- The Washington Times - Friday, December 18, 2009

In Florida late last week to broadcast the New York Jets-Tampa Bay game, CBS Sports analyst and former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon played golf with one of his old coaches, Jon Gruden, and ex-Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks. Also part of the foursome was Gannon’s friend and former boss with the Oakland Raiders, Bruce Allen.

During the round, Gannon “hinted at the Washington situation,” meaning the Redskins’ tough season and the likelihood of big changes on the way. Allen, he said, refused to take the bait.

“I never played cards with Bruce,” Gannon said. “But my sense is he’d be a great poker player. I sensed he’d be very busy in the month of January.”

Gannon was talking about Allen working for some NFL team, not necessarily the Redskins. Allen, it turns out, is very busy as of Thursday morning. Only a few hours after the Redskins announced Vinny Cerrato’s apparently forced resignation as executive vice president of football operations, Allen was publicly named the club’s first general manager in a decade.

This was good news to Gannon.

“All my years in football, 17 seasons, there are only a couple of people I got close with and really trusted and learned a lot from, and Bruce is one of them,” he said.

Gannon played in Oakland from 1999 to 2004. Allen was there, too, working for principal owner Al Davis, who has wielded absolute power over the club for most of its 50-year existence. Eventually promoted to “senior executive,” Allen was named NFL executive of the year in 2002, when Gannon led the Raiders to Super Bowl XXXVII (and a decisive loss to Gruden, the ex-Raiders coach, and the Bucs).

“I think what impressed me most about my time in Oakland was that [Allen] was not gonna back down to anybody,” Gannon said.

Notably, that includes the prickly, autocratic Davis. Gannon said that might help Allen deal with Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who also likes to get involved.

“I think it’s a perfect fit for Washington,” Gannon said. “There’s probably not another general manager like Bruce who has the experience of dealing with a hands-on, involved owner. …

“The best thing about [Allen] was his ability to say no to Al Davis. A lot of people weren’t capable of that.”

Said former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick: “It was not easy to work in that environment. Forget executive of the year. [Allen] ought to get sainthood.”

Gannon, who believes Gruden will remain with ESPN and not coach next year, added: “I think the owner had a lot of confidence in Bruce and a certain comfort level with him. He probably gave him more freedom and flexibility than other general managers.”

Billick, a Fox and NFL Network analyst, said Allen is “well-regarded” in the league. But he also said the decline of the Buccaneers might not reflect well on Allen, who left Oakland to join Gruden with the Bucs in 2004. Both were fired after the 2008 season.

“He had a championship-caliber team, and it took a steady progression downhill,” Billick said. “I think it’s a fair question.”

It’s unknown how things will turn out under Allen, but the Redskins clearly seem headed in a new direction. Given his close relationship with Snyder, many believed Cerrato to be untouchable. Because of that, along with the team’s performance, he became a frequent target of fans venting their anger with signs and T-shirts, on blogs and talk show phone lines.

“This is probably as substantial a change as the Redskins have made,” Billick said.

“Loyalty’s great, but at some point you’ve got to put a winning product out there,” said former lineman Mark Schlereth, who played on the last Redskins’ Super Bowl team in 1991.

Former quarterback Trent Dilfer, an ESPN colleague of Schlereth’s, said this can work only if Snyder allows it.

“It’s on him,” he said. “I would be shocked if [Allen] didn’t go into this saying, ‘Listen, I will only do this if I can rebuild the organizational philosophy. Obviously, the one that’s been in place has not worked.’ ”

Broadcaster and former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said Cerrato leaves a positive legacy and “he doesn’t have to hang his head when he leaves.”

But Theismann also said a change was needed.

“I think it comes as a timely move with all the pressure Vinny and Dan have been under for change,” he said. “It sends a message to fans. It sends a message that this team is not gonna stay with the status quo. … It’s Dan’s football team. He did what he had to do.

“What this hiring does is define the position of general manager and takes away that ‘well, Vinny is there because he’s a friend of Dan’ thing. It basically defines the position as a singular position.”

• Bob Cohn can be reached at bcohn@washingtontimes.com.

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