Vinny Cerrato and his life after the Redskins

Mike Wise
Columnist March 13, 2011

More than a half-hour north of Baltimore, hard off I-95, down a gravel road, up a hill and to the left, sits a pristinely manicured 71 / 2-acre spread, eight minutes away from his good buddy and NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

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

Below the red brick, neo-colonial estate is a marked-off football field, where boys’ names are still legible in the end zone.

“I put ‘Vincent’ in one end zone and ‘Charlie’ in the other,’ ” Vinny Cerrato says, referring to his two sons, who are downstairs in the basement with their little sister, Rachel, doing homework. “Pretty nice place, huh?”

This is the house your Adam Archuleta jersey and Gray-Lot parking bought. This is the house Vinny lives in.

This is where — 14 months after Daniel Snyder jettisoned his long-time right-hand man, firing Cerrato as the Redskins’ executive vice president of football operations and paving the way for the Bruce Allen-Mike Shanahan regime — Vinny Cerrato ended up.

Some 100 miles from Ashburn, near Mercy Hospital, where his wife Becky is a foot-and-ankle surgeon, near grocery stores and restaurants, people don’t recognize the wide-eyed man with the high-pitched cackle as the guy who did Snyder’s bidding for the better part of a decade.

It’s a virtual witness protection program for Redskins executives who know too much.

“It was like Mayberry RFD when I first got here,” Cerrato says. “I go out here, walk around, it’s great — they don’t even know who I am.”

There is a movie theater, workout and memorabilia rooms in a basement that stretches forever, all the amenities imaginable — “Went to the big-screen store and they said if you buy a 73-inch, you get a 42-incher free,” Cerrato says. “Had to do it.”

He is breaking down film today like he does every day, from 8:20 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the kids get off the school bus. He has written charts on every potential draftee in Mead stenograph binder notebooks. “I did 140 guys, now I just got 80 to go,” he says, gleefully.

Cerrato does this pro bono, because he is currently working for no one.

“I was still a general manager this season — they called me the ‘resident GM’ at 1050 [AM radio] in New York,” he quips. He hopes to continue draft-analysis radio work soon. He has no idea if another team will employ him. Right now, standing here in his oversized, brown chocolate pullover sweater, jeans and bare feet, he doesn’t much care.

Becky now brings home the bacon, “Ray-Ray” gets to hug and kiss daddy after she gets off the school bus, and the boys don’t have to worry about their dad jumping every time the phone rings and the owner of the football team makes him go somewhere.

“Daddy, are you watching film?” says Charlie, 6, from the third floor, his torso slightly hanging over the banister. “I don’t like watching film. I like watching Wii.”

Hee-hee,” Cerrato cackles.

Asked if he watched the NFL draft combine — a monotonous, mind-numbing, four-day long workout of muscled 22-year-olds in Spandex — Cerrato says: “Watched it? I taped it.”

Today he is breaking down Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder. “He’s athletic. He gets pressure, he takes off running,” he says, surveying the 73-incher in the living room. “Good feet. He ran a 4.6 [40-yard dash].” His concerns grow when Ponder throws into heavy coverage during the Senior Bowl. “He’s just forcin’ it in there, telegraphin’ it.” He also doesn’t like Cam Newton, thinks he has too many character questions.

For much of 10 years, Redskins fans had genuine concerns about Cerrato. For every Brian Orakpo on his draft resume, there’s a Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly or Chad Rinehart. For every Shawn Springs or Marcus Washington in free agency, there was an Albert Haynesworth or Archuleta, the free safety whom Cerrato now calls his biggest mistake (He trumpets Chris Cooley as his best move.)

Though he was officially head of football operations for only two years, he says he had input throughout the reign of error in Ashburn.

He knows where the bodies are buried, but he won’t dig them up for you.

Cerrato won’t say when he was finished being paid by the Redskins, and how long his severance was, but it was sometime last year. Bottom line, he is feeling talkative about the past these days.

And in a two-hour-plus appearance on a radio show I co-host on 106.7 FM last week, he unloaded — kind of.

On Jim Zorn: Zorn’s fault. For getting too big for his britches after he started 6-2.

On Joe Gibbs: Gibbs’s fault — for leaving. “If Joe Gibbs stayed, I’d still be there.”

On Mike Shanahan: Shanahan’s fault — for not taking the job sooner. “If Mike Shanahan was the coach, I’d still be there.”

In a rare moment of clarity, though, a caller asked whether Cerrato believed the Redskins were better off when he took the job or when he was fired. Thinking back to the one home playoff game under former coach Norv Turner — Jan. 8, 2000; the game ball is encased downstairs — he comes to terms with his tenure.

“I’d have to say unsuccessful,” Cerrato says, nodding for a long while, almost pondering that he just said that word in relation to himself.

He was working out during the NFL owners meetings in Dallas in Dec. 2009 when Snyder told him to meet him alone in a conference room at the Four Seasons. It was the day the owner played the card no one ever thought he’d play — firing Cerrato, the guy who survived six coaches, millions of wasted dollars on someone else’s stars and all the anger of fed-up season-ticket holders.

“I didn’t know it was coming,” he said. Really? After what happened the last decade? “Nope.”

Utterly unaware till the very end. Shocker.

It’s after 6 p.m. and Becky has just returned home after another day in the operating room. Cerrato has to take one of the kids to basketball practice at 6:30.

After he thanked me for coming, I pull out of the driveway, above the football field with the names stenciled in the end zone — away from the palatial home of one of the most unpopular figures in Redskins history, the man who in all likelihood did Dan Snyder’s bidding, who couldn’t tell him “No” nearly enough.

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