Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Charley Casserly will be in familiar territory when he settles into his seat in the owner’s box in the House That Jack Built to watch the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans play on Sunday.

Only this time that seat will be in the visiting owner’s box.

“I really don’t know how I’ll feel,” said Casserly, the general manager of the expansion Texans since January 2000. “Since I left Washington, I’ve only been to the stadium once to scout a game. It will be different being on the other side of the field. But I’ll treat it like every other game.

“I’ll go down to the field before the game. I’d like to get a chance to say hi to some of the players, but that can sometimes be awkward to do before a game. I’ll watch them warm up, and I’ll go upstairs. I never sit calmly through a game, so this one won’t be any different. I cheer and get emotional like anybody else.”

But the 53-year-old Casserly, so driven to succeed in football that he quit his teaching job in Massachusetts to accept an unpaid internship with the Redskins in 1977, wouldn’t speculate on how he would react if the Texans win.

A victory would give the Texans the same record as the once-mighty Redskins and the satisfaction of beating Dan Snyder, the young owner who fired him in July 1999. The dismissal came only three months after Casserly produced the best of his 11 drafts as the general manager of the Redskins, a draft in which the club selected cornerback Champ Bailey and offensive tackle Jon Jansen and acquired a future first-round pick.

In fact, Casserly is cordial with Snyder, if not with player personnel director Vinny Cerrato his de facto replacement or vice president of football operations Joe Mendes, his one-time right-hand man from whom he is now bitterly estranged.

“I always took it from a professional point of view that when the owner changes, he has the right to do what he wants,” said Casserly, who will visit with Snyder’s predecessor, John Kent Cooke, on Saturday. “I told Dan that when he got the team. He and I have no issues. He treated me fairly on the way out the door. We see each other at league meetings. If I need to have communication with the Redskins, I call him.

“It seems like another part of my life because of the change in ownership and the change in personnel. It seems longer than three years ago. I’m proud that I left the team in good shape. It was a playoff team with a good nucleus and three first-round draft choices and room under the salary cap.”

After spending the 1999 season watching the Redskins he put together come within a field goal of the NFC Championship game, Casserly was hired to be the architect of the expansion Texans. And he never looked back.

“I had a great time during my 23 years in Washington,” Casserly said. “The Cookes were great to me. So were the fans. But when I got on a plane to come to Houston, that was the end of my Redskins connection.”

Whereas Casserly inherited an established contender in Washington, he has built the Texans from the ground up under the watchful eye of owner Bob McNair.

Casserly was influential in designing their stadium, offices and practice facility. He hired coach Dom Capers and the support staff, which includes 15 former Redskins employees, trainer Kevin Bastin, equipment manager Jay Brunetti, strength coach Dan Riley and nine scouts among them.

“We always said the important thing was to come out of our first year with a good nucleus of players, good discipline and a good attitude, and we’re going to have that,” said Casserly, whose young 4-9 team has lost four games by seven points or less and has played to standing room only crowds in 69,500-seat Reliant Stadium. “If you don’t go the playoffs, it doesn’t matter how many games you win. It’s whether you’re going forward, which we are.

“We’ve got a solid foundation. We’ve got a good recruiting image around the league, which is essential. We have an excellent organization, and we’ll continue to get better. We’ve won the second-most games by an expansion team. We play hard, and when we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we have a chance to win. The fans are very enthusiastic. Everywhere you go around Houston you see Texans stuff, signs that say, ‘Go Texans.’”

Unlike his former franchise, Casserly’s new one is going in the right direction.

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