The whirlwind remaking of the Washington Redskins under new owner Daniel M. Snyder reached the highest levels of the organization yesterday when Charley Casserly agreed to step aside as the team's general manager and serve the remaining two seasons on his contract as a consultant to Snyder.
Casserly, 50, said his resignation as general manager is effective Sept. 3 and indicated that the financial arrangement he made with Snyder is worth more than his contract would have paid him. The move comes two days before the Redskins open training camp in Frostburg, Md., following a season in which they finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.
Snyder's associates said the owner has no plans to appoint a new general manager, but likely will name a team president within several months. Snyder said he decided to restructure the team's front office after becoming convinced that Casserly and Coach Norv Turner could not work together.
"My intent was to leave the team management in place," said Snyder, who spent more than two hours at Redskin Park Thursday night meeting with Turner and Casserly in separate sessions. "But as I looked further into the situation, it became apparent to me how difficult it was for the parties to work together. It became apparent to me that the existing structure was not going to work."
Snyder, a 34-year-old Bethesda marketing executive and the National Football League's youngest team owner, quickly and emphatically has begun to leave his imprint on the franchise since he and his partners officially closed on their $800 million purchase of the Redskins and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium from the Cooke estate last Wednesday. Two days later, Snyder fired about 25 people from the team's front office and stadium operations, citing a desire to put his own people in those positions.
He did just that yesterday as the Redskins hired former San Francisco 49ers executive Vinny Cerrato as their director of player personnel, a job that includes scouting pro and college players. He will play a role, along with Snyder, in contract negotiations with players. Cerrato also will conduct trade talks with other teams and will be in charge of the Redskins' scouting.
Snyder expects the next major development to be a contract for cornerback Champ Bailey, the team's first-round pick in April's college draft. The sides are expected to announce a deal today, which means Bailey would report to training camp Sunday with the club's other rookies.
Snyder announced when his group completed its deal with the estate in April that he planned to keep both Turner and Casserly in their current jobs. But Casserly and Turner have had an uneasy relationship for several years that wasn't producing winning results, and sources close to Snyder said yesterday that the owner chose to keep Turner as the head coach and move Casserly into a lesser role.
Turner, when asked about his relationship with Casserly and yesterday's developments, said: "Mr. Snyder has come in and made an evaluation. If that's his feeling, then that was a situation he had to evaluate."
Snyder did not fire Casserly, who has two seasons remaining -- not three, as Redskins officials previously had indicated -- on a contract that was to pay him approximately $500,000 per year. Instead, Snyder associates said, Snyder told Casserly about his plans to restructure the front office by bringing in a team president and a player personnel director. He told Casserly that his responsibilities would be diminished but he wouldn't be fired, members of the Snyder group said.
Casserly, who said he had offered Snyder his resignation as soon as Snyder won the second round of bidding for the Redskins, had told friends he was in no position to relinquish the money due him from his contract. Howard Milstein, who failed in his joint bid with Snyder to gain NFL approval after winning the first round of bidding from the trustees of the Cooke estate, is suing Casserly and former team president John Kent Cooke for allegedly undermining his bid for the team.
"I am happy about the settlement," said Casserly, who declined to comment on his relationship with Turner. "It's the right move at the right time for me. It's time to move on."
A week ago, Snyder fired the team's public relations director and hired a new one, who promptly quit this week. And Snyder recently angered Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell by hiring highly respected marketing executive David Cope from the Ravens. The Ravens filed a grievance with the NFL over Cope's hiring, and sources said yesterday that Modell later complained to the league about contact between the Redskins and two other Ravens employees -- including Cope's successor, Joe Hickey.
Snyder has talked about a get-tough policy in which players who are out of shape or display negative attitudes will be sent packing. He has said that he expects the Redskins to be in the playoffs this season and will put pressure on his players, coaches and front-office personnel to try to ensure that happens.
Turner's contract runs through the 2001 season but he essentially is on a tryout with Snyder. Sources said Snyder may have decided to leave the GM job vacant in part because he could attempt to lure someone with a big name in pro football to serve as both coach and general manager if he decides to fire Turner.
Casserly had been the Redskins' general manager since 1989 after beginning his tenure with the team as an unpaid intern for then-coach George Allen in 1977. He was part of the Redskins' glory years in the '80s and early '90s that included three Super Bowl triumphs. But he also was involved with the head coaches in the team's decisions to use first-round draft choices this decade on a number of disappointing players, including Bobby Wilson, Desmond Howard, Tom Carter, Heath Shuler, Michael Westbrook and Andre Johnson.
Cerrato, 39, was in town yesterday and is scheduled to be at training camp with the Redskins on Sunday. He is a former college quarterback and wide receiver at Iowa State who served as then-coach Lou Holtz's recruiting coordinator at Notre Dame between 1986 and '90. He was in the 49ers' front office for eight years before being dismissed after Bill Walsh rejoined the team. In San Francisco, Cerrato was one of the principal architects of one of the league's best teams.
"The biggest thing is, I know how hungry the fans are for a winner," Cerrato said. "I know the energy Mr. Snyder has brought to the organization. . . . In this league, you win from the top down. You win with ownership."
Staff writers Liz Clarke and George Solomon contributed to this report.