackle Andy] Heck."
As for the infamous postgame meeting he had with Turner after
Washington lost to the Cowboys 38-20 at Texas Stadium on Oct. 24,
Snyder says he didn't so much as raise his voice. Nor did he ask
for Nolan's head. "I was pissed we were so cocky," he says.
"Why'd we let our receivers shoot their mouths off in the press?
That can't help us win. Why give Deion Sanders more reason to get
up for the game?"
For his part Turner knows he's eight weeks from redemption or the
firing squad. Late on Sunday, after he had replayed his 50th loss
as Redskins coach in his mind a few times, he knew what has to
happen for Washington to save its season--and quite a few jobs.
"Our good players have to step up in big games and play better,"
he said. "In this league, if you can't beat good teams, nothing
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN BIEVER Running wild Antowain Smith (23) battered the Redskins, accounting for 68 of the Bills' 204 rushing yards and two scores.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER The Boss Embattled Turner (left) says he sees Snyder as a fan who simply wants to win.
Jurgensen says that before Snyder took control, "this place was
like Club Med."