By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, December 19, 2006 10:56 AM
If Joe Gibbs is truly serious about bringing in a general manager to help straighten out the Redskins next year, he need look no further than Northwest Washington to find a viable and eminently qualified candidate with years of GM experience, many of them at Redskins Park old and new.
Charley Casserly, who served as the Redskins General Manager from 1989 to '92 during the Gibbs I Era, moved back to Georgetown over the summer after spending the last four years launching the Houston Texans as the expansion team's first general manager. He resigned in May with a year remaining on his contract following a 2-14 season, ostensibly to pursue a job as the NFL's director of football operations.
At the time of his departure, there was widespread speculation that he'd been fired by Houston owner Robert McNair, though Casserly and McNair have vehemently denied that was the case. Still, there's no question Casserly was on the hotseat after the Texans' dismal season.
For one, his choice of recycled Dom Capers as the team's head coach never seemed to be a good fit. He also was under fire because several of his high draft choices on his watch did not pan out. And McNair's ill-advised decision to bring in former Denver and Atlanta head coach Dan Reeves as an advisor on football matters was a move that clearly undercut Casserly's authority and helped grease the skids for his exit.
But the Texans' loss quickly has become a win-win situation for CBS Sports, which signed Casserly this past summer to become its on-air NFL information specialist on the network's revamped pre-game show that also includes another long-time Washingtonian, former Fox studio host James Brown.
Casserly ultimately did not get the NFL post he wanted, a job that went to former Atlanta Falcons executive Ray Anderson. But his new gig with CBS allows him to keep his finger on the pulse of the league and the game, and also has been a positive plus for viewers now getting reliable insider information from a man with 29 years worth of NFL contacts to draw upon for his weekly four- to five-minute segments every Sunday.
Would Casserly chuck the high profile position in order to work as a general manager again, in Washington or anywhere else?
In an interview last week, he said he preferred not to talk about the Redskins specifically, other than to say that no one from the team has ever contacted him about returning in any capacity. But he also admitted he was keeping all his options open and certainly did not rule out a return to the NFL, something his bosses at CBS also knew when they signed him for the studio this year.
"If someone makes a run at him and he wants to go back to football, we certainly wouldn't stop him," said Eric Mann, who produces the pre-game show for CBS. "But we're thrilled to have him and really hope he stays. He takes this very seriously. He's not only an insider. When he gives you his opinion, you know there's a lot behind it."
I've known Casserly for almost 30 years, meeting him for the first time at a Redskins training camp in Carlisle, Pa. in 1977 when he showed up as an unpaid intern working for George Allen. A former high school teacher and coach in Massachusetts, he went from occasionally fetching milkshakes at midnight for the eccentric coach to breaking down film for the coaches and eventually working as a team scout, assistant general manager and then general manager when Bobby Beathard left in 1989. Casserly made many of the right moves that led to the team's last Super Bowl title, bled burgundy and gold and even found his wife Bev within the organization, where she worked in the accounting department at Redskins Park.
Still, despite all those past ties to the team, in my humble opinion, I'd have a hard time believing Casserly would ever go to work for Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who made one of the first of many blunders in his seven-year reign of error when he fired Casserly not long after buying the franchise in 1999.
Snyder himself admitted publicly several years later that he had even told Casserly he "fired the wrong guy" when he decided to retain Norv Turner as his coach and let Casserly go. But a triumvirate of Gibbs-Snyder-Casserly would never work, if only because team president Gibbs only came out of retirement with the promise of total control of the football operation.
Despite his public comments about possibly considering a general manager, why would Gibbs yield any of his authority to anyone unless Snyder forced his hand? That's not likely to happen either, unless Snyder wants Gibbs to leave, so Casserly almost certainly won't be commuting out the Dulles Toll Road to team headquarters in Ashburn any time soon, if ever.
These days, he's doing plenty of commuting for his television job. Every Tuesday, Casserly takes the train from Union Station up to Philadelphia and spends the day at the suburban headquarters of NFL Films, watching game tape of the previous week's action, looking for trends and potential story lines for next week's show. He heads back up to New York every Friday for brainstorming sessions with his producers, writing scripts and doing rehearsals, all leading up to a full day in the studio on Sunday, including a column he writes for the network's web site.
"Going to NFL Films is a big part of what I do," he said. "When you watch a game on TV, even on a big screen, you only see part of it. You can't really see the defenses, you can't really see the line play. Basically you see the quarterback and the running back. Looking at the big picture just gives me a better feel for every team, and you're seeing it with your known eyes instead of hearing it from someone else."
Casserly essentially has become a working journalist in his new job after so many years of being on the other side of so many questions from writers and broadcasters covering his teams. Casserly was one of the most media-friendly executives in the game, an accessible guy who returned phone calls and almost always made himself available for comment. He also had years of experience in front of the camera, appearing on his own shows in Washington and Houston.
He now spends hours on the telephone himself gathering information, usually with sources at the highest levels of the game -- assistant and head coaches, general managers, team presidents and owners. He's obviously plugged in to scouts and personnel directors all over the league, and said he's had no difficulty at all getting any of them to call him back. He even honors the ridiculous prohibition imposed by control freaks like Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, among others, that prevents the media from speaking with assistant coaches, many of whom he's known for years.
"Some teams," he said, "are just more open than others. I can accept that."
Almost every Sunday, Casserly provides newsy tips and the occasional scoop to viewers. A few weeks ago, for example, he reported that the University of Alabama was interested in talking to Tennessee head coach Jeff Fischer about its coaching vacancy. Early in the season, during a trip to NFL Films, he saw game tape that showed New England defensive lineman Richard Seymour purposely stepping on an opponent's face, something that never came out until he showed the evidence on the air.
He also tackles issues. There's been a lot of discussion about the inequity in calling roughing the passer penalties this season. Two weeks ago, Casserly pointed out that the number of penalties called and the number of sacks recorded this season were about the same as they were last year, but also observed that, "the real problem has been the inconsistency in officiating crews in calling a penalty. One crew might have one call, another might have eight. Teams scout those crews and they play accordingly."
Casserly said he's thoroughly enjoyed looking at the game from a reporter's point of view and "I definitely have more of a feel for what they do. You've got these deadlines, and every week, I'm starting with a blank piece of paper. You can create things to fill that paper, but sometimes there are not always things to create so you do the best you can.
"I can tell you that if I report something, it is a fact. I'm not looking for scoops or trying to spark things to create a headline. I'm just gathering information, which I've done my whole life in the NFL. And if it's my opinion, I'm going to tell you right up front that it's my opinion. It used to bug me when people wrote things about us, but they never called to see if it was true. If I'm going to put something on the air, I'm going to call you and ask you about it. I want to get it right, and I want to hear what you have to say."
That's just what you'd expect to hear from any on-air network reporter, and Casserly clearly now fits that description, even in his rookie season.
He also remains a class act, and a great asset for CBS Sports who would be wise to avoid Redskins Park at all cost, unless he's going there with a camera crew.
Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Badgerlen@hotmail.com or Badgerlen@aol.com.