Charley Casserly began his career with the Washington Redskins in 1977 as an unpaid intern. Some nights, Casserly slept in his car to be closer to the office. His devotion paid off -- when Bobby Beathard resigned as general manager in 1989, Casserly was named Beathard's successor.
In 1991, the team Casserly helped build won the Super Bowl under then-coach Joe Gibbs.
But a decade is an eternity in the NFL, and yesterday the Redskins announced Casserly's tenure as general manager will soon end.
Casserly will relinquish his role Sept. 3 under a front-office overhaul directed by the team's new owner, Daniel M. Snyder, and become a consultant to Snyder.
Taking his place, as director of player personnel, is Vinny Cerrato, 39. Cerrato is credited with helping San Francisco 49ers' assemble their string of successful teams during the 1990s.
Among the Redskins' most loyal employees, Casserly ultimately fell victim to dissension with Coach Norv Turner, whom he helped hire in 1994.
Snyder had told NFL owners, when he courted their support of his $800 million bid to buy the Redskins, that he intended to keep both Turner and Casserly in their jobs. But the friction between them had become so untenable, Snyder said yesterday, that he decided to relieve Casserly of his general manager's duties and make him a consultant.
"My intent was to leave the team management in place," Snyder said, "but as I looked further into the situation, it became apparent to me how difficult it was for the parties [Casserly and Turner] to work together. It became apparent to me that the existing structure was not going to work."
According to sources, Casserly and Turner had trouble being in the same room together. In one meeting, they were unable to speak to each other and instead addressed their comments only to Snyder.
The central question, as Snyder studied his new team, was whether the Redskins' 32-47-1 record under Turner was because of Casserly's inability to find talented players or Turner's inability to coax the best out of his squad. That inquiry exacerbated the tension.
Neither Casserly nor Turner would comment on their relationship yesterday.
"I'm looking to the future," Casserly said, describing himself as happy about his new role, worked out with Snyder during the previous 24 hours. "It's the right move at the right time for me."
Said Turner: "Mr. Snyder has talked about from the start wanting to evaluate and do some things to give us a chance to get better. In three weeks, he has made suggestions to get us moving. I think Vinny Cerrato is going to help us."
Casserly's draft record included such regrettable first-round picks as Heath Shuler in 1994 and Andre Johnson in 1996. Many of his picks were made with Turner. In April, Casserly picked Georgia cornerback Champ Bailey in the first round and put the Redskins in a strong position for next year with trades that left them with three first-round draft picks in 2000.
In what he described as a "more than generous" settlement, Casserly will draw more than his annual salary, roughly $500,000, through the duration of his contract, which runs through 2000.
Casserly's consultant role will be substantive, sources said. Respected in the NFL, Casserly serves on the league's powerful competition committee and helped win passage this spring of a revised form of instant replay.
"Charley's years with the Redskins will continue to be an invaluable resource to me and to the team," Snyder said. "Charley has always been a great asset to the organization, and I look forward to him continuing as one of my top consultants for the future."
By dint of hard work and determination, Casserly earned a place on the team's staff in a fashion reminiscent of a Horatio Alger tale. As a Massachusetts high school teacher with coaching aspirations, he wrote letters to all 28 NFL teams in 1977, offering his services for free. Then-coach George Allen accepted, and Casserly moved south, renting an $8-a-night room at an Alexandria YMCA.
He rose from scout to assistant general manager, then general manager in 1989, working under three Redskin owners and alongside five head coaches.
Casserly expected John Kent Cooke would emerge as the team's buyer. When the contract was awarded instead to Howard Milstein on Jan. 10, Casserly offered his resignation. It wasn't accepted, but it was clear Milstein planned to fire him once the sale closed.
Casserly wrangled with trustees over signing free agents. He orchestrated a draft despite not knowing who would own the team. After Milstein abandoned the purchase on April 7, facing rejection from NFL owners, Milstein sued John Cooke and Casserly, accusing the pair of improperly interfering with his bid to buy the team. Should the suit go to trial, Casserly's expenses could be enormous. Casserly has yet to get an assurance that his legal fees will be paid by the Cooke estate, his employer at the time.
Yesterday, Casserly counted the 1991 Super Bowl victory over Buffalo as one of his proudest moments. "Not many people are fortunate enough to hold a Super Bowl trophy in a winning locker room," Casserly said. "That is your number one thrill."
Redskins Notes: The Redskins made it official yesterday and announced that they had re-signed veteran linebacker Ken Harvey to a one-year contract. The deal will pay Harvey a $500,000 salary and could be worth more than $2 million with incentives.