PALM BEACH, Fla. His offseason has been uncharacteristically quiet, and his newly hired coach is unusually inexperienced.
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder says, however, that despite the seemingly radical departures from past practices, he hasn’t really changed, only matured.
“There are a bunch of things I wish I would have done differently,” Mr. Snyder told The Washington Times yesterday at the annual NFL meetings. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but I’ve learned from my mistakes as a good entrepreneur, a good CEO would do. I’ve matured. I wasn’t patient enough in certain areas early on. I didn’t understand the game the way I do now. I didn’t understand the agents, the contractual relationship with the salary cap, the importance of the age of players. Now it’s easy for me, second nature.”
Mr. Snyder, who was 34 when he bought the franchise in 1999 for $800 million, is beginning his 10th year as the owner of the Redskins.
Mr. Snyder’s tenure has been marked more by coaching changes and expensive, failed personnel moves Deion Sanders, Adam Archuleta, Brandon Lloyd than by winning. The Redskins have had six coaches under Mr. Snyder from high-profile head men like Steve Spurrier and Marty Schottenheimer to interim coach Terry Robiskie and new coach Jim Zorn but have reached the playoffs only three times.
The franchise, however, is a huge success financially: The Redskins have a large and devoted following, and Forbes magazine last year ranked the club the second-most valuable in the National Football League, with a worth of $1.467 billion.
Mr. Snyder this year turns his team over to Zorn, who was hired as offensive coordinator on Jan. 26 and shockingly promoted to head coach on Feb. 9.
“I was 34 when I bought the team,” Mr. Snyder said. “Now I’m approaching my mid-40s. There’s something about just growing up. My drive to succeed, my energy, my passion hasn’t changed. My experience, my professionalism and patience is starting to pay off for us. I was thrown into it very quickly, and I did the best I could. I made a lot of mistakes, and I learned a ton. Now, hopefully, I’m becoming a much better owner than I was when I was 34 years old.”
Mr. Snyder said his aggressive philosophy hasn’t changed even though the usually spendthrift Redskins are one of just two teams not to add a player this offseason and have brought in only one free agent in for a visit.
Mr. Snyder also said that Zorn, while not on the extensive original list of candidates to replace retired coach Joe Gibbs, was such a hit during the interview for offensive coordinator that he became a candidate for the top spot almost immediately.
“We were really impressed with Jim Zorn from the moment we met him,” Mr. Snyder said. “We were late because we were the only team looking for a coach that had been in the playoffs. We were under pressure to make sure we had an offensive coordinator. We met Jim. Joe called me that night. I said, ‘That guy would make a terrific head coach.’ He was like, ‘Really? That’s interesting. That’s neat. I hear he’s a good guy.’ We continued the process and circled back. We were talking to coordinators [about replacing Gibbs] and we said, ‘We really ought to look at Zorn.’ We kept coming back to that. The last interview we did was with [New York Giants defensive coordinator] Steve Spagnuolo, and afterwards we said, ‘We’ve really got to talk to Zorn.’ ”
Within days, Zorn was the new coach.
“What I really like about Jim is that he’s similar to Joe in that he’s a steady guy,” Mr. Snyder said. “Joe is … a steady man through the good times of winning and the bad times of losing. Jim feels very similar to me. There’s no panic. He’s just steady.”
Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach/defense the past four years and the favorite of the players to replace Gibbs, wasn’t.
“Absolutely. It would’ve been easy to say, ‘Gregg, you’re the head coach of the Redskins,’ ” Mr. Snyder said. “But I promised everyone that I would do a thorough, professional job and hopefully make the right choice for the Redskins. I wanted to see what [Gregg] had learned from Joe. That was the most important thing. At the end of the day, [Gregg] wasn’t right for us.”