Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder vowed yesterday to make "imminent" changes if the team fails to make the playoffs this season, all but saying that Coach Norv Turner would be fired for missing the postseason for a sixth consecutive year. He also refused to rule out firing Turner during the season if the team starts poorly.
"He understands this is it," Snyder said of Turner. "I think at this point, everybody on the team is pretty clear that I'm not afraid of decisions. That's how you improve and get better in everything you do: Make decisions, move forward; make decisions, move forward."
Since taking control of the Redskins in July, Snyder has fired about 25 front-office employees at the team's practice facility and stadium. He also relieved longtime general manager Charley Casserly of his duties, reassigning him as a consultant to the owner. That decision was based primarily on Snyder's conclusion that Casserly and Turner could not work together productively.
In an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters yesterday, Snyder said he has grown to feel very comfortable with Turner and confident in his abilities. "He's a smart guy," Snyder said. "A smart guy."
But asked if Turner had a 16-game guarantee in his efforts to turn around last season's 6-10 squad, Snyder said, "There are no guarantees in life."
Snyder was reticent to discuss what he felt were the reasons behind the Redskins' six-year slump, in which the team has compiled a 36-59-1 record. "It's awkward for me," said Snyder, who bought the team and its 80,116-seat stadium for $800 million in July. "My predecessor, I'm sure, tried as hard as he could."
Snyder did say, however, that he felt the team has the necessary players to make the playoffs this season, adding that he felt the team had the talent to make the playoffs last season as well. He said he expects the many changes Turner has made to his starting roster to help produce the winning season he insists upon.
"The defense is almost completely turned over in terms of the starting lineup," Snyder said. Among the unit's key additions are defensive end Marco Coleman, safety Sam Shade and rookie cornerback Champ Bailey, who returned an interception for a touchdown in last week's 20-14 preseason victory over New England.
Moreover, Snyder said he felt that several returning players who didn't play to their abilities last season have arrived in better shape and are more motivated than a year ago.
Snyder attributed the weakness of the offensive and defensive lines last season to a failing of both players and coaches. "Our defense clearly wasn't aggressive enough last year. It was as simple as vanilla ice cream," he said, adding, "Publish that! I want you to."
While Snyder didn't second-guess the first-round selection of Bailey in the 1999 college draft, he did say he felt other areas could have been improved in the draft. He singled out the offensive line, which surrendered a team-record 61 sacks last season.
Snyder speaks daily with Turner and player personnel director Vinny Cerrato. An admirer of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Snyder said he does not intend to be a fixture on the sideline during games. "That's not my style," he said. "I'm not that intrusive. That's not my personality."
Similarly, Snyder said he would not attempt to make football decisions that he wasn't qualified to make.
But he did make clear he approved of Turner's demotion of left tackle Joe Patton after a lapse in coverage that led to a sack of quarterback Brad Johnson on the Redskins' fourth offensive play against New England. In the process, Snyder tipped his hand about who he sees as the Redskins' No. 2 quarterback, a question Turner had sought to keep open.
"Brad is a great quarterback, and Rodney [Peete] is terrific as well," Snyder said. "But those guys go down, we're down to third string. We can't afford to risk the 1-2. They're critical. He told me, `I'm putting [Patton] third string.' I said, `Great! That's fine.' "
Snyder didn't hesitate when asked to name his favorite Redskin, now that he has gotten to know his squad. "Darrell Green," he said. "He's great."
Asked his least favorite Redskin, Snyder paused a moment. "Let's see -- boy. Brad really took that hit last week," he said.