EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In the tunnel running around MetLife Stadium, Dan Snyder’s quick strides ate up the wet concrete beneath his dress shoes.
The eyes of the Redskins owner fixed on the floor Sunday as a grim, pained expression covered his face.
Snyder’s left hand gripped a half-empty water bottle; a rolled-up piece of paper was in the right.
He didn’t say anything. Instead, the owner looked as if he couldn’t escape quickly enough from the site of the final indignity in a season filled with them.
A season Snyder helped to create.
Four years ago, the owner handed Mike Shanahan $35 million and total control of the rotted-out organization. The coach would bring stability. Cohesion. Direction. An adult to run every aspect of a franchise that hasn’t appeared in the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1991-92. In the process, Snyder continued the brand of knee-jerk decision-making, seduced by big names and quick fixes, that’s defined his time as owner.
The problem isn’t as much Shanahan as the process that installed him as the would-be czar of Redskins Park.
Since 2000, Snyder has churned through seven head coaches. An eighth appears imminent if, as expected, Shanahan is fired during his meeting with the owner Monday morning.
The petulant, disingenuous final weeks of the 3-13 season that mercifully ended with Sunday’s loss to the Giants are beside the point. The dueling leaks and bizarre press conferences simply revealed the Redskins, once again, as setting the standard in professional sports for franchise-wide dysfunction.
Push aside that drama without end and you’re left with Shanahan’s unmitigated failure as coach and personnel man in Washington.
His .375 winning percentage matches those from the much-derided tenures of Snyder flame-outs Jim Zorn and Steve Spurrier. This season’s minus-144 point differential is the worst by a Redskins team since 1961 and, in fact, worse than both seasons combined under Zorn. And, for that matter, Spurrier.
Boosted by historically awful special teams and the unusual late-season benching of Robert Griffin III to protect him for the offseason program, the Redskins lost eight straight games to end the season, their worst such streak since 1960.
Sure, they were a trendy pick to make a deep run in the postseason. But shouldn’t we have seen this debacle coming? After all, when the process is wrong, success, like the seven-game win streak in 2012 touted by Shanahan’s sycophants, is simply an aberration. The truth is a string of failed mid-to-late round draft picks, Alfred Morris excepted, that didn’t provide the talent needed to build a solid special teams unit or add depth on either side of the football. The truth is in free agent busts from Josh Morgan to O.J. Atogwe. The truth is in season-long problems with clock management. The truth is the poor tackling, penalty-ridden, unfocused team that embarrassed itself on a regular basis this season and, in keeping with Shanahan’s scowling example, pointed fingers at everyone but itself.
Why should the Redskins have expected Griffin to match his charmed rookie season after spending last offseason rehabbing from his knee injury instead of developing his wanting skills as a pocket passer?
Why should the collapse of the NFL’s second-oldest roster entering the season be a surprise in a league ruled by youth?
Why should Snyder sell his organization’s soul to a coach with one playoff victory in 14 seasons since John Elway retired and expect anything above mediocrity?
The next coach will inherit a battered roster with few long-term answers. Blame the $36 million salary cap penalty all you want, but the extra free-agent money available in 2014 won’t fix the sieve-like offensive line, add another playmaker at receiver and address defensive holes too numerous to mention. This isn’t a team that’s a tweak or three away from returning to contention.
No, this is the irrelevance that’s a logical end to the flawed process that guides a third-rate organization.
Simply plugging another well-compensated coach into the same mess and expecting different results isn’t going to work any better than the folly of a quarterback with bad footwork and bad mechanics expecting to put up big numbers each week.
Even Snyder should understand. The owner has tried every type of coach, from hot-shot assistant to dusted-off legend to the red-faced man with two Super Bowl rings. None experienced sustained success.
All the while, the Redskins resisted constructing the type of organization that’s responsible for long-term prosperity in Green Bay and San Francisco and Seattle. Hire a president who can serve as a buffer between Snyder and the football operation. Bring in an actual football man from one of the pace-setting franchises as general manager. And don’t resort to the tired pattern of well-known retreads and faded glory as the next head coach. None of the seven head coaches under Snyder were born after 1954, in this whirlpool of instability.
Until Snyder’s Redskins are rebuilt from top to bottom in a sensible fashion, long-term success won’t be anything more than an illusion. One Snyder won’t be able to escape.