Daniel Snyder, Washington Redskins owner, adopts hands-off role — and team wins

If one isn’t paying close attention these days at Redskins Park, it’s fairly easy to fail to notice Daniel Snyder. He walks quietly to and from practices without anything resembling an entourage. Often only General Manager Bruce Allen is by his side. He might chat unobtrusively on the periphery with Coach Mike Shanahanas practice gets underway. But mostly, it’s under-the-radar stuff.

For many of Snyder’s 14 seasons as owner of the Washington Redskins, his team was all about grandeur. The moves were big. So, too, were the disappointments that most often followed. As the losses piled up, Snyder came to symbolize the team’s dysfunction.

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This play from the Dec. 3 Giants game illustrates how the Redskins offense can befuddle a defense.
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This play from the Dec. 3 Giants game illustrates how the Redskins offense can befuddle a defense.

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But as the Redskins celebrate their first NFC East division title since the 1999 season, Snyder’s first at the helm of the franchise he adored as a kid, and prepare to host the Seattle Seahawks in a playoff game at FedEx Field on Sunday, a certain air of serenity, an overarching sense of pro-football normalcy, has settled over the team and its owner.

Snyder and the Redskins no longer are the NFL’s leading soap opera, and the biggest reason why may be how the owner himself is conducting business.

Snyder, 48, who long has had a reputation for being meddlesome and overbearing in his relationship with his coaches and his team, has remained in the background, associates say, and has allowed Shanahan, with Allen’s help, to plot the team’s course and make the decisions on the football side of the operation.

The Redskins are said to be giving consideration to negotiating a contract extension with Shanahan, an unusual state of affairs for a team that so regularly has been sorting through the pieces of a just-completed broken season and searching for a new head coach at this time of the year. The helipad at Redskins Park sits unused these days, an unintentional monument to a time in the not-so-distant past when grand entrances were the Redskins’ way, along with grand failures.

There is plenty of credit for the team’s success to go around, so much so that the long-running characterization of Snyder as the most intrusive NFL owner this side of the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones no longer seems so apt. Even the general manager that Snyder ousted in 1999, Charley Casserly, says Snyder merits his fair share of the plaudits.

“I think he deserves a lot of credit,” Casserly said. “He hired Bruce Allen as the general manager to run the front office. He hired Mike Shanahan as the coach to run the football team. They’re both proven winners. He’s allowed them to do their jobs. They’ve turned the franchise around and made it a winner again. It starts with ownership hiring the right people, letting them do their jobs and giving them the means to do it.”

Snyder’s change in approach, associates say, came about because he finally tired of all the losing — and of being excoriated by fans and the media for it.

“He’s had growing pains,” said one person familiar with the team’s internal dynamics. “He wanted instant gratification. He only wanted to win and, ‘Why couldn’t it happen to me?’ I think he got some bad advice along the way. He had some knee-jerk reactions. . . . He’s the kind of guy who wants it so bad. It comes across the wrong way.”

‘He’s stepped back from it’

Snyder for years involved himself intimately in the details of team personnel matters, and often made the big decisions on player acquisitions himself, according to people who have been in or dealt with the franchise. A much different picture has emerged since he hired Allen, the son of late Redskins coach George Allen, and Shanahan. By all accounts, Snyder over the past three regular seasons has been a supportive boss — and a non-meddler.

“He’s stepped back from it,” the person familiar with the inner workings of the team said. “And he’s having more fun because of it.”

This individual spoke on condition of anonymity, as did several other people interviewed about the Redskins owner. All said they feared reprisals or damage to their relationship with Snyder if they spoke frankly and their comments were attributed to them by name. Snyder declined to be interviewed for this article through a team spokesman, who said the owner was unavailable.

Snyder has been accused in the past of having personal relationships with some players that grew too close, enabling them to undermine the head coach’s authority. Some at Redskins Park point particularly to his friendship with former tailback Clinton Portis when Jim Zorn was head coach in 2008 and 2009. Portis last played for the team in 2010.

Veterans on this year’s team say they have less contact with Snyder than they used to.

“I haven’t talked to him in his office since Bruce and Mike got here. And I don’t think anyone really has,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “But he comes to practice. He’s part of the team. He’s part of what’s going on. He knows what’s going on. And I think he’s excited about it.”

Cornerback DeAngelo Hall said his interactions with the owner are uniformly positive — but have become less frequent.

“He hasn’t been as hands-on as I’ve heard he’s been in the past,” Hall said. “I think when Mike got here, it kind of changed a little bit.”

Snyder, Hall added, is “kind of like me in the sense he wants it so bad, you know what I mean? Sometimes it kind of gets him in trouble with other people. They see the spending as over the top. He sees it as trying to do anything he can to win, to help his team win.”

Backed Shanahan on trade

Snyder often has said over the years that he learned from the mistakes he made early in his ownership tenure. But changes in his ownership style resulting from those lessons weren’t always apparent. Now they are, say those who know him. Allen has been a positive influence, those people say.

“Bruce goes in there [to Snyder’s office] and gets something done,” said the individual familiar with the team’s operations. “He sees him and leaves. He says, ‘I’ve got things to do.’ Bruce doesn’t sit in his box [during games]. He’s with the coaches. Bruce has done a good job. He’s in Dan’s office, and then Shanahan is down in Bruce’s office. I think because [Snyder has] stepped back and let this happen, good things are happening.”

A former Redskins employee said that when Shanahan benched quarterback Donovan McNabb in 2010, Shanahan was asked by associates what Snyder said to him. Shanahan told those associates, the former team employee said, that he never even discussed the matter directly with Snyder in great detail but left that conversation to Allen.

People in the NFL who know Shanahan say he believed when he took the job in Washington that he could deal with Snyder despite the owner’s reputation.

Shanahan appears to have a very cordial relationship with Snyder. The two often can be seen talking on the practice field. But whether Shanahan deliberately set up an arrangement by which Allen could be the intermediary on certain issues or whether things simply evolved that way — and it’s not clear which is the case — Allen has been an effective liaison and buffer to ensure that the relationship between owner and coach remains constructive, people with knowledge of the team’s inner workings say.

Shanahan declined to discuss the particulars of his relationship with Snyder, saying he wanted to focus on the Redskins’ season. Allen did not respond to a request for comment.

Whispers about a less accommodating version of Snyder have continued to circulate in the NFL. There was talk of Snyder, not Shanahan or Allen, being the driving force behind the March trade with the St. Louis Rams in which the Redskins moved up in the NFL draft order to be able to select quarterback Robert Griffin III. When the Redskins’ record dropped to 3-6 on Nov. 4, there was speculation within league and team circles that Snyder was furious and that jobs — not those of Shanahan and Allen but those of underlings, such as some of Shanahan’s assistant coaches — were on the line.

But the person familiar with the Redskins’ inner workings said Snyder, while gladly participating in the pre-draft evaluation and courtship of Griffin, merely backed Shanahan and Allen on the trade with the Rams.

“I think they all wanted to make the trade,” this person said. “Shanahan wanted it. Bruce wanted it. He [Snyder] okayed it. They really wanted him. He said, ‘If you think this is the right thing, let’s do it.’ It turned out to be the right thing.”

And what about Snyder’s mood when the Redskins’ season appeared to be unraveling? The team, at the time, had a 14-27 record in a little more than 21 / 2 seasons under Shanahan, who is being paid about $7 million per year under his five-year contract.

“I would say he was concerned,” the person said. “The apprehension was there: ‘Are we progressing? Is this going forward?’ But it was portrayed to him through Bruce, through Mike, [that], ‘We’re not playing like we’re 3-6.’ They told Dan, ‘We just have to correct some things and we’re going to be all right.’ I don’t think he was ready to fire anybody.”

The Redskins haven’t lost since.

“I feel happy for our owner because he works as hard as he can to build a team and to win football games,” Cooley said. “I don’t know if it’s vindicating as far as him saying, ‘See, fans, I did this.’ I think he just wants to continually win.”

 
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