Washington Redskins Coach Norv Turner scored perhaps the biggest victory of his NFL career last month, when he won a power struggle with the team's longtime general manager, Charley Casserly. Casserly announced July 23 that he'll resign from the job he has held since 1989, forced out by the team's new owner, Daniel M. Snyder, nine days after Snyder's $800 million purchase of the team officially closed.
According to interviews with Snyder and others familiar with his thinking, the decision to move Casserly from general manager to a consultant to Snyder and keep Turner shouldn't be read so much as a TKO on Turner's part. Rather, it was a carefully considered move based on multiple conclusions Snyder reached relatively quickly after taking control of the team. Snyder began his ownership with an open mind about keeping both men in their jobs through the 1999 season, having told NFL owners that was his intention.
But in relatively short order, Snyder:
* Became convinced Turner and Casserly couldn't work together.
* Wanted to make a major change that would swiftly put his stamp on the team and signal the advent of a new era.
* Realized that the timing made it virtually impossible to replace his head coach because it was days before the beginning of training camp and most every desirable coaching candidate was under contract.
* Was swayed, finally, by the respective personalities. Snyder felt more comfortable with Turner than with Casserly. Shortly after taking control, Snyder began peppering both with his ideas for re-making the Redskins, suggesting trade scenarios and free agent acquisitions. Turner was more open to Snyder's ideas and portrayed a "why not" attitude toward new ways of doing things.
Casserly, by contrast, did little to court the new boss. While impressed with Snyder's energy and enthusiasm, Casserly told him many of his ideas and targets of player acquisitions wouldn't work.
For the 34-year-old Snyder, a Bethesda businessman, the decision boiled down to an analysis of the risks versus rewards: Make a change now, or let things play out one more season.
By the middle of Snyder's first week in full control, about July 22, he'd concluded that Turner and Casserly could not work together. In meetings between the three, Snyder felt Turner and Casserly would not communicate with each other, to Snyder's dismay.
"My intent was to leave team management in place," Snyder said the day Casserly announced his resignation. "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."
So Snyder decided to fire Casserly, throwing his support behind Turner, giving him total control of all personnel decisions and making his expectation clear to everyone in the organization: make the playoffs. The previous week, Snyder fired about 25 front office and stadium employees.
Casserly, who has a contract worth about $500,000 a year through the 2000 season, will receive a pay increase when his role changes Sept. 3. Former San Francisco 49ers player personnel director Vinny Cerrato was hired with the same title for the Redskins. Snyder has not assigned anyone the title of general manager.
That affords Snyder the ability, if he wants to change coaches at the end of the season, to recruit a big-name coach the way Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen did when he lured Mike Holmgren from the Green Bay Packers with the dual titles of head coach and general manager.
For now, Turner seems buoyed by the reorganization and his relationship with Snyder. There was an extra dose of intensity in his voice and more vigor than normal in his gait this week at training camp, where the Redskins will hold four weeks of practice in preparation for their season opener, Sept. 12 against the Dallas Cowboys.
As the Redskins enter their sixth season under Turner, the question is: How patient will Snyder be with Turner if the team starts poorly? If Snyder's first days as Redskins owner have accomplished anything, they have made clear that everyone at Redskin Park--including Turner--is on an audition. Turner's five-year record is 32-47-1, with no playoff appearances.
The front-office power struggle doesn't seem to have affected the players.
"As players, we really can't worry about that," said running back Brian Mitchell, a Redskin since 1990. "You can't control that. When you start worrying about that phase of the game, you basically lose sight of what you have to do, and you end up looking for a job."
After taking over the Redskins, Snyder found his interchanges with Casserly increasingly frustrating. Casserly didn't think that acquiring Minnesota Vikings guard Randall McDaniel was worth a first-round draft pick, for example. He counseled against acquiring defensive end Charles Haley, who had a history of back problems, and running back Lawrence Phillips, who had a history of legal problems. And he pointed out financial obstacles to adding other marquee players on Snyder's wish list.
Snyder "doesn't like to be told no," Casserly told friends. "I tried to be honest with my boss."
The day he announced his decision to move Casserly aside, Snyder said he'd concluded that the tension between Turner and Casserly had become untenable. Others at Redskin Park say their conflict has been overblown. While the two sniped at one another behind closed doors, both worked hard to co-exist professionally during the past six years. Sources have said the two rarely have spoken in the past week.
But the conflict apparently was lost on players.
"I never saw any at all," Mitchell said, when asked about tension between Turner and Casserly. "If there is or if there was, they did some good acting because they sure held it away. I never saw anything like that. I thought they worked well together."
More often than not during their five seasons together, Turner and Casserly collaborated on the team's high draft picks and major free agent acquisitions. Casserly deferred to Turner in drafting quarterback Heath Shuler in 1994 and wide receiver Michael Westbrook in 1995.
"Could we work together?" Turner asked, rhetorically. "I think you look at the things that happened over the last four months, I thought we did some productive things. Obviously once Mr. Snyder came in, I think everyone knew there were things he intended to evaluate and make some decisions about. In his evaluation, he saw things where we struggled."
Turner and Cerrato appear to be getting on well, consulting frequently on football matters before, during and after practice.
"Norv and I, we're not looking for glory," said Cerrato, 39. "We're looking for wins. We both want to win. That's why we got along with Dan [Snyder]. Norv and I are both about winning. That's all we care about."
Casserly, meanwhile, watches training-camp workouts at a distance from Cerrato. Technically still general manager, Casserly becomes a consultant to Snyder on Sept. 3. But many of his responsibilities already have shifted to Cerrato.
Casserly, who with former team president John Kent Cooke was sued on May 17 by Howard Milstein for undermining the Milstein-Snyder purchase agreement last winter, is hopeful either the Cooke estate or Redskins will cover his legal bills. The Redskins believe the estate should cover that expense.
Many of Casserly's first-round draft picks have been criticized since he succeeded Bobby Beathard as the club's general manager in 1989. In April, Casserly pulled off what many analysts graded as one of the NFL's more successful drafts. With the Redskins' first-round pick (fifth overall), Casserly made trades that acquired Georgia cornerback Champ Bailey and netted a first-round pick--the Redskins' third--for the 2000 draft.
That stockpile of high picks is a powerful rebuilding tool. Snyder could use one to make a major trade now, upgrade several positions next spring or bundle them to land a franchise quarterback, something the Redskins have lacked since the mid-1980s. Snyder wants to make an impact now.
"If you look at our last three or four drafts, we've drafted good players," Turner said. "You're not going to hit on every guy, but with Stephen Alexander, Skip Hicks, Stephen Davis, Greg Jones and Derek Smith, we've brought in good players.
"When you're talking about personnel, you're working to get everyone on the same page. There are going to be differences of opinion, but you work through them."
Casserly chose not to comment for this story.
Had Milstein's group won NFL approval for ownership instead of Snyder, it's likely both Turner and Casserly would have been fired. The Milstein group had inquired about the availability of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, as Haslett later confirmed, and considered at least one college coach. Milstein also hired Cerrato as a consultant and likely successor to Casserly. Cerrato, who had been let go upon Bill Walsh's return to San Francisco, was recommended by Jacksonville Jaguars executive David Seldin--a member of the Milstein organization.
Cerrato never met Milstein last winter, but he did meet Snyder, then a minority partner with Milstein. After Milstein withdrew his offer to the NFL, facing sure league rejection April 7, Snyder emerged as the frontrunner overnight. Soon after, Cerrato phoned to ask that Snyder keep him in mind for a job.
Cerrato, a recruiting coordinator for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame (1986 to 1990), served as an informal sounding board for Snyder after moving back to South Bend, Ind., in April.
Cerrato said he received three job offers during that time, but they weren't what he wanted. "I wanted to be where the owner was committed to winning," Cerrato said. "A lot of places don't provide that. I wanted to work for an owner who was trying to hit the home run instead of the single."
As speculation about Casserly's tenure swirled, Snyder stopped short of extending a vote of confidence. Asked about his future, Snyder and his associates spoke in the present tense, affirming that Casserly was, in fact, the Redskins' general manager.
Casserly realized Snyder's thinking had shifted to the past tense when his new boss arrived at Redskin Park on July 22 with a settlement offer for him to step aside. After a lengthy discussion, Casserly said he needed a night to think about it.
Casserly's negotiations with Snyder continued the next morning. That's when he learned Cerrato was joining the staff. Later in the day, Snyder announced the changes.
Casserly's final public act as Redskins general manager came the next afternoon. As was the case most Saturday mornings, Casserly was the first and only Redskins employee at his desk, working the phones in shorts and a casual shirt.
In mid-afternoon, he changed into the nice set of clothes he had brought with him to announce Bailey's five-year, $9.64 million signing. Casserly stood on one side of the press room for the announcement, while Snyder and Turner stood on the opposite side of the room, shoulder-to-shoulder.