- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nobody knows whether Dan Snyder will send Jim Zorn a present or a pink slip for Christmas - bet on the latter if the Redskins don’t win at least once more - but here’s something to consider.

If Danny boy makes the Z-man eligible for membership in the Redskins Alumni Association, he’ll be one step closer to catching George Preston Marshall for the local title of Most Impetuous Owner.

Entrepreneur Marshall founded the franchise as the Boston Braves in 1932, pushed for the establishment of an NFL championship game the following year and doomed the Redskins to a quarter-century of mediocrity by keeping them lily white until 1962.

Otherwise, his most notable accomplishment, if that’s the word, was running through coaches the way enemy backs were shredding the Redskins’ defense in those lean years.

Let’s see. From 1932 to 1963 under Marshall’s heavy hand, the club had 14 coaches in 32 seasons. If we count just Washington years, the total becomes 11 in 27.

Among sports owners, only George Steinbrenner blew away so many victims, mostly because he hired and fired Billy Martin five times. When it comes to making your skipper plod the plank, that’s sort of cheating.

Give this to Snyder, though: He’s trying. In his decade as lord and master of all things Redskins, he’s used six head men: Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs and Zorn. True, Robiskie was just an interim head man, while Spurrier and Gibbs resigned. Nonetheless, Dan has re-established the Redskins as a franchise where coaches sign on at their own peril.

If Zorn departs, hat and West Coast offense in hand, the expectation is that Snyder will make another big pitch for Bill Cowher, now laboring peacefully as a TV analyst.

Yet why would Cowher come aboard, even for $5 million or $5 billion a year? The former Steelers genius reminds me of equally jut-jawed Don Shula, the winningest NFL coach of all time - meaning he wouldn’t take any stuff or guff from Snyder and/or Redskins vice president Vinny Cerrato.

Unless a coach carries the Hall of Fame resume of a Gibbs, there’s no way he can tell an owner where to go when the boss pokes his proboscis into football matters. Marshall had a coach like that in Ray Flaherty, who escorted the Boston/Washington Redskins to four Eastern Division and two NFL titles from 1936 to 1942. (Let’s not mention the 1940 NFL championship against the Bears, which Ray’s Redskins lost 73-0.)

After future Hall of Famer Flaherty left to join the Navy, Redskins coaches came and went faster than political promises. Former Catholic University boss Dutch Bergman lasted only one season despite winning another Eastern title. Dud DeGroot stuck around for two years and came within two points of another NFL crown before quitting to join the new All-America Football Conference. Neither, apparently, appreciated Marshall’s “suggestions” as to strategy and tactics.

When World War II ended, so did the Redskins’ days as a contending franchise. Star tackle Turk Edwards coached them for three seasons, but a retired Navy admiral named John “Billick” Whelchel ran the sinking ship for exactly seven games in 1949 before Marshall tossed him over the side.

From 1949 through 1951, the Redskins had three coaches. Then venerated NFL pioneer Curly Lambeau turned up only to find himself in a hotel screaming match with Marshall after the first exhibition game of his third season. See ya around, Curly.

Such shenanigans continued until Marshall became ill and yielded control of the franchise to first Leo DeOrsey and then Edward Bennett Williams in the early 1960s. Marshall died in 1969, but his legacy lives on in the helter-skelter ownership of not-so-young-anymore Dan Snyder.

So fire when ready, Danny. In these football parts, it’s nothing new.