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The Wrong Job for the Man

By Sally Jenkins
Thursday, February 7, 2008

If Steve Spagnuolo's friends really care about him, they'll advise him not to go near the Redskins job. "Run," they'll tell him. "Run away, now, as fast as you can." They'll tell him that in the New York Giants he has wise owners and a principled general manager who treat their people right. They'll tell him that Daniel Snyder isn't really looking for a head coach, he just wants to hire another butler.

It's unclear how seriously Spagnuolo, the Giants' defensive coordinator still flushed from his Super Bowl triumph, is being considered for the Redskins' head coaching position. All we know is that Spagnuolo is the latest victim of those interminable, cigar-filled, 20-hour interviews. But frankly, if there's any considering to be done, it's Spagnuolo who should be doing it. He's the one who should carefully size up Snyder, not vice versa. A job offer from Snyder isn't exactly a shortcut to head coaching success. Actually, it's been known to set careers back years.

If Spagnuolo's friends care about him, they'll spare him that old saw, "Dan Snyder just wants to win." No, he doesn't. He just wants to run things. If Snyder really wanted to win, he'd have gone after a different guy in the Giants' organization years ago: General Manager Jerry Reese. Spagnuolo is the hot, exciting hire of the day, but Reese was the bigger figure in the Giants' success, though in a more mundane and less visible way. As usual, Snyder's impressed by all the wrong things.

The difference between the Giants and the Redskins at this moment is striking. The divisional cousins split their regular season games, and both fought for wild-card playoff berths. Yet they couldn't be more dissimilar when it comes to good judgment. The Giants reflect how close, and yet how far, the Redskins really are from being a successful franchise.

A year ago, Giants Coach Tom Coughlin was on the brink of being fired despite getting the team to the playoffs twice. Veteran players were frustrated. There were doubts about whether quarterback Eli Manning would fulfill his promise.

What did owners John Mara and Steve Tisch do? They trusted the counsel of Reese, the first-year GM they had promoted after 12-plus years of service in the personnel department.

Reese, in turn, trusted Coughlin enough to give him a one-year contract extension. He stood by Manning. And he refused to make wholesale roster changes. "It wasn't the right thing to do," he said. "The right thing to do was take care of personnel already on the roster."

Instead, Reese concentrated on the draft, and showed what a knowledgeable personnel man with an expert eye can do for a team. All eight of the rookies he selected would contribute to the Giants' Super Bowl run. Wide receiver Steve Smith in the second round from Southern California? Okay, that was a pretty easy pick. Not so easy were tight end Kevin Boss from Western Oregon in the fifth round, or running back Ahmad Bradshaw from Marshall in the seventh. Each made huge plays in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Then there was third-rounder Jay Alford from Penn State, whose spearing sack of Tom Brady with 25 seconds left all but cinched the victory. And those were just the stars of the class.

A total of 23 players drafted by Reese over the last few years are on the Giants' roster -- nearly half the team. David Tyree, who merely made one of the biggest catches in Super Bowl history, was a sixth-round pick in 2003. Two of the defensive linemen who made Spagnuolo look so brilliant, Justin Tuck (Notre Dame, third round, 2005) and Osi Umenyiora (Troy, second round, 2003), also were his picks.

Spagnuolo should consider all of that carefully, and then ask himself some questions:

Do you think for a moment Snyder would have retained Coughlin last year? (No. He would have fired him.)

Do you think Snyder would have stuck by Manning after three mediocre seasons? (No. He'd have traded him.)

Do you think for a moment that Snyder and his surrogate, Executive Vice President-Football Operations Vinny Cerrato, could have found the lower-round rookies who made such critical contributions in the Super Bowl? (Ha.)

If Spagnuolo is smart, he'll stay put with the Giants and learn as much as he can from them about how good upper management operates. Another, better head coaching job will come along in time, one in which his owner doesn't impose his assistant coaches on him, or tell him whom to play at quarterback.

It's a bitter shame to say this, given how much it surely pains local fans, but the truth is that Redskins Park is no place for someone with a bright future. It's too dark and dysfunctional. The phrase "coach killer" comes to mind. No good one, except possibly Joe Gibbs, has had a decent experience under Snyder, not Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Al Saunders or Gregg Williams. Which is why the only people who seem to be realistically entertaining the job now are either those desperate to get back in the game, such as Jim Fassel and Steve Mariucci, or climbers looking for their first head coaching office.

There is a consistent, central weakness in the Redskins' organization that no coach can fix. It's Snyder's tycoon mentality, his assumption that he can purchase people and make them do what he wants, and if they displease him, discard them. His paycheck players and presto coaching solutions fail every time. The franchise is based on a series of extravagant bribes, not a dime of which has ever been spent on the qualities that made the Giants into Super Bowl champions, namely good faith, loyalty, patience, unity and, above all, belief in the leadership at the top.

"Believe!" the Giants defenders shouted at their teammates on the sideline as Manning and the offense took the field for the game-winning drive. Everyone believed. Mara and Tisch believed in Reese, who believed in Coughlin, who believed in the players, who believed back.

Who, at this point, believes in Snyder? Run, Spagnuolo. Run, as fast as you can.

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