Red­skins’ train to dys­func­tion junc­tion has but one con­duc­tor at the con­trols

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - sally.jenk­ins@wash­post.com

Dan Sny­der doesn’t re­ally want to win. He would rather be the con­trol­ling fig­ure in a poi­sonous, cul­ture-of-fear or­ga­ni­za­tion than a mar­ginal fig­ure in a suc­cess­ful and happy one. In the nearly two decades that Sny­der has owned Wash­ing­ton’s foot­ball team, there has been just one con­stant — him. Ap­par­ently he much prefers fir­ing peo­ple to win­ning with them.

Scot McCloughan is just the lat­est fly to have his wings pulled off and be pinned to Sny­der’s bug col­lec­tion. The cow­ardly smear­ing as­ser­tions that the gen­eral man­ager was fired for his drink­ing, the ru­mors about Bruce Allen’s back-hall jeal­ousy of McCloughan’s pop­u­lar­ity, are just side­lights and could have been quelled by the owner in an in­stant. Ob­vi­ously, he pre­ferred that it get ugly.

All of Sny­der’s hires and fires are re­ally just hu­man shields for the owner’s be­hav­ior, they are there to ab­sorb the pub­lic blame for his child­ish im­pul­siv­ity and un­pleas­ant lit­tle ma­nip­u­la­tions. He’s like the baby who keeps throw­ing his bot­tle on the floor, just so he can watch oth­ers pick it up. At this point,

you be­gin to think the real game to Sny­der is not foot­ball, it’s mak­ing other peo­ple feel his petty power, fos­ter­ing ten­sion and dis­or­der for his per­sonal en­ter­tain­ment.

The most telling num­ber in Sny­der’s ten­ure isn’t the won-loss record. It’s the hired-fired record. Col­league Rick Maese once un­cov­ered this fas­ci­nat­ing statis­tic: Be­tween 2008 and 2013, 120 of its 143 em­ploy­ees in non­foot­ball op­er­a­tions left the club for var­i­ous rea­sons. “I never worked in such a ner­vous build­ing,” one said.

There have been eight head coaches, 16 start­ing quar­ter­backs and seven var­i­ous peo­ple awarded sup­posed “ros­ter con­trol” in Wash­ing­ton since Sny­der bought the club in 1999. Sta­bil­ity in the fran­chise is two years with­out a de­cap­i­ta­tion. At least un­der McCloughan there were a cou­ple of win­ning sea­sons, and the hint of real ar­chi­tec­ture, with a ter­rific tal­ent scout and solid ros­ter­builder in the house, along with an in­ter­est­ing and stil­limprov­ing coach in Jay Gru­den, and a bet­ter-than-good quar­ter­back in Kirk Cousins. But Sny­der wasn’t happy with the way things were go­ing. He’s the Dr. No of own­ers. He prefers ra­dioac­tive chaos and drop­ping his em­ploy­ees through trap doors into blood­baths.

Scroll back over the past few years, and the pat­tern is dis­tinct: No sooner is some­one hired than the sab­o­tag­ing and hatchet games be­gin. He gave Marty Schot­ten­heimer ros­ter con­trol and then whacked him after one sea­son, be­cause, as one em­ployee told the The Wash­ing­ton Post, Sny­der “wasn’t hav­ing any fun.”

Oh, ev­ery now and then Sny­der makes a show of ced­ing con­trol to an adult pro­fes­sional. But it never lasts long, and he al­ways keeps an en­abler by his side, a hench­man or spy who re­ports to the owner’s box and sows in­ter­nal mis­chief. He and Vinny Cer­rato con­spired to un­der­mine ev­ery coach with “ros­ter con­trol” who came through the build­ing, while mak­ing a se­ries of laugh­ably am­a­teur de­ci­sions. Re­mem­ber draft­ing Devin Thomas while pass­ing on Jordy Nel­son? Bring­ing in Dono­van McNabb to play quar­ter­back for Mike Shana­han?

Three ex-coaches have de­scribed to me how Sny­der works: He claims pub­licly to cede au­thor­ity to the pro­fes­sion­als and pre­tends to be hands off, to avoid the heat and put it on oth­ers. But be­hind the scenes, he names a draft pick, or a high­priced free agent, and asks the coach whether they should go get him. Do you want Al­bert Haynesworth? We can get Haynesworth. Let’s go to get Haynesworth. Do you want McNabb? We can get McNabb. Let’s go get McNabb. Why wouldn’t you want McNabb?

So now the coach starts sweat­ing. What if he re­fuses the owner, and doesn’t go after Haynesworth? What if Haynesworth winds up on an­other team and makes a big play against Wash­ing­ton? Now he’s the guy who passed on Haynesworth. So the coach goes and gets him, and tries to make it work. And that’s how it starts. Then, when it turns out it was a bad choice in the first place and it throws off the locker room and the scheme and the salary struc­ture, the coach starts sweat­ing again. Be­cause now it looks like his fault. Pretty soon the locker room starts to ques­tion his judg­ment and au­thor­ity, and won­der who’s re­ally the shot-caller around here, any­way?

You know what hap­pens next be­cause you’ve seen it 70 zil­lion times. Pretty soon there are di­vi­sions in the build­ing, and then comes the pat­tern of ha­rass­ment to try to force a res­ig­na­tion. The small pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tions. The weird man­age­rial du­pli­ca­tions and align­ments: “Ad­vis­ers” are brought in to be over-theshoul­der watch­ers. Then come the ex­plo­sive shouts be­hind closed doors, and re­ports that the owner has be­rated some­one.

Of course, even the en­ablers get it in the end when their hu­man-shield use­ful­ness wears out and Sny­der de­cides to blameshift. Or be­comes bored, or wants fresh play­things. Cer­rato got fired be­cause, as the owner had the nerve to tell au­thor Gary My­ers, “The gen­eral man­ager needs to pre­vent the owner from hir­ing some­one who’s not qual­i­fied. And that’s why Vinny is no longer here, to be truth­ful. He’s not here be­cause his job was to pre­vent the owner from hir­ing a not-qual­i­fied coach.”

It’s ob­vi­ous that Gru­den and Allen will even­tu­ally get dropped into the acid pool like all the oth­ers. They’ll be lucky if they’re just offed — as op­posed to slurred and slimed and dam­aged, like McCloughan. And a whole new cast will come in, and the cy­cle will start all over again. But with each go-round, ev­ery­one be­comes a lit­tle wiser to the pat­tern, and fewer good peo­ple and great play­ers want to come to, or stay, in Wash­ing­ton. The fran­chise has be­come ex­actly what the owner has treated it as: a garbage can for his dis­pos­ables.

Sally Jenk­ins

JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

It’s busi­ness as usual for Red­skins owner Dan Sny­der, with Bruce Allen, left, and Scot McCloughan.

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