For a Troubled Organization, Blame Resides at the Top

By Sally Jenkins
Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Redskins are full of talk about personal responsibility this week, mouthing all the right words and saying they can still turn things around if they are individually accountable and stick together. But my question is, how much can a team really subscribe to personal responsibility when the guy who is by far the most responsible for the state of the franchise, the owner, ducks it?

For a decade now, Daniel Snyder has made an utter mess of the team, and yet he seldom, if ever, takes responsibility for it. He operates from behind a phalanx of security, proxies and media managers, routinely declining to comment and be accountable. He wants all the fun when they win and none of the blame when they lose. The most damning anecdote I've heard yet about Snyder came this week from his former player-confidante LaVar Arrington, who described how Snyder would stand outside the locker room and shake hands with players when they won, but glared and declined to offer a hand when they lost.

It's absurdly early to write off the 2009-10 Redskins as a failure at 1-2. But it's a decade into Snyder's tenure as owner, and not too early to reach a verdict on the joyriding amateur interference that passes for his management. What's ultimately wrong with the Redskins, the reason they annually fight to be merely average, is not the fault of Jim Zorn, Jason Campbell or any other employee, it's the fault of Snyder. Anyone who doubts his involvement needed only listen to Zorn on Monday following the Redskins' loss to the winless Detroit Lions. "I'm sure I'll be spending a lot time with him this week," Zorn said. Now, surely Zorn has better things to do than to explain the elementary and the obvious to his owner: They don't have an effective offensive line or a pass rush.

This is Snyder's team; he was intimately involved in assembling it. He keeps his favorite players on speed dial, watches practices on the sidelines and demands face time and explanations from the coaches he personally hired. Whatever you think of Zorn, he is Snyder's own selection. It was Snyder who told Joe Gibbs, "He would make a great head coach." He is personally responsible for naming Vinny Cerrato, a proven failure, executive vice president of football operations, for the Redskins' lack of core strength, for their inability to power the ball in the red zone, which is thanks to his decade of neglect of the interior lines in favor of big free agent signings.

You can blame the Redskins players and coaches for what happens on Sundays, but not for what's wrong with the franchise the other six days of the week. The owner should have known the winning cure a long time ago: hire a competent, professional general manager. Yet he refuses to do it because that wouldn't be as much fun for him. I've said it before, and I say it again more than ever: It looks to me like Snyder would rather be the center of power on a losing team than a peripheral figure on a winning one.

There has been no shortage of people willing to step up and accept responsibility for the state of the Redskins: Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Gibbs and now Zorn have taken turns shouldering the blame for their decade-long mediocrity. Players, too.

"We got 20 people walking round in the locker room with hoo-rah talk," Clinton Portis said Wednesday. "Pumping guys up, 'Lets go baby we can do this.' It's Week 3. I don't think it take hoo-rah talk, I don't think it take pump a guy up, putting a guy in the car and let's go out and have a one-to-one. It's making plays."

At the moment a handful of locker room leaders and consummate pros are trying to keep the Redskins in the right competitive frame of mind, despite intense scrutiny from the press, boos from the home crowd and three straight disappointing performances on the field. "We don't wish wins, we work at it," Antwaan Randle El said.

"Right now we are going through a lot of trials as a team and this is a time to find out the real character of our team, and if we can push through it, it makes for a good push down the stretch run," Campbell said.

But it says something about the dark, untrusting environment at Redskins Park that a team of highly paid veterans doesn't yet know its character and is fighting for its soul after just three games, trying stave off panic and finger-pointing and to remain cohesive. After losing to the Lions last week, cornerback DeAngelo Hall said, "You either want it or you don't. A lot of these guys don't want it. They want the other stuff." The paycheck-player, where's-mine environment is set by an owner who never seems to value the right qualities, and who so often seems to equate the size of a contract with character. How long can some players continue to give more while making a lot less? And how long can all of them keep fighting for Zorn when no one in the front office will step forward and preach real loyalty, by publicly declaring, "This is our coach and the path we're on."

Snyder is not the first or the last executive to avoid responsibility for failure. But somehow it seems more important given the nature of the NFL, a business in which men sacrifice their bodies and futures weekly for the good of the organization, for an executive to take just as much responsibility as they do. Snyder declined an interview request Wednesday, but hopefully in the near future he will make clear his vision for a better future for the organization.

Whatever the deficiencies of the Redskins, they are Snyder's deficiencies, too. But everyone else is answering for them.

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