washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Columnists > Sally Jenkins

A Case of Missed Management

By Sally Jenkins
Thursday, February 24, 2005; Page D01

Here we go again, whiplashing around on that out-of-control carousel called the Washington Redskins. The question for owner Dan Snyder and his front office is: What's with all these crazy circular misunderstandings? How come what they seem to promise is never quite, when the spinning stops, what happens? Why do people always walk away rubbing the backs of their necks?

On winning NFL teams, players sometimes take less money to stay. On this team, they're willing to forfeit good money to leave. We have to wonder why. The answer may be that no amount is worth it to play for this team for very long. The latest who wants out is Laveranues Coles, one of the top 10 receivers in the league, who after just two years has lost faith in the organization, and believes he's been unfairly dealt with. A couple of days ago, Coach Joe Gibbs assured us that he and Coles had a "good understanding." Now it seems that's not true. The one thing Coles and the Redskins don't have is an understanding. They have an impasse, and a dispute. How Coles and the Redskins will resolve things isn't really the point. The point is, this is what the Skins do. This is who they are.

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The presence of Gibbs, the Hall of Famer, as coach and president has changed nothing and this latest episode proves it. Bill Parcells once said, "You are your record." The Redskins would have us believe that they are better than their 6-10 mark, and that they are headed in a right, straightforward direction. But the Redskins are indeed their record -- off the field as well as on. Their record includes useless indiscriminate spending, hapless forays into free agency, constant shuffling of coaches and personnel, gross misjudgments, and fractious dealings with players that are at best confused and at worst borderline dishonest.

LaVar Arrington sat in a room with Redskins officials and thought he heard them agree to one set of numbers. And when he signed his contract, it said something else.

Steve Spurrier thought the Redskins had promised to bring in Bobby Beathard, or another proven general manager, to handle personnel. And then when Spurrier arrived, it didn't happen.

Coles thought he and Gibbs had an agreement to release him. And now that's not necessarily the case.

Frankly, it only takes two to make a pattern. Offseason contract disputes aren't unusual, but it is unusual to have two star players accuse a team of misleading them. The really good teams don't have these messes.

Coles is his record, too. This is not a prima donna or a malcontent. This is a guy who has been one of the Redskins' most professional and reliable performers. He is a former Pro Bowler and locker room gold. He keeps his mouth shut, he practices hard, and he plays hurt. He was drafted by Parcells with the New York Jets and flourished under Herman Edwards, and he came to the Redskins when they lured him with an offer of $35 million over seven years and a $13 million signing bonus. Maybe Coles has learned something that the Redskins haven't: Money doesn't make everything right.

How many more times have the Redskins discarded or alienated good, talented people? Stephen Davis. Brad Johnson. Trent Green. Champ Bailey. You could extend it to the front office, too, if you want to count Charlie Casserly and Marty Schottenheimer. And wherever they wind up, they often seem to have career years.

What we have to wonder is whether Coles's disenchantment is the first shimmy that suggests the wheels are coming off this Redskins team, just as they have come off every Redskins team under the ownership of Snyder. Things were supposed to be different with Gibbs as coach and president. Gibbs would bring stable and consistent management, clean up the mistakes and misjudgments of the recent past, and end the era of self-sabotage.

But the Coles impasse suggests that discord and dysfunction still reign. Gibbs told his players that if they don't want to be there, then he doesn't want them. It's a simple and even noble statement, calculated to reveal: stay or go. It isn't reassuring that their most expensive playmaker, Coles, wants to go. And the reason is apparently a lack of confidence in Gibbs and general disenchantment with management.

Gibbs, too, is his record. His team went 6-10, and his handpicked quarterback, Mark Brunell, was a failure, and his offense was so conservative that Coles only scored one touchdown in 90 catches.

Make no mistake, Gibbs is without question a lovely man and a terrific coach. But even in his most successful years with the Redskins Gibbs had a tendency toward conservatism, and he was never his own best general manager. The Coles impasse raises a secondary but no less troubling question of whether Gibbs is as in-charge of the Redskins as he's supposed to be. And, if so, should he be?

Who, really, is running the team? Why does Coles think he's been dealt dirty? Did Gibbs truly understand the salary cap ramifications of his stay-or-go statement -- that releasing a player like Coles would mean a huge cap hit and hobble the team's ability to sign players in the offseason? Is Gibbs indeed the last word in the organization and the chief decision maker? Why did Coles apparently meet with Snyder and vice president Vinny Cerrato late in the season to request a trade?

Over the years, players and coaches have come and gone and the Redskins' central problem has remained constant: poor management. If the Redskins have proven anything, it's that the triumvirate structure of Snyder-Cerrato-name-the-head coach doesn't work. The Redskins are badly in need of a tough, proven general manager with independent authority, a good eye for players, and a firm grip on the salary cap. Instead they have been Snyder's personal amusement park.

The ripple effects of this are felt over and over. Their salary cap entanglements are never ending, and yet cash has hardly purchased loyalty or stability. And now two of the Redskins' best young players and locker-room leaders, Arrington on defense and Coles on offense, believe they were misled and at least one of them wants out altogether. What does that say?

It says my neck hurts.

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