- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Whatever luckless soul Dan Snyder crowns as Steve Spurrier’s successor — assuming Danny boy doesn’t eliminate the ventriloquist routine and anoint himself — the new guy shouldn’t sign any long-term leases.

With a few exceptions like Ray Flaherty and Joe Gibbs, who were the Guys In Charge when the Redskins won their five NFL or Super Bowl championships, coaches have lasted about as long as honest politicians in Washington.

The team record for quickest exit at the start of a season still belongs to Curly Lambeau, founder of the Green Bay Packers and a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, who changed coaches the way some men change shirts, told this eminent pioneer to get lost after the first preseason game in 1954, following a violent argument in a hotel lobby. Imagine that, a dispute between a frustrated coach and a conceited owner.

The trick to lasting successfully as a coach with the Redskins, or any other team, is to have the guts and clout to tell the owner to go count his money and keep his goldarn snoot out of sporting matters. Basically, that’s what Edward Bennett Williams and the Cookes, Jack Kent and John Kent, did when they ran the team. Marshall and Snyder, though, had the delusionary idea they were smarter than the football people they brought in.

Making buckets of money in other areas is no guarantee you’ll succeed as owner of a team — it merely gives you a good chance of regarding yourself as infallible where strategy, tactics and personnel decisions are concerned. Are you listening, Dan Snyder? Are you listening, Peter Angelos and George Steinbrenner? Anybody home up there?

When Flaherty coached the Redskins from 1936 to 1942 in both Boston and Washington, his achievements — five Eastern titles and two NFL championships — were enough to keep Marshall concentrating on his elaborate halftime shows and dirty linen. (The latter literally, because George also owned Washington’s old Palace Laundry chain.)

Unfortunately, World War II happened, and Flaherty vanished into the Navy after the Redskins upset the mighty Chicago Bears 14-6 in the 1942 NFL title game, making Marshall the unquestioned master of all things Redskin. Catholic University coach Dutch Bergman, later chairman of the D.C. Armory Board, lasted just one season under Marshall’s grimy thumb despite winning an Eastern title in 1943. Dud DeGroot hung around for only two despite winning an Eastern title in 1945.

Then the Redskins entered into a 25-season absence from the postseason, mostly because Marshall refused to employ black players in sickening obeisance to the team’s Southern TV network, which covered most of the South in the late ‘40s and ‘50s. (Sports columnist Shirley Povich delighted those to whom equality seemed desirable by periodically and accurately describing the Redskins’ colors as burgundy, gold and Caucasian.)

With the team losing steadily, coaches blew in and out like old hot dog wrappers. Turk Edwards, one of the team’s greatest players, put in a couple of years before Marshall hired somebody named Adm. John “Billick” Whelchel, who probably wasn’t even famous in his own family. The admiral sank after seven games in favor of the Redskins’ original Ball Coach, Herman Ball. Then came Dick Todd, Lambeau, Joe Kuharich, Mike Nixon and Bill McPeak before age and illness loosened Marshall’s death grip on his team.

Funny thing: Although Marshall felt he was undefeated, the Redskins always seemed lucky to finish, say, 4-8. When McPeak replaced Nixon for the 1961 season, he vowed not to go 1-9-2 again. He was right: The NFL added two games to the schedule in ‘61, enabling Bill’s first team to finish 1-12-1.

The recently deceased Otto Graham, one of the NFL’s winningest quarterbacks on behalf of the Cleveland Browns, was a loud loser during three seasons as Redskins coach in the ‘60s. If anyone had been searching for ominous portents that early, Otto’s doom might have been sealed after his first preseason game in 1966. Informed that Lyndon Johnson had dropped in at D.C. Stadium, becoming the first president to attend an NFL game, Graham made possibly the most inane attempt at a joke in football history: “Who needs him?” It took two more lousy years, but see ya around, Otto baby.

It seems hardly necessary to recount the elation that attended Vince Lombardi’s arrival in 1969 or the despair caused by his death from colon cancer a year later; suffice it to say that St. Vincent was one of seven Redskins coaches to last one season or less, along with Bergman, Whelchel, Todd in 1951, Bill Austin in 1970, Richie Petitbon in 1993 and Gen. Martinet Schottenheimer in 2001. We might all have been served better had Steve Not-So-Superior joined that non-illustrious gang a year ago, but, hey, that’s second-guessing.

Certainly, Spurrier will rebound nicely into the college ranks at the time and place of his choosing, realizing from 32 mostly miserable games in the NFL that the campus is where he belongs. And certainly Dan Snyder will hire the best man he can find — the question is, will he allow him to be the best man he can find?

If Danny is ready to leave his guy alone — a doubtful assumption at best — there’s a tough guy in Pittsburgh named Bill Cowher, whose days in that town seemed to be numbered, and he might be able to make something of this mess.

Just don’t sign any long-term leases.


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