Bruce Allen takes control of Redskins with the slickness, and qualifications, of a politician

Mike Wise
Columnist December 30, 2013

The Coiffed One strode somberly into the room, his full thatch of flecked brown freshly tousled. In starched charcoal wool, red-sheen necktie and a Stars & Stripes lapel pinned to his left breast, Bruce Allen hadn’t come to merely soothe shaken followers of a bad NFL team; he was swearing himself into office, into the job Mike Shanahan had been terminated from just five hours before.

There was no campaign trail, no vote, nary a discussion of whether Allen had the fitness to do the job. All he needed was to convince the owner the last four years were all big, bad Mike’s fault. That was it; the job was his.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

The figurehead architect of the Washington pro football team since 2010 was instantly made into a bona fide general manager by Daniel Snyder, who transferred executive power over personnel and all football decisions to his former alumni director/salary-cap supervisor.

What a promotion! What a franchise-altering change!

What a crock.

This was an inside job, orchestrated at the head toymaker level by Geppetto, the owner who Monday made George Allen’s son a real boy — and a made man.

The candidate didn’t have to do anything but curry favor with Snyder to win.

Hours after he guillotined Shanaclan and their loyalists, Bruce Allen wasn’t his brother’s keeper; he literally was George Allen Jr., a calculated, rehearsed senator, turning Black Monday into Super Tuesday during a 22-minute news conference in Ashburn that resonated with themes of “painful,” “we’re all 3-13,” and, paramount while doing his best Alexander Haig, “I am in control here.”

“The control will be mine, and it will be working with our personnel department,” Allen said in stately fashion. He will pick the new coach, the new players and new team personnel. He will move on from this “difficult day.”

The only thing more painful than hearing Allen use “painful” and “difficult” a combined six times was the painfully difficult delivery he affected each time — as if he really felt for Shanahan and everyone involved in a months-long meltdown.

Are you kidding? This might have been the best day of Allen’s employment here, better than being a ball boy for his dad’s “Over the Hill Gang.” With Shanahan’s inability to see fault in himself helping his cause, Allen perfectly angled his way into running Dan’s kingdom.

And this would be great and wonderful except that even if Bruce Allen should be a genuine GM candidate — and not an opportunist whispering in Snyder’s ear about Shanahan the past four years — isn’t it awkward to essentially ask a fan base and your direct employer, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” when, oh, you were second in command the past four years?

All members of a deposed administration interested in surviving a purge smartly distance themselves from the old regime within certain tactful political bounds. But this was shameless, as if the last two sitting vice presidents had simultaneously denounced the Affordable Care Act rollout, invading Iraq and their own parties to get the top job.

He looked so calm and serene in his new official role of Franchise Leader that you would have never known a man who already has “general manager” in front of his name failed to utter a public word during the organization’s most woeful year in two decades, that he failed miserably — purposely? — as a buffer between Snyder and Shanahan.

In fact, hearing Allen say, “Today, Dan, Mike and I met at 9 o’clock and we relieved Mike of his duties,” must have been amusing for Shanahan — since he was Bruce’s superior, actually giving the okay for Snyder to hire Allen in December 2009.

Even as franchise firings go — and I’ve probably covered two dozen — this one was more bizarre and odd than most. From reporters quarantined to certain spaces on the property to WUSA 9’s Dave Owens having a microphone wrestled from his hand by a team official, obviously frightened he might ask a confrontational question at the news conference, an aura of fear and small-timeness presided over the premises.

Robert Griffin III called in, via teleconference, and read a quick statement saying how he wished everyone well and how much Mike and Kyle taught him. He might as well have added, P.S. “I didn’t kill the coach.”

Oh, and there of course was the new conductor of the Armageddon Express, introducing . . . himself.

“The attractiveness of coming to one of the flagship franchises in the NFL is exciting to coaches,” Allen said, downplaying the fact that between dysfunction at the top and a hole-filled roster at the bottom Washington is not a job Bill Cowher, Allen’s former cohort Jon Gruden or any other top candidate would covet like, say, the Detroit Lions’ job.

There is always the lure of Snyder’s money and a possible franchise quarterback already in place to sell. But what about the guy you’d be working for?

For quips and giggles, let’s look at the resume when Allen was last in complete control.

Hand-picked by Gruden after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, Allen went 38-42 in Tampa. Before they were fired, Allen and Gruden had three winning seasons, two losing seasons and never won a playoff game. They started 9-3 before losing their last four their final year together.

His free agent signings included Todd Steussie, Derrick Deese and Charlie Garner, basically Over the Hill Gang II at that point — except they all got cut because they were done.

He may have worked for Al Davis and the Glazers. He may have the name and pedigree to be the new front man. But his last nine years in football have helped get two Super Bowl champion coaches canned, resulted in a 62-82 record, not one playoff win and no Hall of Famers to date in training.

But, hey, he looks good, sounds good and delivers the puppeteer’s message with a nice mix of grace and authority. Just like that: In Bruce, We Trust. Or Bust.

Either way, like a former team official said of Allen — son of late, great Coach George, brother of Senator George Jr. and now the surviving confidant of Dan — it must be nice to be “born on third base and never take one foot off of it.”

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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