The Washington Post is full of happy talk this morning—and I do mean FULL, there’s a big front page story and about 10 more stories in the sports section—because Vinny Cerrato is finally gone from Redskins-land. The smartest comment I saw on all this was from a reader: “The wicked witch may not be dead but her favorite flying monkey is gone.”
Bruce Allen, a guy with an actual resume as an NFL personnel guy is in and Cerrato is out. Allen comes armed with something no one has ever had since the wicked witch—Dan Snyder—bought the team in 1999: the title of general manager. Once Snyder ousted Charlie Casserly, he basically ran the team himself with Cerrato as a front man and Joe Gibbs involved in some decisions during his four year return as coach.
Make no mistake about it though: the product that Washington has put on the field for the last 10 years is a Dan Snyder production. He has hired and fired coaches—or driven them so crazy that they left with $15 million left on their contract (Steve Spurrier)—and as recently as a couple weeks ago went to see Texas quarterback Colt McCoy play in person with Cerrato tagging along.
That’s why the essential question about the Redskins future hasn’t been answered yet. Allen has a solid, though not spectacular, record making personnel decisions in Oakland and Tampa Bay. His ties to the Redskins as George Allen’s son are irrelevant since Allen last worked in Washington when Jimmy Carter was a brand new president.
What’s more, it appears likely now that Mike Shanahan will be the next coach—although there are some who think that John Gruden’s Tampa Bay ties to Allen might bring him to Washington. Maybe. More likely though it will be Shanahan for a huge pile of money. The ex-Broncos coach has been positioning himself for the job all season—using one of those ESPN rumor guys to build up the notion that he might go to Buffalo as a bargaining wedge with the Redskins.
One would think a tandem of Allen and Shanahan, or for that matter Allen and Gruden, will work. The elephant in the room, albeit one wearing a pointy black hat and traveling by broomstick, is Snyder. Is he really and truly capable of listening to the football guys and nodding his head when they tell him what they want to do? The fact that Allen got the GM title tells you that Snyder has told him he’ll be the decision-maker. He told Marty Schottenheimer the same thing once upon a time then reneged on the deal after one season.
If I was a Redskins fan here’s the Snyder quote that would make me a little bit nervous this morning: “In terms of the past, I’ve not been as involved as people may have thought. In terms of the future, obviously we’re going to be counting on Bruce to help lead the way and we’re excited about having a seasoned NFL executive with this much experience.”
Translate that into English and here’s what he said: “Don’t blame me for the past, it’s the other guys, the ones I’ve fired.” If you believe that I’d suggest you stay up all night on Christmas Eve because Santa is bound to show up. The notion that Allen will, “help,” lead the decision-making doesn’t sound too firm either does it?
In fact, when he was asked how much autonomy Allen would have, Snyder gave a non-answer: “Obviously Bruce has the authority. When we (note WE) make a decision, when he makes a decision, when the club makes a decision, it’s a Redskins decision.”
Oh boy, a Redskins decision. That sounds a lot like the “Redskins grades,” Snyder said he and Cerrato and the scouts gave players before the draft each year. It’s interesting that so many people in DC are giddy that Cerrato is finally gone—he left in his usual classless fashion, patting himself on the back for “outstanding draft picks,” while completely leaving Coach Jim Zorn out in listing all the people he was proud to have worked with in Washington—the issue was never Cerrato. It was and is Snyder.
Snyder’s a bully and a bad guy. People keep talking about what a great businessman he is. I’ll accept that only because I don’t know a thing about business and the guy made a lot of money. For me to analyze someone as a businessman is a little like Snyder analyzing someone as a football player or a football coach.
There are all sorts of stories about Snyder mistreating (and firing) employees; about his Napoleonic obsession with being called Mr. Snyder and his consistent insistence that he be involved in football decisions—which have proven to be disastrous.
Let me tell you one first hand story about Snyder. We haven’t gotten along since he bought the team because I was critical of the way he treated people and of his breaking up what had been a pretty good team in 1999, a team that went 10-6 and lost at the buzzer in the conference semifinals to Tampa Bay under Charlie Casserly and Norv Turner. Snyder went out and bought a bunch of over-the-hill big name free agents (Jeff George, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith) the next offseason and fired Turner with a 7-6 record in 2000. Casserly was already long gone. At last look Turner was 10-3 in San Diego after being ridiculed by people in Washington after his firing.
Snyder called me at some point during this period to tell me that I shouldn’t criticize him because (I’m not making this up) he gave a lot of money to Children’s Hospital. I told him I certainly would never criticize him or anyone for giving money to charity but that wasn’t the issue. He continued on, getting angry, demanding to know where the hell I came off criticizing someone who was so charitable. I told him I’d be willing to bet him a lot of money—that I’d give to charity—that I gave a higher percentage of my income to charity than he did and it was STILL a moot point; that if someone didn’t like what I wrote how much I gave to charity didn’t matter.
End of conversation.
A few years later I was sitting in a restaurant in Potomac (Maryland) not far from where I live and also not far from where Snyder lives. I was with my ex-wife, sitting in the back when the restaurant manager came over looking a little flustered.
“John, Dan Snyder is in here having dinner,” he said.
I shrugged. “And?” I said.
“He saw you sitting here. He says he wants to buy you a bottle of wine.”
I really didn’t want to play this game but there was no choice. If I turned the wine down I’d look un-gracious. So, I said to the manager, “Tell Mr. Snyder thanks and I’d like to buy his table dessert.”
When we got up to leave, I stopped at the table. Snyder was with his wife and Bennett Zeier and his wife—Zeier was running his radio stations at the time although, like most Snyder employees, he left soon after.
“Dan, thanks for the wine,” I said, shaking hands. “That was very gracious of you. I asked Enzo to add your desserts to my tab.” I turned to Mary and said, “I don’t think you’ve met my wife…”
Snyder ignored Mary and said to me, “yeah, I really enjoyed buying wine for someone who has been s----- on me for seven years.”
“Hey Dan, if you’ve got any issues with me, I’d be happy to buy you lunch and discuss them. But I don’t think now is the time.”
“No, you wouldn’t would you? You don’t like it when the tables are turned do you?”
“What tables are turned? Look, here’s my number, call me anytime you want.” I grabbed some paper from my pocket and wrote down my phone numbers. Before I could hand Snyder the numbers, he had turned on Mary.
“How does your husband sleep at night, huh?” he sneered. “Doesn’t he have a conscience? How does he sleep?”
“Actually he sleeps fine,” Mary said.
At that moment, Zeier, clearly embarrassed, jumped in and asked me about a mutual friend of ours, Rob Ades. He introduced me to the two wives who were pretty much cowering under the table.
Snyder plowed through the pleasantries. “You have no RIGHT to criticize me,” he said, pointing a finger. “I don’t know who you think you are…”
I held up my hand. Enough was enough. “Dan, there are my numbers. Call me. We’ll discuss this in a non-social setting.”
“I don’t call the media,” he shouted. “Why don’t YOU call me?”
“Because Dan, I don’t have a problem. You do.”
I walked away with Snyder still shouting something at my back. At the front of the restaurant Enzo was waiting with a bottle of wine. “Tell Mr. Snyder to keep it,” I said.
I never heard from him.
So now he’s finally thrown his pal Cerrato overboard and reeled in Allen with Shanahan probably to follow. If nothing else the next chapter should be entertaining to watch. In the meantime, I’m still sleeping fine.