The Washington Redskins have met the new boss. And he definitely is not the same as the old boss.
It has been less than two months since Bethesda marketing executive Daniel M. Snyder's $800 million purchase of the Redskins and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium from the Cooke estate was approved by the NFL, and only several days since his group and the trustees for the estate officially closed the deal.
But already, Snyder, the league's youngest owner at 34, has made it clear that he won't simply ease the franchise slowly into a new era after nearly three decades of ownership by the Cooke family.
Snyder has pledged to recapture the Redskins' glory days of the 1980s and early '90s under late owner Jack Kent Cooke and former coach Joe Gibbs, a partnership that produced three Super Bowl victories and cemented the love affair between the team and its fans. And Snyder has wasted no time shaking up a franchise that has gone six seasons without a playoff appearance.
On Friday, he fired about 25 people from the team's front office and stadium operations staff (more changes could take place soon, sources said). He also probed the viability of obtaining veteran NFL players such as Barry Sanders and Charles Haley, and he ordered a makeover of Redskin Park that includes painting the walls bright colors and installing new artificial turf for a practice field.
He also has put General Manager Charley Casserly's duties under the microscope, after announcing last spring that he would retain both Casserly and Coach Norv Turner. He also has put his players on notice that they must be in shape and willing to work hard.
"It's one of two things: Either he's real serious about winning, or he's just trying to scare everybody," Redskins defensive end Kenard Lang said last week. "I think it's the first one. I think he's real serious."
There likely would have been few, if any, changes had former Redskins president John Kent Cooke succeeded in buying his father's team. Jack Kent Cooke and Gibbs once had made life miserable for everyone around them in the days that followed a Redskins loss, but John Kent Cooke's style was more low-key. But Snyder, in outlining his plans for the team after the NFL owners unanimously approved his purchase on May 25, talked about putting pressure to win on his players, coaches and front office.
Snyder has made a fortune in marketing and he seems to know that the best marketing plan in sports is to field a winner. The Redskins' offseason ends Sunday with the opening of their Frostburg, Md., training camp, and they will return to work hoping to rebound from a 1998 season that began with seven straight losses en route to a 6-10 record.
"It all comes down to one thing: winning," Snyder said last week. "We are committed to winning."
Snyder has overhauled his stadium operations, marketing and public relations staffs. He had talked about his dissatisfaction with the overall game-day experience for fans at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, and had singled out parking problems at the stadium in particular.
Next could come moves on the football side of the operation. Turner may be given more authority over personnel decisions, and there could be some front-office additions that alter Casserly's responsibilities.
People familiar with Snyder's thinking say he believes that no one in the organization -- not Casserly, Turner or anyone else -- should feel too comfortable, and everyone should realize that job security will come only with success. Casserly and Turner have contracts that run through the 2001 season, but they essentially are on tryouts.
Casserly, as he pledged, has continued with his business-as-usual approach amid the speculation about his future duties. He has signed all of the team's draft picks except for the first-round choice, cornerback Champ Bailey. He has helped the Redskins make a few promising, low-cost free agent signings late in the offseason, and on Friday he all but completed an arrangement for veteran linebacker Ken Harvey to play this season for a reduced salary instead of retiring.
"I think Charley Casserly does an absolutely fantastic job," said agent Rick Smith, who represents the Redskins' second-round draft choice, offensive tackle Jon Jansen. "I think this year's draft shows his experience and expertise, and he's a heck of a guy. He's honest. When he tells you something, you can trust him. I didn't see any difference. I don't think they missed a beat."
Said Casserly: "I think we're a better football team now than we were at the end of last year."
One of the Redskins' biggest offseason moves may be still to come. They have three first-round picks in next year's draft, and Casserly acknowledged late last week that they're willing to part with at least one of those selections if the right trade comes along.
"We have inquired about the availability of different players that can help our football team," Casserly said. "Any of the deals that have been talked about so far haven't made sense from our perspective, but we will continue to explore ways to improve our team. We are not opposed to making deals that would involve a future draft pick or picks."
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman would cost the Redskins two first-round draft choices. So far, at least, the Detroit Lions have not set an asking price for Sanders. But Lions officials don't know whether the disgruntled running back will be a no-show for training camp, and the Redskins apparently are prepared to offer at least a first-round pick for Sanders if Detroit makes him available as the regular season nears.
Snyder appears eager to make a big-splash player acquisition, and the Redskins will look for other training-camp developments around the league if Sanders doesn't become available.
Snyder's get-tough policy could be tested in training camp by guard Tre Johnson, who has said he wants to take things slowly as he works his way back from last season's knee injury. But mostly, the Redskins seem relatively pleased with the team they'll assemble when training camp begins.
They'll be younger and quicker on defense, and they hope their February trade for quarterback Brad Johnson ensured improvement on offense. An offseason that began with defeats on the free agent market (including the loss of quarterback Trent Green) improved with a draft that yielded two potential starters in Bailey and Jansen and some bargain-basement free agent signings (offensive tackle Andy Heck, defensive end Marco Coleman and fullback Larry Centers).
Said Lang: "Even in the minicamps, we looked like a different team. . . . We know we don't want to go through the same thing as last year. That was the worst thing I ever went through."
And the Redskins know for certain that their new boss doesn't want to see last season repeated.
"I think he's going to be good for the team," Lang said. "All you can ask for is an owner who's going to do everything he can to help you win."