- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2001

One of the Redskins veterans was wondering yesterday how the team had become so bad so quickly. "Weren't we the No. 2 offense in the league [in yards] two years ago?" he asked. "Weren't we No. 4 last year in defense? What happened?"

I'll tell you what happened. Dan Snyder happened. And then Marty Schottenheimer happened. And now this franchise is so messed up, it'll take years to straighten it out.

Too bad Dan and Marty aren't the guys to straighten it out.

The Redskins owner has no place to hide now. This is his coach. These are his players. This is his organizational catastrophe. I'm reminded of Orson Welles' famous line: "I started out at the top, and I've been working my way down ever since."

The Redskins weren't at the top, exactly, when Snyder took them over, but they weren't that far away, either. In his first year as owner, they missed making the NFC title game by two points and, thanks to Charley Casserly's intelligent management, went into the offseason armed with three first-round draft picks and plenty of cap space. The club was in extremely good shape, as well-positioned for the future as just about anybody in the league.

And now, after beginning the Schottenheimer era with lopsided losses at San Diego (30-3) and Green Bay (37-0), words like "embarrassing" and "depressing" and "unheard of" are being thrown around the Washington locker room. What happened, indeed.

Dan the Man brought all this on himself, of course. He spent recklessly last year lavishing millions on such brand names as Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith and Jeff George in a misguided attempt to buy a championship. When that didn't work, he fired the coach,

alienated the defensive coordinator, ran off the starting quarterback and then brought in Schottenheimer, who had been on the sideline for two seasons, to make everything right again.

Instead, the new coach has turned out a worse product than his predecessor. Part of it's because he had to dump some salaries to get the payroll under control, but that's not the only reason. He also has let some useful players go (e.g. Larry Centers, James Thrash), replaced them with his own marginally talented people (e.g. Donnell Bennett, Kevin Lockett) and made a mockery of the hiring process by putting both his brother and his son on his coaching staff. (Which brings to mind another famous line: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.")

Anyway, Snyder's stuck now. It's clear Schottenheimer should have stayed retired (or found a team that was a better fit for him). Whatever he's selling, the players aren't buying. But the Redskins owner can't fire him at least not yet because then he'll look even more foolish than he already does. (Besides, it's late September. Who's he going to replace Schottenheimer with, Pepper Rodgers?)

Schottenheimer has already blown his chance to make a good first impression. He strode into town like he invented the game forgetting that Washington has had football coaches far more successful than him (Joe Gibbs, George Allen, Ray Flaherty). Then he went and insulted the fans' intelligence by saying the Redskins were going to be Super Bowl contenders this year.

This ain't some cow town, Marty. The folks around here know what Super Bowl contenders look like, and the current Redskins look nothing like a championship club. In fact, it's hard to believe, watching them play, that they went through an entire offseason training program together. Wasn't Schottenheimer supposed to be, first and foremost, a teacher? Where's the learning? Where's the improvement?

But then, the coach has nothing on the owner in the arrogance department. Snyder is one of those guys who think the bigger your bank account, the smarter you are. But having $600 million or whatever it is Dan's worth doesn't make you understand football better. Or people, for that matter.

What Snyder is basically good at is making money which any Redskins owner could do, given the devotedness of the club's followers. He makes more of it than, say, John Kent Cooke, because, well, he wants to make more of it. That's the game within the game for him: How many of your hard-earned dollars can he get you to part with, one way or another? Some would call this exploitation; others, those of Dan Snyder's ilk, would call it business.

I don't see much hope for this franchise in the short or long term. It's not the garden spot for free agents it was a year or two ago, when no one really knew who Snyder was and the Redskins looked like a team on the rise. As long as Schottenheimer is the coach, the Redskins will probably never sign a veteran like Bruce Smith again. What 30-something player would want to subject himself to one of Marty's training camps unless he didn't have any other options? (Sure, Snyder could just outbid clubs for free agents, but then he'd be overpaying for talent and with a fixed cap, that's going to come back to haunt you.)

The atmosphere at Redskin Park these days is pretty grim. "This doesn't bear any resemblance to what I expected," Smith says. "The way things have gone down the last two weeks [inside and outside the Redskins' universe], it's just a numb feeling."

At his postmortem yesterday, Schottenheimer talked about "accountability" and "responsibility" and the need for everybody's "performance level" to "be better." Asked about the possibility of changes, perhaps even major changes, he said, "At this juncture, anything's possible."

Well, not quite anything. When the Redskins take the field Sunday against Kansas City, Dan Snyder will still be the owner, and Marty Schottenheimer will still be the coach.

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