By Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 19, 2009; D01
As recently as 13 months ago, when the Redskins entered November with a 6-2 record under new Coach Jim Zorn, executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato was bulletproof.
Since then, as if to prove that even a 6-15 collapse has a silver lining, Cerrato finally came out of the shadows, where he did his best work, and into bright focus as one of the primary culprits in the Redskins' largely wasted decade.
Few teams will benefit from "addition by subtraction" more than the Redskins should with Cerrato's departure. During more than a decade with the Redskins, the former executive was seldom a bad man but he was often a bad influence.
In his 10 seasons with the Redskins, Cerrato specialized in palace intrigue, mediocre draft picks, disastrous free agent signings and staying just outside of the line of fire. Often he was seen as a mere sidekick enabler for team owner Daniel Snyder, a facilitator for four years for Joe Gibbs and a hatchet man when necessary. So, because he acted innocuously and spoke in easily parodied football cliches, he usually avoided blame.
But that ignores the degree to which Cerrato symbolized the worst of the Redskins' culture. Always defer to the owner while promoting yourself and the players with whom your reputation is associated. Worry about what people say about you, rather than focusing solely on solving problems. Always say that things are better than they are. Above all, the turnaround is coming soon, and the problem is somebody else.
Bruce Allen isn't the greatest general manager in NFL history. But he's respected and the son of a Redskins legend. He's excellent with people. In an organization that, except for Gibbs's return years, often has been hostile to homo sapiens, that's a big upgrade.
At some point, you become your career record. In eight years with the Raiders, always coping with owner Al Davis's meddling, Allen was 64-64 with one losing trip to the Super Bowl following the 2002 season. In five years in Tampa, with the Glazer family as his ownership anchor, he was 38-42.
So, all in all, while dealing with owners who were roughly as much daily joys as Snyder, Allen was 102-106. Therefore, what is the most reasonable expectation for the Redskins' future? Gee, this is a tough one. Snyder's record in his 11th year as owner is 80-93.
Let's take a wild guess that the Redskins will remain what they have been for the past 17 years: a middle-of-the pack team that spends a ton of money but has 10- to 13-loss seasons such as 1993, '94, '95, '98, '03, '04, '06 and probably '09 a lot more frequently than it has 10-win seasons ('99 and '05). Admit it, you didn't think the ratio was that bad: eight seasons averaging 11 losses vs. two with 10 wins.
But the least the son of George Allen deserves is a fair start. And this is not a franchise where "the future is now."
There's little doubt about Allen's first order of business: Hire Mike Shanahan or Jon Gruden as coach. Which? Come on, you're lucky if you get either. The Cowboys are prowling for a coach with Wade Phillips hanging by a thread. Is Jerry Jones going to be outbid by anybody, even Snyder, now that he has his Dallas Palace cash cow of a stadium? If he wants Shanahan and doesn't get him, Jerry should be ashamed.
Besides, would Shanahan rather operate his run-heavy version of the West Coast offense with mobile Tony Romo already in place and fine runners on board or come to Washington where Jason Campbell and Clinton Portis might be gone next season? If the Redskins get Shanahan, it's a coup. Give credit.
Gruden's no easy get either. He has a contract for "Monday Night Football" that may be hard to break, especially for the 2010 season. Besides, if Gruden thinks he's the next John Madden -- and I like him better as a smart, funny, self-deprecating color man than I ever did when he played that weird, wired Chucky the Crazy Coach role -- he might not even want to come back. Star announcer can be a 20-year glory gig. NFL coach is a form of suicide.
If Gruden can be gotten, even for 2011, don't underestimate the power of the Gruden-Allen connection. Their success, nine seasons worth, is intertwined in both Oakland and Tampa. Allen was 26-38 without Gruden, 76-68 with him. If he can get Gruden again, he will. He's his guy. They're a proven marriage. Gruden has sparkle, edge and renewed star power. Snyder needs 'em all.
Perhaps most important, Allen has the people skills and would make a powerful tandem with either Shanahan or Gruden when they face Snyder over crucial personnel decisions.
The Redskins owner often wants to do the right thing, provided he can figure out what it is. In introducing Allen, he said, "When we make a decision . . ." before quickly correcting himself with, "When he makes a decision . . ." But we are our habits. And Snyder just finds it so hard to keep his hands out of the machinery. His age and high energy work against him. An idle Snyder is the devil's workshop.
Whether the Redskins get one of the hot coaches they covet, or simply stick (or are stuck) with Zorn for another year, they are still better off than they were just a few days ago.
Of some players it is said, "He's not big, but he can't run, either." As the past 13 months have finally made undeniably clear, Cerrato was the general managing equivalent. Given a decade, he couldn't build a team, and other than the owner, nobody liked him much. That's addition by subtraction.