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Snyder Does an About-Face

Owner Is More Hands-Off, Defers to Coach Gibbs

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2004; Page E01

Daniel Snyder waited in the locker room at FedEx Field on Oct. 17 minutes after the Washington Redskins were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens, 17-10, the team's fourth consecutive loss.

Players trudged to their stalls before Gibbs, with a grim expression, walked into the locker room for a postgame address. When the Redskins' owner approached Gibbs, the coach apologized for the loss. Snyder responded with a brief pep talk, then departed moments before the media arrived for postgame interviews.

"He has been a rock," Joe Gibbs said of the unwavering support he has received from Daniel Snyder, seated at left. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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"I was so depressed in the locker room," Gibbs recalled Wednesday at Redskins Park. "And he walked right up to me and he said, 'Hey look, I just want to encourage you. It takes a while. Maybe you can't see it; you're too close to it. We have improvement. We're on the right track.'

"He has been a rock," Gibbs said about Snyder, who lured the Hall of Fame coach from an 11-year retirement from the NFL in January and asked him to revive his long-dormant franchise. "I appreciate that because when you hit adversity, that's a tough deal. That's kind of a real measure of somebody in a tough time, a bad time."

Despite Washington's lackluster record, Snyder, 39, has remained in the background, according to several people in the organization, belying his reputation as a hands-on -- at times meddlesome -- owner. Since signing Gibbs, 63, to a five-year, $28.5 million contract to become coach and team president, Snyder has kept his distance from the team perhaps more than any time in the five years he has owned the Redskins. The team's direction, according to these accounts, is emanating solely from Gibbs.

Snyder, who is on his fifth coach since buying the team in 1999, has noticeably reduced his appearances at Redskins Park and his daily interactions with players and coaches. Although Snyder attends every game, the decreased visibility has been striking to those who have been with the Redskins in recent years.

"Everything that I've seen and the sense that I get is he's really dedicated to letting this play out and not getting too involved in it -- just being a supportive force," said linebacker LaVar Arrington, the first player drafted under Snyder, the second pick overall in 2000. "I could be wrong, but that's what it seems like. You don't see him too much. Maybe it's conscious, maybe it's not. I don't know what it is, but he ain't around like he used to be."

Cornerback Fred Smoot said he believes Snyder is making a concerted effort to keep his distance. "Just his actions -- there haven't been any actions," said Smoot, who is in talks with the team about a contract extension. "He's just letting Coach Gibbs handle things. He hardly comes over here [Redskins Park] anymore.

"I think he's been through it enough times to know, 'I've got my coach; I've got my players. Now, I need to give them time to mesh.' When you've got a coach like that, you know it's going to come sooner or later."

Snyder declined to comment through team spokesman Karl Swanson, citing his policy of not granting interviews during the regular season. But in an interview with HBO's "Inside the NFL" before the regular season, Snyder acknowledged he has changed. "Joe has final say on everything. Period," Snyder said. "I've taken my lumps. I've come a long way. I think I've got incredible patience and understand things now that I didn't have when I first came into the league. I've learned a whole bunch."

Reverence for Gibbs

Several NFL officials inside and outside the club said they believe Snyder is deferring to his coach more than ever this season largely because of his reverence for Gibbs, who led the franchise to four Super Bowl appearances, winning three, in the 1980s and 1990s. A few NFL officials familiar with Snyder said they believe that Snyder fears a public backlash if Gibbs isn't given an opportunity to turn around the team.

"He doesn't have a choice. He's not going to bug Joe Gibbs," said one NFL general manager who requested anonymity so that his dealings with the Redskins aren't affected. "He's gotten beaten up so much [in the media], he's taken his face out of the public eye. He's not doing anything different than a lot of owners. Can you imagine the backlash if it comes out that Snyder is messing with Gibbs? So Snyder is doing the smart thing by staying out of it."

One AFC team official agreed. "In Dan's mind, when he wrote that check for Joe Gibbs and opened up the coffers, he essentially said: 'I can't do anything right with this. My hands are washed because I've been known as a meddler.' Right now, he has to bite his tongue and keep his mouth shut. He has to stay out of it."

The Redskins use a collaborative approach for personnel decisions. Vice President Vinny Cerrato and Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense, have significant input. Snyder officially holds the tiebreaker in disagreements between the coaching staff and Cerrato. However, Gibbs has the final say, essentially giving him the most clout.

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