The team that Daniel M. Snyder bought last summer for an NFL-record $800 million has a 4-2 record and is tied for first place in the NFC Eastern Division entering today's game against the Chicago Bears at Redskins Stadium, one year after it went 0-7 to begin its sixth straight non-playoff season.
But Snyder was decidedly unhappy last week, and the way the Bethesda marketing executive and hard-charging owner of the Washington Redskins reacted to his club's 38-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium last Sunday quickly became the talk of the league.
Almost immediately after the game, Snyder met with Redskins Coach Norv Turner for about 30 minutes in the trainer's room, off the main locker room area. Afterward, Snyder was hoarse and said he still was angry.
In an interview five days later, Snyder said he doesn't regret meeting with Turner so quickly after the game and can live with the criticism that followed. He said the criticism doesn't bother him, and he doesn't plan to change his approach.
"I've met with Norv after every single game, whether it's been a victory or a loss," Snyder said. "That's a fact. I've met with him after every game, and I'm not going to change."
Snyder's postgame meeting with Turner and the reaction that it caused are typical of his 3 1/2-month tenure as owner of the Redskins: He is involved, and it is clear who is in charge.
He fired approximately 25 front-office employees and negotiated a settlement under which Charley Casserly stepped aside as the team's general manager. He ordered face-lifts of the club's training facility and stadium, and took former owner Jack Kent Cooke's name off the stadium in preparation for the 27-year, $205 million naming-rights deal with Federal Express that the team is about to complete. He told local television stations they would have to pay to use the name Redskins in shows directly about the team. He approved about 25 additional marketing deals for the team and met the terrible traffic and parking problems at the stadium head-on, promising improvements and making some.
He had the club pursue one big-name player after another on the trade front, from Barry Sanders to Jamal Anderson to Joey Galloway. He gave Turner the final say over the team's player-related personnel decisions, but said another non-playoff season likely would cost the coach his job. He was the catalyst for the deliberations that led to the hiring of veteran defensive coach Bill Arnsparger to help beleaguered defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
He made it clear he would take a no-nonsense approach when it came to his players' attitudes and conditioning, and his tone of accountability has sent shockwaves through the team's locker room. The Redskins cut veteran offensive lineman Joe Patton during training camp, and now they are investigating the circumstances surrounding punter Matt Turk's finger injury.
Snyder made his first public comment on the Turk matter during Friday's interview, and what he said sums up his entire approach in the early stages of his ownership tenure.
"I just want our players to be committed to winning," Snyder said. "I hope we continue to have the most committed players in the NFL, and I'll leave it at that. I hope he gets the message."
Still, questions persist about whether such turmoil is the blueprint for success in the NFL.
Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell, who has been in the league for nearly 40 years, questioned the timing of Snyder's postgame meeting with Turner last Sunday.
"An owner should show more patience," said Modell, who last summer filed a grievance with the league against Snyder when the Redskins hired marketing executive David Cope from the Ravens.
"When I first bought the Browns in 1961, it took me three years to get up the courage to vote in the [league owners'] meetings," Modell said. "You learn as you go along . . . and it takes time.
"In 1961, my first year, I went in the dressing room before a game to wish our coaching staff and players well. I sat on a duffel bag in the corner and heard my coach, Paul Brown, talk to our players. After the players filed out, Paul Brown came over to me and said, 'I never want to see you in here again. You violated our [players' and coaches'] sacred moment together. Don't ever do it again.'
"Brown was right," said Modell, who eventually fired the legendary coach. "You have to give them [coaches and players] their space," Modell said Friday. "The game--before, during and after--is their time. If you want to talk to your coach, do it in private, in your office . . . and it's preferable to it after the season."
Modell, who moved the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore four years ago under heavy criticism, added: "I credit Mr. Snyder for his enthusiasm, but enthusiasm can backfire. His team is 4-2. Their record and performance did not merit a meeting with his coach in the trainer's room after the game. I think he'll learn. Quality players react negatively to that. They take it as an affront to their coach and themselves. They do not like to see their coach get beat over the head. In end, you need all of them on your side."
Snyder declined to respond directly to Modell.
"I'm not going to address that," he said. "I wouldn't comment on someone else's style. Each person should have his own style. I just want to do everything I can to help this team win games and help this organization be successful. . . . Everybody knows I care."
Snyder indicated that, while the criticism doesn't bother him, some of the inaccuracies in the criticism do. The meeting was held in the trainer's room, he said, because there is no coach's office in the visitor's locker room at Texas Stadium.
"People said I was shouting," Snyder said. "That isn't true. I don't shout. It's not worth it. I do yell during the games. I yell, 'Go defense!' But that's just cheering from the [owner's] box."
Decisions to Make
The Redskins have the league's 30th-ranked defense. There was speculation that Snyder wanted to fire Nolan last week, but Snyder has told Turner that he won't be forced to fire any of his assistants during the season.
"Norv has all the power on decisions like that," Snyder said. "That speculation was silly."
Snyder's associates say he wanted to meet with Turner so quickly last Sunday so he could get answers from his coach while the game still was fresh in Turner's mind and the emotions still were raw. They say Snyder wanted to know how the team could come out so flat in such an important game, and what could be done to fix the club's defense.
The personnel changes the Redskins made last week were relatively minor. They signed cornerback Mark McMillian and linebacker James Francis. They cut safety Toby Wright and placed linebacker Fred Strickland on the injured reserve list.
Turner offers no objections to the timing or tone of last Sunday's postgame meeting. "The conversation I had with Dan after the game was very similar to the conversations I've had with him after each of the games," Turner said. "Now the timing was different, and that probably is what has brought most attention to this."
Redskins players said they had no problem with what Snyder did. They recall that after they squandered a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead in their season-opening loss to the Cowboys at home, Snyder delivered a hang-in-there speech to the team in the locker room following the game.
"If I own a lawn service and I want to talk to the guy on the lawn mower while he's cutting the yard, I can talk to him," veteran cornerback Darrell Green said. " . . . Where are the rules that say when an owner can talk to you and when he can't?"
Former NFL defensive lineman Howie Long compared Snyder's passion for winning to that of his former Oakland Raiders boss, Al Davis.
"You know what my philosophy was when I played? Al Davis was my boss," said Long, now a broadcaster for Fox. "Al Davis owns the football team. Al Davis can call a meeting whenever he wants to call a meeting."
If the NFL has second thoughts of backing Snyder's acquisition of the Redskins, league officials aren't showing it. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue recently appointed Snyder to the prestigious broadcast committee, which oversees the NFL's national TV contracts and Internet ventures.
So far, Snyder has not shied from controversy in his decisions that affect the Redskins' on-the-field product or off-the-field business. The team generated headlines when it decided to protect its trademark by charging local TV stations to use the word Redskins in the names of shows.
"Everyone else does the same thing," Snyder said. "People need to do their homework on that issue. We just brought ourselves in line with how it's done in the NFL."
Rich Daniel, the sports executive producer for WJLA-TV-7, confirmed that the practice is used in other NFL cities, and said: "It makes perfect business sense to me. If it were me, I would try to protect those stations that have paid me a pretty fair sum of money" in broadcast rights fees.
Redskins players praise Snyder's approach. "His sense of urgency and his will to win have spread among not just the players, but the whole organization," said defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson, who indicated he didn't think Turner's authority was undermined by last Sunday's locker-room meeting with Snyder. "I think it's great."
Said defensive end Marco Coleman: "You can tell he feels the same way we do. Win or lose, he feels it. To me, it seems like if he could, he would play. It seems like he's that kind of person."
If Snyder were to play, Coleman was asked, what position does he seem suited for? "He'd have to play linebacker," Coleman said.
Defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield compares Snyder's style to that of his former San Francisco 49ers boss, Edward DeBartolo Jr. If anything, Stubblefield says, Snyder has reinforced Turner's authority in the locker room, not undermined it.
He cites the speech that Snyder delivered the first time he addressed the players.
"The owner said it in front of everybody: 'This man, what he says goes. And I got his back,' " Stubblefield recalled.
Green was around for the Redskins' glory years under Cooke and Joe Gibbs, and he says he likes what he sees from Snyder.
"He's done everything he could possibly do, at least up to this point, to reestablish the image," Green said. " . . . He has brought a certain pressure on the players and coaches to get it done."
And when they don't get it done, Snyder will ask why.
"You don't get to where he is in life by not winning," Long said. "A loss for him, needless to say, ruins his week. I admire his passion. I don't fault him for that. There are those who say, 'This guy paid $800 million for a football team. He can call a meeting where he wants.' And there are those in the football world who say, 'It was poor timing.' But regardless, the buck stops there. He's the man. So I have no problem whatsoever with his desire to express his dissatisfaction with a loss in Dallas."
Staff writer George Solomon contributed to this report.