When Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder visited the team's training camp this week, one of the first people he sought out was Sonny Jurgensen. Snyder, minority owner Fred Drasner and Jurgensen sat in the tiny press box that overlooks the main field at Frostburg State University, puffing cigars and talking about the team. When Coach Norv Turner entered the press box later, he was greeted by a wall of smoke.
The next day, Jurgensen's cell phone rang as he watched a practice. It was Snyder, wanting to know how the team looked.
Snyder, a Bethesda marketing executive and the NFL's youngest owner at 34, had no background in professional sports before he and his partners purchased the Redskins for a record $800 million. But several months ago he sought out Jurgensen, one of the team's broadcasters, and Jurgensen has become a trusted unofficial adviser. The two discuss virtually every aspect of the team, and clearly Snyder acts on at least some of what he's told.
"He was just asking me questions," Jurgensen said of how his relationship with Snyder began. "He wanted to know what I thought about things. He wanted to know what I thought about what this team needed, why it hadn't been successful, where was it going. I told him if he didn't want the truth, not to call me.
"I think he's going to be a good owner. I think his intentions are there. Yes, he's excited about being involved in the NFL. It's a big thrill to own the Washington Redskins. But he wants to make the Washington Redskins what they were. He wants to win, and you like that. You like his commitment to that. We haven't had this."
Jurgensen, a Hall of Fame quarterback for the Redskins from 1964 to 1974, says Snyder never offered him a position in the team's front office, and he's not seeking one.
"I thought he was an informed fan in my first conversations with him," Jurgensen said. "He knows what he's talking about. He's so energetic about wanting to win now. It's not about wanting to win down the road and let's build this franchise. Unrealistic or realistic, he wants to win right now. He is doing everything in his power to make them turn this thing around now instead of later. And from what I've seen in camp, I think he's doing it. He's doing everything he can do. Now it's up to these guys to do what they can do."
Snyder said from the outset of his ownership tenure that he expected the Redskins to end their six-season playoff drought this season, and he intended to apply pressure to his players, coaches and front office to try to ensure that it happens.
He fired approximately 25 front-office employees and arranged a financial settlement with Charley Casserly, who agreed to step aside as the team's general manager and serve the remainder of his contract as a consultant. He's painted the team's training facility, has started to use the name Redskins Stadium as an alternative for Jack Kent Cooke Stadium -- probably a precursor to the stadium's naming rights being sold.
Snyder hired Vinny Cerrato to be the club's director of player personnel, and Cerrato overhauled the team's scouting department. Snyder gave Turner the final say over all player-related personnel decisions. But it also is clear that Snyder will seek a new coach -- and perhaps offer that coach the title of general manager as well -- if Turner doesn't get results.
Jurgensen said: "I think there's pressure on Norv, and he recognizes that. What Snyder has done with the changes in the organization -- and I'm not saying who was at fault -- he has eliminated all those alibis and excuses. All that, `It was him,' that's no longer there. The general manager is no longer there who's saying one thing and Norv is saying another, and they don't agree and they are at odds with each other. That's no longer there, and therefore that excuse isn't going to be there. Therefore there's pressure on [Turner]. He's given more responsibility picking his people."
Snyder has said he doesn't think the pressure to win being applied from the top of the organization was sufficient in recent seasons under former team president John Kent Cooke. Jurgensen agrees.
"I think it's been like Club Med, I really do," Jurgensen said. "You could go in on Mondays and observe this team, and you couldn't tell whether they'd won or lost the day before. I just didn't think that concern for winning was there enough. There was concern but it wasn't happening, so it got pushed aside. I don't think that's going to be the case this year."
Jurgensen said offseason additions such as quarterback Brad Johnson, fullback Larry Centers and defensive end Marco Coleman have been a boost. "The leadership of this football team is coming from Larry Centers and Marco Coleman," Jurgensen said. "They're the leaders. It's kind of strange that you bring in players from other teams and, all of a sudden, they're the leaders. They're your vocal leaders, and they're your on-the-field leaders. It's something they've needed. . . . When you look and talk to [Redskins defensive tackle] Dana Stubblefield and he says, `Marco Coleman makes you hustle or he'll run over you,' it's a different ballgame.
"You can see their attitude on the field, and the players talk about it. Practices have all been better. It's a better football team than they've had in a while. Of course, the big thing is, you have an experienced quarterback. That makes a big, big difference. The ball is thrown on time. He understands the offense. He's going to the right people with the football. He's providing leadership. He's very competitive. They've never had an offensive leader. That's what's going to make this a better football team."
Jurgensen said he thinks there's a "good possibility" that the Redskins will be a playoff team this season, particularly given the weaknesses of the other clubs in the NFC East. At the very least, Jurgensen said, Redskins fans will get to see a more intense, competitive team than the one that opened last season with seven straight losses en route to a 6-10 record.
"There's a different energy level, a different commitment," Jurgensen said. "It's not only with the owner, it's a dedication thing when you look at the players. It's a completely different attitude than the last five or six years here. It looks good."