Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder said yesterday he’s not the overbearing, hands-on villain that he’s portrayed to be.

“I’ve never told anyone who to draft,” Mr. Snyder told The Washington Times at Redskin Park, his first newspaper interview in more than two years. “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.”

Mr. Snyder admitted that he has made mistakes in running the National Football League team he bought — along with what is now FedEx Field — for a North American sports record $800million in 1999.

Mr. Snyder changed coaches four times in a four-year span. The Redskins have a 45-53 record and one playoff appearance during his tenure. High-priced, big-name players — Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith and Jeff George, for instance — have come and gone, and the Redskins still haven’t won.

Mr. Snyder was 35 when he bought the team, and he immediately came on strong. Mr. Snyder fired more than 100 employees, including General Manager Charley Casserly.

“I probably was too excited,” Mr. Snyder said of his first season. “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. I probably overreacted in some negative ways.”

Mr. Snyder said he wished that he hadn’t fired Mr. Casserly, who assembled the team that in 1999 produced the Redskins’ first division title in eight years and the only one of the Snyder era.

However, he defended his decision to fire Coach Norv Turner in 2000 and Marty Schottenheimer after the 2001 season.

Mr. Snyder noted that he hadn’t hired Turner and said he and Schottenheimer couldn’t coexist. Mr. Snyder also said coach Steve Spurrier resigned after the 2003 season — he wasn’t fired — and otherwise would have remained with the team last season.

“I’ve learned an awful lot,” Mr. Snyder said. “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.

A self-described “lightning rod” for criticism, Mr. Snyder said he has received an overwhelmingly positive response from fans despite last year’s 6-10 record under coach Joe Gibbs.

Gibbs, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, led the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles in the 1980s and early 1990s before retiring. He returned to coach the Redskins in January 2004.

“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,” Mr. Snyder said. “They can all agree that I’m an owner who is willing to spend whatever it takes to build a winning team. 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.”

Making deals is the forte of the former marketing whiz kid, but Mr. Snyder has been unable to persuade fellow owners to award a Super Bowl to Washington — despite his innovative solution to the city’s cold and often snowy February weather.

“There are ways of putting up an inflatable roof that will last for a Super Bowl,” Mr. Snyder said. “The technology is moving pretty quickly. If we want to put a roof on [FedEx Field], we’ll put a roof on.”

Mr. Snyder, a member of the NFL’s prestigious broadcast committee, said that, contrary to perception, he’s not a rebel along the lines of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.

“I’m earning my stripes within the league,” Mr. Snyder said. “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.”

The Redskins have one of the highest average ticket prices in the league. However, Mr. Snyder said he is proud that the price of general admission tickets has not increased since 2001.

“I’m a fan,” he said. “I want the fan experience to be a great experience, bar none. 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. I put $100million in to improve the quality of the fan experience.”

As for the new team in town, Mr. Snyder welcomed the arrival of the Nationals.

“Like all sports fans, I’m rooting for the Nats,” Mr. Snyder said. “But the Redskins are such a historic franchise that we’ll always be number one. I would like to see Washington become more of a sports town. That’s good for everyone.”

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