- - Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Wes Unseld is the most iconic figure in the history of the Washington Bullets/Wizards franchise.

He was one of the few players in NBA history who won both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors in the same season, in 1968 with the Baltimore Bullets. He was the heart and soul of teams that went to the NBA finals four times, and brought Washington its only NBA championship in 1978.

He was as revered and respected as any sports figure in town for a generation of fans.

Then he became a team executive, then head coach, then general manager, from 1981 to 2003. And all the Wizards did during that time was lose, lose, and lose, for the most part. So a generation of fans here came to identify Wes Unseld with that losing.

Mike Flanagan was one of the most beloved pitchers in Baltimore Orioles history, a former Cy Young winner who pitched the Orioles to two American League pennants and one World Series championship. He was respected and revered, as a player and later as a broadcaster.

Then in 2002 he became the Orioles vice president of baseball operations and led the Orioles front office until 2008. All the Orioles did during that time was lose, lose and lose. And now a generation of fans in Baltimore identify Mike Flanagan with that losing. He took his own life in 2011, reportedly in part because of depression over his front-office failures.

There is little that is sadder in sports than a legend turned into a symbol of failure, a target of ridicule.

I hope there is a different future for Doug Williams, Super Bowl XXII Most Valuable Player and one of the 80 greatest Washington Redskins. I doubt there will be.

The Redskins announced Monday morning that Williams, 61, a franchise icon, was promoted to senior vice president of player personnel. Williams had already served in the front office as a senior executive, a role he had been in since coming back to Washington in 2014.

He had been invisible, for the most part, since then.

But on Monday, the target was placed on his back, as he was presented as the guy responsible.

We all know that won’t be the case — the guy truly responsible remains team president Bruce Allen, the Prince of Darkness who has overseen a tenure of dysfunction, disappointment and disgrace since he was hired in December 2009.

But the team presented Williams as the next, latest savior — 2½ years after they presented the last savior, general manager Scot McCloughan as general manager and three months after they dismissed that savior under a cloud of chaos and shame.

So is Doug Williams the new general manager?

“We had a general manager,” Williams told reporters. “It didn’t work out that well.”

I don’t think the title of general manager is the problem, Doug. Teams with Super Bowl championships all over the NFL have general managers. So if it “didn’t work out that well” in Washington, it is because it is the Redskins, the elephant graveyard of the NFL, where careers and reputations come to die.

“A general manager has his hand in everything,” Williams said. “My job is to control [the front office]. And I think if we do a good job, no matter what happens, we all get credit for what this football team does.”

Credit. That’s the bone that reportedly stuck in the throat of the Prince of Darkness during McCloughan’s reign.

Bruce Allen had become a running joke, called the “director of pants and picnics” by ESPN 980 talk show host Steve Czaban, forever ridiculed for his comments after their 4-12 seasons in 2014, when he declared the franchise was “winning off the field.”

Meanwhile, people were walking around town wearing T-shirts that declared, “In Scot We Trust.”

You will never see T-shirts that say, “In Bruce We Trust.”

However, Redskins fans will now trust Doug Williams to do what no one — let me make that clear, for those who have short memories — no one has been able to do in 25 years. They will trust him to turn the franchise into a respectable, consistent winner.

“We wanted someone with unquestionable character, great leadership skills, a presence and a great teammate for everyone around him,” said Allen, who had hired Williams in the front office in his previous stint in Tampa Bay. “And that pointed to Doug.”

It will be a shame if all that is forgotten. It will be a shame if a generation of fans remember Doug Williams as another front office failure.

• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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