- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder sat down with beat writer David Elfin for an hour yesterday in his first on-the-record interview with a newspaper reporter in more than two years.

The transcript of the conversation, which follows, covered the gamut from the early dismissal of coaches Norv Turner and Marty Schottenheimer to this month’s controversial trade of wide receiver Laveranues Coles to the New York Jets.

A self-described “lightning rod” for criticism because of his youth and brashness, Snyder admitted he has made mistakes during his tenure. Snyder, who has yet to produce a winning team following an offseason during which he was in charge, said he has never made decisions on player personnel.

Despite last season’s 6-10 record, Snyder firmly believes the Redskins are headed in the right direction under coach Joe Gibbs. The owner also remains confident FedEx Field will one day play host to the Super Bowl under a temporary, inflatable roof.

TWT: You have been the owner of the Redskins for almost six years. What has been the most rewarding thing for you during that time?

Snyder: Bringing back Joe Gibbs. Clearly that was one of the most important decisions in the history of the franchise, and it was very rewarding to me personally.

TWT: Why was it so important to hire him?

Snyder: You’re talking about someone that can set the standard for the Redskins. By standard, I mean the definition of a Redskin, on the field and off the field. Joe is the perfect guy to put that stamp back on the franchise.

TWT: How about the flip side? What has been the most disappointing thing about your ownership?

Snyder: Probably the tenure of Steve Spurrier, the expectations that he would succeed in the NFL. I think very highly of him and his family.

TWT: Why do you think he didn’t succeed?

Snyder: I don’t know. I’d like to say here’s the exact reason why. There have been a lot of coaches coming from college that haven’t succeeded at this level.

TWT: When you took over, people here were excited because you were a lifelong Washingtonian and had grown up rooting for this team and really cared about the Redskins. Everyone agrees about the latter point, but there’s a perception out there that you were so eager that you went overboard.

Snyder: You may be right. I wasn’t as patient then as I am now. I’ve developed more patience, an understanding of the continuity of the game and continuity on the business side as well. I probably ruffled feathers with the media, made some mistakes that gave them the opportunity [to criticize me]. And you know what happens when you give them the opportunity. …

One of the things that bothers me is that I’ve been painted by some as the greedy owner. In reality, we haven’t raised our general admission ticket prices for four years. That story runs on D8 as a blurb. The story that says we’ve changed our credit-card policy runs on A1 five times. At a certain point, there has to be some journalistic integrity.

TWT: But a lot of how you’re perceived goes back to your first two years as the Redskins’ owner. Tank McNamara was doing cartoons about you. How much of that bothered you, especially on a national level?

Snyder: To some degree, you get hazed. The stuff that really bothers me is the inaccuracies out there about everything we’re doing. To read that we had a deal done with Santana Moss before we presented our first offer was sort of mind-boggling. That stuff bothers me more than the cartoon characters and the guys trying to be cute.

TWT: Do you think any of the criticism had to do with your youth?

Snyder: I think I’m a lightning rod. You do get tired of reading ‘Internet billionaire’ when you had nothing to do with the Internet. Before my father passed away, a newspaper in Tampa almost had him in tears when it wrote before we played down there, ‘Don’t you resent the guy who was 16 and got his first Mercedes from his Daddy?’ That’s just not true. That type of stuff bothers me because of the inaccuracies.

TWT: What about the cancer and [the passing of] your father? Does going through those situations make you appreciate life more?

Snyder: I miss my father every day. That’s a terrible thing to experience, and it does change you — awfully so. Thyroid cancer was a life-changing experience, but I was fortunate to have it taken care of. You definitely become more humble. When you lose your father, you feel a lot older. It’s very hardening.

TWT: Do people perceive you badly or did you not handle things properly when you first came in the league?

Snyder: All of the above. I probably was too excited. I wanted, ‘Now, now. Let’s get this done now.’ I didn’t have a chance to get my own organization set because I took over in the middle of July. That was a strange period.

I probably overreacted in some negative ways. Sure. Absolutely. But I’ve learned an awful lot, and I truly think we’re headed in the right direction. And when we go out to dinner, the fan response is amazing. People say, ‘We’re getting good. We’re close.’ The media paintbrush is not really working on Joe Gibbs and the franchise. …

TWT: Do you regret what you did in 2000, bringing in Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and Jeff George and tinkering with a team that had won the NFC East and lost a heartbreaker in the second round of the playoffs?

Snyder: We felt we were really close to winning a Super Bowl so, ‘Let’s finish it off.’ We probably weren’t as close as we thought. That was more systemic from getting the right coaches and right personnel department. Now we’re headed in the right direction.

TWT: But that’s five years later. Back then, you didn’t show much faith in a coach, Norv Turner, and a quarterback, Brad Johnson, who had just won a division title. People were never able to get comfortable. It was if someone was always looking over their shoulders. You said you were overeager at first. Were you too hands-on, coming in right away like you knew everything about the NFL?

Snyder: It wasn’t that. I really like Norv, but I never hired Norv. That’s the big difference. When you hire Joe Gibbs and you outline his responsibilities, that he runs everything [on the football side]. When you come in and there are no defined responsibilities, it’s difficult.

TWT: Do you think you should have kept [former general manager] Charley Casserly, who had just built a division champion?

Snyder: Absolutely. But it was so awkward, being in July. You’re stuck [in terms of hiring a coach]. Ask Charley if he and Norv got along. It wasn’t working.

TWT: Marty Schottenheimer certainly had defined responsibilities and you didn’t enjoy that system either.

Snyder: Marty’s having success in San Diego, and I wish him well. I consider him a friend. It just didn’t fit, Marty and I.

TWT: But he went 8-3 in his last 11 games. And you still fired him. Did you need to be in control?

Snyder: I didn’t think we were going in the right direction.

TWT: And with Spurrier?

Snyder: Steve resigned. I didn’t want him to resign. I said, ‘Why? Let’s go do this.’ He was going to be our coach last season. …

TWT: Changing the coaches begat all the player and coordinator changes. Do you wish some of the players had stuck around a little bit longer?

Snyder: Absolutely. But you have free agency.

TWT: But everyone has that. Your roster is always shuffling.

Snyder: Not now. Not the last few years. We’re headed in the right direction. Joe is extremely accurate when he talks about stability.

TWT: And yet, ‘core Redskins’ Fred Smoot and Antonio Pierce are gone. Why didn’t you re-sign them?

Snyder: We tried so hard to sign those guys. We lost two guys that we considered ‘Redskins.’ We didn’t want to lose them. But sometimes in the age of the salary cap, there’s only so far financially that you can go before you can re-sign one of them and delete two other Redskins.

TWT: Do you wish you had pushed harder to get Fred and Antonio signed before they hit the market?

Snyder: You try and you make offers, but a lot of times, players will wait for the market to set the market. We don’t lose many players. It just didn’t work out with those two guys. We re-signed Chris Samuels and made him the highest-paid offensive lineman in franchise history.

At the end of the day, it’s the player’s decision. If Fred Smoot is offered a lot more money in Minnesota, he had to make that decision. It takes two sides to do the deal.

TWT: You’re devoting a huge chunk of your cap this year to a guy who’s not here, Laveranues Coles. That’s a big gamble, isn’t it?

Snyder: It’s not a positive from a salary cap perspective. But when you have a player who doesn’t want to be here and is griping to that extent, we turned a negative situation into a positive situation because of the acquisition of Santana Moss.

TWT: Aren’t you sending the message to the next unhappy player that you’re going to accommodate him, too?

Snyder: I don’t think so. We have plenty of positive momentum. The response to Joe Gibbs by our players is very positive. Look at the number of our players here for the offseason workouts.

TWT: But even the Patriots have unhappy players. It’s inevitable. Someone wants the ball more. Someone wants to play more. Haven’t you opened a Pandora’s box?

Snyder: And when Ty Law asked to be traded last year, New England said no. We elected to say yes to Laveranues for other reasons.

TWT: Why didn’t you just say, ‘It’s too bad you’re unhappy, Laveranues, but you’re a Redskin?’

Snyder: If we couldn’t have gotten what we wanted [in a trade with the Jets], we would have. He would have had to give the money back if he sat out so that wasn’t going to happen.

TWT: It was reported that you threatened Laveranues and said you were going to send a flat-screen TV to his house so he could watch the games. What did you tell him?

Snyder: It’s very disappointing to have a player that you entrusted, went after, gave a tremendous signing bonus to, gave a tremendous contract to [want out]. I verbalized that disappointment. The idea that I threatened him might have been a tactic by someone to get out there to try to force us to do something.

TWT: But you understand that the average fan, having heard so much about you over the years, would believe that you could have done what was reported?

Snyder: That does bother me. I was extremely disappointed, extremely taken aback that he didn’t understand what it is to be a Joe Gibbs Redskin.

TWT: You said that Vinny Cerrato evaluates the personnel and Joe is ultimately in charge. Do you have any say in player acquisition?

Snyder: I give Joe my two cents about the contract and whether it makes sense financially. I’m very hands-on with the salary cap. I’ll do the deal with the agent. But Joe does the recruiting and chooses the roster. It’s his team.

TWT: So you’re not going to tell Joe which cornerback you want to take with the ninth pick in the draft?

Snyder: Look at last year. I met both guys we were considering with the fifth pick, Kellen Winslow and Sean Taylor. They both seemed like nice guys. Joe had a very tough decision to make. He spent a lot of time on it, talked to his coaches and the personnel guys. Then he walked in my office and told me he had made up his mind. I was surprised [that Gibbs went for the defensive player]. All I did was hear it first.

TWT: What if you hadn’t liked his decision?

Snyder: It was his decision. I’ve never told anyone who to draft. There’s a false impression out there that I’m watching film, that I’m grading players. That’s silly. I’ve never watched film and graded players. I don’t want to be a coach. I just want to be the owner.

TWT: What about Deion? Didn’t you want him and went out and got him?

Snyder: Vinny thought he would be the guy to get us to the ultimate game. I said, ‘Fine.’ But it didn’t work out. It was our mistake.

TWT: Do you ever look at all the bonus money you’ve given out and at your 34-46 record the last five years and say it’s not fair?

Snyder: Last season, we were 6-10. But we were awfully close in a lot of games. I’m very confident we’re heading in the right direction.

TWT: Did you consciously change this offseason and realize that maybe signing all these free agents, spending so much money, sending Redskins One all around the country wasn’t working?

Snyder: People want a lot of hoopla in the offseason, I guess, and maybe there wasn’t as much hoopla this time. I feel pretty decent about the offseason other than I’m disappointed that we lost Fred and Antonio. We got a very strong center, and we’ve added a couple of very good receivers and a heck of a new safety.

Ultimately, it’s up to Joe to pick and choose and decide what he wants. He’s building the franchise he wants.

TWT: Can you really see competing with the Eagles, who have been the best team not just in the NFC East, but in the entire NFC, the last five years?

Snyder: We’re going to try. We’ve got some strengths and weaknesses. We played the Eagles pretty good the second game at home. We can compete with them. We’re going in the right direction. But it takes time.

TWT: Your coach is turning 65 in November. How much time is there?

Snyder: Joe signed a five-year contract. He’s got four years left. I’m thinking about this year.

TWT: Why not give Vinny the GM title?

Snyder: Having a GM goes back to when the general manager ran the ticket office. He used to be like a CEO. Less than half the teams today have a GM. The majority of the coaches have the final say. New England and Philadelphia have a vice president of player personnel and no GM. We have the same structure.

TWT: Do you think you give your fans a good experience at FedEx Field?

Snyder: I’m a fan. I want the fan experience to be a great experience, bar none. We’re doing pretty well in certain areas. We’ve spent millions to fix our parking lots and make them work. We’ve added gates to [aid] getting fans into the stadium as smoothly as possible.

Our concession prices aren’t out of line. We put in escalators, added bathrooms, took the railings out. I put $100 million in to improve the quality of the fan experience. Some of our people may have gone too far in making the stadium really loud, but we’ve toned it down a lot the last couple of years.

We’re doing the best we can with the traffic. You’re always going to have situations when you’re delivering that many people to a location at the same time. We just haven’t won enough games.

TWT: Of course expanding the stadium makes the traffic worse. Are you done adding seats?

Snyder: Our fans are proud of having the biggest, loudest stadium in the NFL. I don’t know if we’re done.

TWT: You’ve wanted a Super Bowl there. Now it looks like New York is getting one and you’re not. Do you think you have any chance?

Snyder: Yes. I’m glad New York is getting a Super Bowl. The trend is moving in the direction of big cities.

TWT: But New York is only getting a Super Bowl with a roofed stadium. The same thing is happening in Indianapolis, Kansas City and Dallas. You don’t have a roof.

Snyder: There are ways of putting up an inflatable roof that will last for a Super Bowl. The technology is moving pretty quickly. We think it could work. If we want to put a roof on, we’ll put a roof on. We’ve talked to the NFL about it, and they think it’s a good idea.

TWT: Even though he has barely had any real success with his basketball team and his former hockey team since 1979, Abe Pollin is seen as this beloved, community-oriented owner. You’ve lost, too, but you’ve been vilified. Does that difference seem fair to you?

Snyder: Abe is a good man. He cares deeply about his team and his city the same as I do. He’s as passionate as anybody. I congratulate him on turning around his franchise. They’re going in the right direction.

The vilification I get is from the media, not the fans. Only 2 percent of our tickets turn over ever year. There are certain things that the fans aren’t going to agree with, but I think they can all agree that Joe Gibbs is the best guy to run our franchise and that we work very hard to make the amenities at the stadium first-class.

They can all agree that I’m an owner who is willing to spend whatever it takes to build a winning team.

TWT: You were the youngest owner in the league when you took over in 1999. Are more owners thinking the way you do instead of in more traditional ways?

Snyder: I think I still am the youngest owner. I’m earning my stripes within the league. I think I’m respected by my colleagues. All I want is to produce a winner for the fans, on and off the field. I think we’re doing a very effective job in the community. I really believe we’re going to be a winner the next few years on the field.

TWT: Can you see ever being part of the old guard?

Snyder: I think it will happen. It’s a natural evolution. Everyone ages. Some of my best pals are [in the NFL meeting rooms].

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