The Washington Redskins' new public relations director resigned yesterday on what would have been his third day of work, leaving the team with a skeletal communications staff on the eve of training camp.
John Konoza was introduced Monday as the Redskins' director of public relations after Friday's firing of about 25 front-office employees by new Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder. Konoza resigned early yesterday morning after what he described as several sleepless nights over the pressures of the job.
Konoza said his decision was based on the best interests of his wife and two young daughters. Snyder's spokesman, Karl Swanson, who will take over Konoza's duties on an interim basis, said Konoza's decision was driven by a lucrative counteroffer "that no sane person would refuse" from his previous employer, Rick Hunt Ford-Lincoln-Mercury-Dodge in Warrenton.
In the publicity-minded NFL, the public relations staff is the front porch of the team, helping shape its image in good times and bad. It is high-pressure, high-profile work that includes everything from scheduling interviews, public appearances and charitable work for players and coaches to handling crises and chronicling statistics. Short of the postseason, no time is busier than during training camp, when rosters are bloated and interest in the team, both locally and nationally, runs high. Training camp begins Sunday in Frostburg, Md.
Meanwhile yesterday, second-year running back Skip Hicks, the Redskins' third-round selection in the 1998 college draft, was identified as one of several current and former UCLA football players who had handicapped parking permits during his career as a Bruin. Hicks was issued three handicapped parking placards from December 1996 to June 1998, the Los Angeles Times reported. If convicted of illegally possessing the placards, the players could face up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail.
Hicks's agent, Howard F. Silber, said in a telephone interview that Hicks did not deny that he had the placard but insisted he never used it to park in a handicapped space. Rather, Silber said, the placard was a way to skirt the university's costly parking fees.
"Unfortunately, this seemed to be a common scheme with the UCLA football program for a number of years," Silber said, "and it was simply a way for the college students to obtain free parking on campus. This was not a way to park in handicapped spaces. . . . It was poor judgment on Skip's part, as he and I have discussed. He's sorry he's done it, but he can assure you it was never used to park in a handicapped spot."
Hicks was traveling back to the East Coast yesterday, according to Silber, and could not be reached to comment.
Also yesterday, Redskins officials worked out cornerback Ryan McNeil at Redskin Park. McNeil, 28, had a good showing, according to Coach Norv Turner, who was joined on the field by General Manager Charley Casserly and members of the coaching and scouting staffs.
"He's an experienced player who has got very good instincts and makes a lot of plays," Turner said.
But it's unclear whether or how McNeil would fit into the Redskins' plans for their secondary. Veteran Darrell Green is one starting cornerback and first-round draft pick Champ Bailey is projected as the other, but Bailey has yet to sign a contract and may miss a portion of training camp. The Redskins are offering a five-year deal worth roughly $9.5 million. Bailey's agent, Jack Reale, is seeking a four-year contract worth roughly $12.8 million.
McNeil's agent, Brian A. Ransom, said McNeil was entertaining offers from three NFL teams and had drawn feelers from two others. But McNeil is especially interested in the Redskins, Ransom said, partly because of the stability Snyder is expected to bring.
"You've got a new ownership, a clear direction and you know more about where things are headed," Ransom said.
As for turmoil in the public relations department, Swanson played down the changes. Swanson said Snyder would choose Konoza's successor from the candidates who were interviewed initially rather than launch a new search. In the meantime, Swanson said, his 15 years of experience at the Associated Press would serve him well as interim public relations director.
"We don't really see it as a problem," Swanson said. "It's too bad, but you shrug your shoulders."
Konoza, who had worked for the Redskins' public relations staff a decade ago, said he considered the job "the opportunity of a lifetime."
"No one knows better than I the amount of time and dedication that's involved in that endeavor," Konoza said. "I spent a couple of sleepless nights there knowing what's involved -- especially with the onset of training camp. I found my peace at about 4 o'clock this morning."
CAPTION: Skip Hicks is one of several past and present UCLA football players who used handicapped parking permits.