With a new coach in Jay Gruden to replace Mike Shanahan, many fans are hopeful that the burgundy and gold can reclaim the glory days of Theismann and Gibbs under a hot, young offensive genius.
Given the Redskins’ history under Dan Snyder, specifically with young offensive-minded coaches, you have to ask yourself, “Will this happen, will the team turn it around?” When you consider the stats, the records and the constant meddling by the owner, you have to go with: no.
In fact, the Skins could hire any coach out there and still flop. The reason is the fault of one man: the owner, Dan Snyder.
The biblical plague that is Snyder could well be the fifty year curse because his interfering in team affairs is incurable, as is his obsequiousness to “star” players, neither of which are subject to change; failure has made its home in Washington and is nursed by a greedy and ignorant owner.
To understand this incredible era of mediocrity, you need to look back at the team’s recent history.
As the Skins owner since the spring of 1999, following the passing of longtime owner Jack Kent Cooke in the then biggest sports deal ever (he purchased them for $800 million), Snyder generated the reputation of a less than desirable man to work for.
In the ‘Snyder Era,’ there has been a litany of losing seasons and a myriad of terrible personnel decisions, coaches and players alike, all stemming from Snyder.
Starting with the coaching, these errors go back to 2000. On Dec. 4 Snyder fired Norv Turner, who had the team in every game with a winning record (7-6); the Skins did not make the playoffs that year, losing the remainder of their games.
Moreover, he won Super Bowls with the Cowboys as a coach and had a decent record with the Skins.
The rashness of this decision is seen through its comparison to other teams’ actions: in the modern era, he is the only coach to be fired halfway through a season with a winning record.
The next man up to the plate was Marty Shottenheimer, who lasted all of one season.
Last year, Snyder reflected on the firing, saying, “He was insistent on doing it all, that was something that I don’t think works, one guy can’t do everything. He was a machine on that front.” This can translate to: “He didn’t want me interfering with his job, which as the owner, I ought to be allowed to do.” However, Marty went on to enjoy a mostly positive record with the Chargers.
More hilarity ensued in the following year during the “Steve Spurrier Era.” Starting things off with the first losing season since 1998, things only looked bleaker for the future South Carolina coach. 2003 proved even worse for the Skins (they earned a 5-11 mark), and Spurrier jumped ship with several years left on his contract.
Many speculated that it was due to a hostile relationship with the owner, who, by this time, was known around the league as the type of owner who had to have his hand in everything.
As bad as the first years of the Snyder ownership were, they pale in comparison to what came next. Joe Gibbs, the former head coach and hall of famer, was enjoying the ownership of a NASCAR championship team when Snyder reached out to him to coach the Skins.
To sweeten the already immense contract, Snyder made it known that he would not intervene. Gibbs accepted, and on his watch, prior to the season (Spring 2004), ‘The Trade’ happened. The Washington Redskins traded their future hall of fame cornerback, Champ Bailey (who is in the AFC title game this weekend) and a second-round draft pick to the Denver Broncos for running back Clinton Portis, with whom Snyder would share a “buddy-buddy” relationship in which he doted on him at the expense of his head coach’s authority over his team. ‘The Trade’ was in fact Snyder’s brainchild, which is chalked up by league experts as a monumental “bust.”
The fact that it is still being joked about a decade provides a barometer for just how awful this trade was. Gibb’s second tenure as head coach was short and mediocre; he had mostly losing seasons and retired (again) in 2008.
Doing his best impression of Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones, Snyder hired Zorn, who had only ever been a quarterback’s coach, from offensive coordinator to head coach. The wet-eared Jim Zorn took the reins next and was gone in two years. The lone highlight was the $100 million acquisition of Albert Haynesworth and the carousel of GMs. The Haynesworth deal was also seen as a tremendous failure as the once all pro barely contributed to the team and was later traded to New England.
The latest coach, Shanahan, lasted from 2010 to 2013, and featured several losses, lots of drama, and a highly controversial gamble for the Baylor star, Robert Griffen III (RG3), which remains a question mark. Following mediocre campaigns in 2010 and 2011, 2012 looked to be their year.
Due to the sensational play by RG3, the team looked poised to win big in Seattle, in the first round of the playoffs.
However, overuse of RG3 and neglect of his knee ailments caused him to tear his LCL, and the Skins’ subsequent loss the Seahawks. 2013 was a year of strife and conflict between Snyder and Shanahan in which the team collected only three wins.
Following this terrible year, Shanahan was let go.
Now, the Skins have hired Gruden, the eighth coach in 15 years. Some fans are holding out hope that this will be different, which it may well be: Snyder hired the GM, who hired Gruden, which may be a big step forward for the Redskins.
However, I am highly skeptical that one step forward won’t be two steps back for Dan Snyder. Historically, he has appeared to make a seemingly sound decision, only to shoot himself in the foot later. For example, he went out and cut a deal for Clinton Portis, an explosive young running back, in exchange for a pick in the draft and a cornerback, who, ten years later is still dominating the league while Clinton golfs with Snyder on weekends.
This once great franchise, thanks to their owner, has become the laughing stock of the division, and, aside from one or two other teams, the Conference as well.
No matter whom Snyder brings to the team, player or coach, they will still fail. He just is not content with sitting back and enjoying the show; he has to be tweak with the team and voice his opinion.
The results of such meddling are apparent: Clinton Portis’ refusal to work out in practice, and the assertion by some that Shanahan was curtailed in his efforts to coach RG3 on dropping back because the quarterback only had to report to Danny.
A striking image of the season past would be the sacking of RG3 in the 49ers game and his linemen’s refusal to help him up, providing some legitimacy to the argument that the special treatment of RG3 affected the entire team.
With Gruden’s work cut out for him on the field, and in the front office, the question is whether 2014 will bring many wins.
It is not the talent or the coaching, or even the drafting (which has actually been very solid), but it is an owner who does not know football trying to run a football team while simultaneously being pals with the players.
All of this begs the question: was the Shanahan episode the tipping point, in which Snyder has seen the error of his ways, or was this to be another mile-marker on the Snyder road to ruin?
Given the history of Snyder as an owner of the Redskins, the losses, the horrible personnel decisions, the deference to star players and the desire to micromanage the team, I think it is fair to say that the events of the past season were anything but an anomaly; Snyder is going to continue to drag this team down as he has always done, and no coach can change that.
With that being said, you have to scratch your head in wonder what could be if the Skins had a different owner, since the situation they are in right now is not dissimilar to the seemingly precarious spot the now NFC Champion Seahawks were in around 2009-2010: a team loaded with talented and just needing direction from a strong head coach.
Unlike the Seahawks, the Redskins will not realize their potential with a self-destructive owner undoing any progress they make, because it has to be all about Danny Snyder, not the team.