On the way to missing the playoffs for the eighth time in his 11 seasons as Redskins owner, Snyder retreated to the pilot’s lounge inside the hangar with two of his closest advisers at the time, Dave Donovan, the team’s chief operating officer, and Karl Swanson, Snyder’s senior vice president of public relations. Vinny Cerrato, the executive vice president of personnel and Snyder’s right-hand man, joined them after he had taken the team plane home with the players and their beleaguered coach, Jim Zorn.
While watching NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” game between the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts, the four men drank glasses of Sassicaia, a bold Tuscan red that is a Snyder favorite, those who were present said. They added that Snyder eventually graduated to Crown Royal.
Finally, Snyder turned to the others. “Let’s go get Mike Shanahan,” he said.
It would be more than three months before Snyder hired Shanahan, who on Sunday begins his second season as Redskins head coach. But interviews with 11 individuals in and around the franchise, each of whom spoke on condition of anonymity so as to speak more freely, reveal that his pursuit of the former Denver Broncos head coach began far earlier than even the night of Sept. 27, 2009, after the deflating loss to Detroit.
While Snyder’s lengthy courtship of Shanahan has been known, many of the details of his pursuit have not. It paralleled the last year of Zorn’s tumultuous two-season tenure as Redskins coach, a fact that led Snyder and his advisers to go to elaborate lengths to keep it from becoming public so as not to appear to both undermine Zorn nor scuttle their efforts to land Shanahan. Snyder declined through a spokesman to be interviewed for this story.
Within minutes of Snyder’s request at the airport hangar, calls began flying back and forth between representatives of the Redskins owner and Shanahan. About two hours later, Shanahan had agreed to meet with the Redskins’ brain trust — but when?
“Let’s not wait for him to change his mind,” Snyder said, those who were present recalled. “Let’s go now.”
Snyder’s confidantes still marvel at the impulsive decision, yet they say it encapsulated the way in which they often did business.
“A lot of calls, a lot of booze that night,” one participant said. “We were just like four college roommates drowning their sorrows with alcohol after our team lost. The difference was, one of our college buddies was the owner of the team. And he called an ex-coach to make him feel better.”