Cerrato's Special Working Relationship
In public gatherings, the coach and the owner usually introduce Vinny Cerrato the same way. Joe Gibbs and Daniel Snyder point to Cerrato, the team's vice president of football operations, and say, "He's responsible for the losses."
The room always breaks up laughing, whether it's at the owners' meetings in Hawaii or among smaller groups. "Yep, 'He's responsible for the losses.' They both say it all the time now," Cerrato said, half-smiling, chuckling to himself.
In jest, the fall guy. Always in jest.
Vinny knows what you are wondering. How did he become a tenured teacher in a win-or-be-terminated league? How can an NFL franchise go 18-30 since Marty Schottenheimer fired Cerrato in 2001 and Dan Snyder hired him back a year later, and Cerrato is still working? How special is his relationship with Dan Snyder? You think by cronyism, boot-licking or worse, Cerrato is somehow still employed.
"People say I do nothing, that I only keep my job because I'm the owner's friend," Cerrato said. "I do have a national championship ring and a Super Bowl ring, you know." (Cerrato was director of college scouting for the 49ers in 1994, the season San Francisco last won a Super Bowl. He was also recruiting coordinator under Lou Holtz in 1988 during Notre Dame's national championship season.)
"They say, 'Look at him, he's a lapdog to Dan.' I do have a role. I do have a job to do."
In spite of the perception that he only indulges Snyder, Vinny does work. He has thick, color-coded binders competing for space and time in his office at the team's Ashburn training facility. He shows you Carlos Rogers, whom the team took with its ninth pick in the April draft, was No. 1 on the Redskins' defensive draft wish list. Cerrato said he wrote 300 "Redskin reports" that were used to form the team's final offensive, defensive and overall rankings for the draft. "Look, I've got binders in here, calendars," he said, pointing to his files.
On days leading up to the April draft, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Cerrato siphoned every granule of information he could from scouts and videotape. He shows you next year's draft calendar, how his days and hours are already committed.
Next year might be presumptuous for some team employees, but don't worry: It's Cerrato. Sure as tomorrow, he'll be back.
Death. Taxes. Vinny.
He's calamity-proof, able to survive Snyder's impetuousness much better than coaches and players. Cerrato has outlasted Norv Turner, Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Deion Sanders and every other high-priced free agent Cerrato brought to Washington in 2000. Schottenheimer did not want any filters to Snyder, so he promptly got rid of Cerrato in January 2001. "He told me at first, 'We gotta live together. We gotta hang out together.' A week later, he said, 'I'm going to terminate you,' " Cerrato said.
Cerrato's unofficial return to the Redskins came on Christmas Eve 2001. He was working for ESPN as a college analyst and had just finished filming a show when Snyder called.