- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

Here's how far the Washington Redskins have fallen since they won the NFC East and made the playoffs in 1999: After last Sunday's game against the New York Giants in which they lost by 14 points, were outgained 309-181 and turned the ball over five times, the words "moral victory" appeared in a newspaper headline.
Are the 0-4 Redskins the league's worst? Maybe, maybe not, although being outscored 135-25 makes an interesting case. The verdict might be delivered Monday night in Dallas against the winless Cowboys, as one of the most storied rivalries in sport degenerates into one team trying to prove it is less awful than the other. What we do know is that barring anything dramatic, like sudden improvement, few teams in NFL history have declined as quickly.
On the night of Dec. 26, 1999, in San Francisco, Redskins owner Dan Snyder drank champagne with coach Norv Turner after quarterback Brad Johnson and fullback Larry Centers led an overtime comeback against the 49ers. The Redskins had clinched a playoff berth earlier that day, but no one could accuse them of backing in. "The players and coaches showed they have true Washington Redskins hearts," Snyder said.
Twenty-one games later, after a 45-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 30, defensive end Bruce Smith used such words as "embarrassing," "disgusting" and "unacceptable" to describe the Redskins.
As a New York columnist once wrote about a sorry Giants team in the late 1960s, the players can't play and the coaches can't coach. The Redskins are a mess and, worse, a joke. ABC commentator/comic Dennis Miller should have enough material for Monday night to win an Emmy, assuming they ever have the Emmys again.
How did this happen? Simple. The ultimate responsibility lies not with the players nor the coaches. Their contributions certainly are notable, but the final blame rests with an owner who swiftly, suddenly and with great conviction destroyed the Redskins.
You know the board game, Clue? It's Boy Owner, in the skybox, with the checkbook. Snyder did it. He fired general manager Charley Casserly, not to mention nearly 100 other employees, even parking lot attendants. He humiliated Turner. He inflicted Jeff George on an unsuspecting organization and signed several other high-priced non-producers, thereby blowing up team chemistry as well as the salary cap. He turned training camp into a theme park. He raised the price on anything that could be sold and generally alienated an entire league. There is now a special joy in beating this team.
Criticized by fellow owners, reviled in print and blasted by TV talking heads mostly ex-players for his arrogance, conceit and ignorance, Snyder has created his legacy. He will be remembered as the one person who had the power to ruin a once-proud franchise, to turn "Hail to the Redskins" into a mocking dirge, and do exactly that.
These aren't merely Snyder's fingerprints left as evidence; they are handprints clutching, grabbing, choking handprints of a man who mixed ego, a lust (if not a pathological need) for control and overwhelming ignorance, shaken (not stirred) and produced a recipe for failure. Minus a quarterback, lacking depth, absent any star power, the Redskins' best hope this season is to find an even keel and show some respectability and pride, even while losing. Last year the goal was the Super Bowl. This year it's keeping out of a Letterman monologue.
While the shaky debut of coach/general manager Marty Schottenheimer cannot be discounted, let's remember why he is here in the first place. Snyder, whose reputation as a pugnacious meddler became instantly known league-wide (one of his biggest critics, of course, was Schottenheimer on ESPN), simply couldn't hire anyone else who met his criteria, i.e., a "big name." From Lou Holtz and Frank Beamer to Butch Davis, Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil and Terry Donahue, the response was the same: No thanks. And that was from those who bothered to return Snyder's calls.
Schottenheimer might yet straighten things out, but the early indications don't look good. Perhaps he has lost some intangible ingredient that made him successful in the past.
Last year Schottenheimer had the Green Bay job sewn up. Draft choices were wrapped and ready for shipment to Kansas City, where he had nine winning records in 10 years before quitting after the 1998 season. Then Marty balked at the offer and asked for more money. At that point, Packers general manager Ron Wolf, suspicious of Schottenheimer's motives for returning to coaching, gave the job to Mike Sherman.
Snyder, however, was more than willing to write a check for $10 million and turn total control of all things football to Schottenheimer. Memo to Snyder: too late.
If Schottenheimer is overmatched, it's probably more as a GM than as a coach. But if he wanted to give up those duties, the Redskins would be stuck because of Snyder. Anyone considered qualified wouldn't take the GM job now. If he did, an MRI on his head would be required. Who in his right mind would want to come here?
But the point is probably moot. The Redskins haven't had a general manager since Snyder stripped Casserly of the title (and his dignity) in 1999 and made him a "consultant," greasing the skids for his departure. Every new owner needs a trusted, veteran hand to help lead him through unexplored territory. Snyder, certain that if he ran one business successfully he could do the same in this one, fired his sherpa and decided to scale Everest alone. It gets mighty cold and lonely up there, doesn't it?
Casserly, the GM since 1989, was hardly flawless. He drafted Andre Johnson, Desmond Howard, Heath Shuler (listening to Turner) and other flops. It wasn't Casserly's fault that Dana Stubblefield basically quit or that Dan Wilkinson never played as well as hoped, but it was on Casserly's watch that the Redskins remained playoff-free for six seasons.
Yet Casserly, a lifelong, dedicated football man who started out fetching coffee for George Allen and worked his way up, straightened things out. And you know what? His draft picks weren't all that bad: Cornerback Champ Bailey, running back Stephen Davis, center Cory Raymer, tackle Jon Jansen, guard Tre Johnson, tight end Stephen Alexander, defensive end Kenard Lang, linebackers Shawn Barber and Derek Smith and yes, wide receivers Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell all played key roles on the '99 team.
So did Centers and guard Keith Sims, defensive end Marco Coleman and especially Brad Johnson, who signed as free agents or came via trade. The Redskins, who beat the Lions in the first round of the playoffs before losing by one point to the Bucs on a botched field goal attempt, were in good shape, at least on the field. Better yet, Casserly had played the salary cap like a maestro. The club ranked in the top five in available cap space. And, the Redskins had three first-round picks for 2000.
But by the end of the 1999 season, Casserly, who is now entrusted with building the expansion Houston Texans franchise, was gone. He was replaced in a sense by Vinny Cerrato, who was named player personnel director but not general manager. Cerrato had made a name for himself as a recruiter at Notre Dame, but he also was the 49ers' personnel director whose handiwork led to the club going from 12-4 in 1998 to 4-12 in 1999 with major salary cap problems.
After getting fired in San Francisco, Cerrato was hired as a consultant by Howard Millstein, who expected to buy the Redskins, with Snyder as minority partner. Despite several ex-Niners types scattered throughout the league, Cerrato couldn't land a job. Even though 49ers guru Bill Walsh advised against it, Snyder, who eventually was awarded the bid instead of Millstein, still hired Cerrato.
It's no secret Casserly and Turner no longer could work together, and someone had to go. Later, Snyder told Casserly, "I fired the wrong guy." Snyder, who bought the Redskins for the record price of $800 million in May 1999, had wanted to fire Turner right away. Casserly, among others, talked him out of it. Given an ultimatum to make the playoffs, Turner did just that. But Snyder made Turner's life miserable, frequently criticizing him (notably, after a loss to Dallas), meeting with players on his own and generally undermining his authority with his constant, loud presence.
After the Redskins made the playoffs, Snyder was stuck with Norv for 2000. But not to worry. This would be a new, improved Redskins team, an instant Super Bowl contender. Snyder, with Cerrato dutifully nodding his approval, would buy a championship as easily as he bought his helicopter. He would inflate the payroll to a record $100 million by handing out huge contracts to past-their-prime or questionable players like Deion Sanders giving him an $8 million bonus but not prohibiting him from playing baseball Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier and Jeff George, plus unproven draft picks Chris Samuels and LaVar Arrington.
Despite the Redskins claiming otherwise, the salary cap was totaled, trashed. Snyder also moved preseason camp from the isolation of Frostburg, Md., to their year-round headquarters in Ashburn, Va., turning training camp into a circus, NFL Experience and all. Snyder became the first owner to charge fans to attend practice ($10 for adults, $10 to park). It was a terrible idea, criticized throughout the NFL, and Schottenheimer immediately scrapped it when he took over.
Snyder's worst move was bringing in George. Helping the Redskins get to the playoffs, Brad Johnson in 1999 set a team record for completions and finished second in yardage. He worked well with his teammates, and with Turner. None of this was good enough for Snyder, however, who for some unfathomable reason had to have George, a noted underachiever, coach-killer and malcontent. It was said George had a million-dollar arm and a 10-cent head, but the latter number might have been inflated.
His security threatened, Johnson underperformed in 2000. Weakened by divisions in the locker room, distractions and injuries, not to mention a horrible kicking game, so did the rest of the team.
Somehow, the Redskins wobbled to 7-6 when Snyder made Turner the first coach to be fired with a winning record and his team still mathematically alive for a playoff berth. Assistant Terry Robiskie was hired as interim coach, but not before Snyder tried to give the job to his pal, Pepper Rodgers, a former college coach with no NFL experience.
Rodgers did, however, have ties to FedEx, the company that purchased the naming rights to what used to be called Jack Kent Cooke Stadium after the former Redskins owner. Pepper Rodgers? Head coach? It was an absolutely, positively terrible move. The league had a hoot over that. Johnson was benched for George, and the team rolled over and died for Robiskie. For Snyder's $100 million, the Redskins finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Losing six games by six points or less, they went through five kickers. One they didn't sign was the talented Joe Nedney, who went to Carolina after his agent steered him away from the instability bred by Snyder.
In less than a year, Snyder had personally transformed a playoff team with a chance to improve into an aging, overpriced non-playoff team with critical salary cap issues. On top of that, Johnson was gone, off to Tampa Bay, where he was wanted. George and his 45-78 career record (and all that came with it) was now the quarterback.
The Schottenheimer-George marriage was doomed from the start, and everyone knew it. Everyone, that is, except Snyder, who was entirely responsible for it happening, and Schottenheimer, who failed to sign a competent back-up just in case. Marty was convinced that even though George represented everything he hated in a player (undisciplined, selfish, not a leader), he could somehow get him to come around.
When the inevitable occurred and George alienated yet another coach and set of teammates, the Redskins found themselves with no one at quarterback to turn toward except Tony Banks, who had failed with St. Louis, Baltimore and Dallas and whose career path is starting to resemble George's own.
In direct response to Snyder's inflated payroll, combined with a desire to bring in his "type" of player (that is, anyone who once wore a K.C uniform), Schottenheimer gutted the roster during the offseason. He cut the gritty Centers, who has caught more passes than any NFL running back. He cut Carrier, a veteran safety. Also gone were Connell and a promising wide receiver, James Thrash, along with Tre Johnson, Keith Sims, Derek Smith, Dana Stubblefield, guards Jay Leeuwenburg and Andy Heck, safety Matt Stevens, defensive end N.D. Kalu and tight end Mike Sellers. Deion, meanwhile, said there was no way he would play for Schottenheimer. The replacements this year have been less than adequate, resulting in a pronounced lack of depth.
How's this for instability? The Redskins now have fewer players left from 1999 than the expansion Cleveland Browns. And you can trace it all to Snyder's spending spree.
But, wait, the news only will get worse.
Alexander, Lang, Raymer, Westbrook and Barber are unrestricted free agents. They'd be crazy to hang around. Darrell Green is retiring. Bruce Smith is as good as gone. Don't count on Wilkinson or Sam Shade or Marco Coleman coming back either. And then there's the quarterback situation. But more cuts won't totally solve the salary cap problem, meaning that the Redskins will experience the worst of both worlds. They will be left with only a few quality players, yet won't be able to add many more. That's assuming any would choose to come here, which is unlikely.
And if Snyder decided to dump Schottenheimer after one season, what qualified coach could he hire? The good news is that Giant has an unlimited supply of paper bags.
Although there are enough fans on the season-ticket waiting list to keep filling FedEx Field, disgust will give way to apathy. The Wizards with Jordan and the Caps with Jagr and an overachieving, entertaining Maryland football team are moving the Redskins off the front page of the sports section, steering sports radio chatter in different directions.
That once was considered unthinkable.
But so, too, is what Dan Snyder has done.


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