Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder has told Coach Norv Turner that Turner's job is secure through the rest of the season, sources close to the situation said yesterday.
Turner's job security has been called into question during the Redskins' stretch of three losses in their past four games that followed their 4-1 start. But sources familiar with Snyder's thinking said yesterday that Snyder intends to keep his promise to Turner that the coach will not be fired during the season.
Snyder and Turner declined to comment on the matter yesterday. Snyder said during training camp that he likely would dismiss Turner if the Redskins fail to reach the playoffs this season. Snyder also indicated then that he would not hesitate to make a coaching change during the season if he felt circumstances warranted it, but he apparently has changed his thinking.
Even so, Sunday's game against the New York Giants at FedEx Field is among the biggest for Turner during his 5 1/2 seasons as head coach. The Redskins are tied with the Giants and Dallas Cowboys for first place in the NFC East, and they cannot afford for their season to unravel any further following consecutive losses to the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles.
Turner did not play down the significance of the game late yesterday.
"If you want to be in the playoffs, you have to win at home and you have to win division games," Turner said. "I don't see how it could be any bigger of a game."
The Redskins under Turner are 37-51-1 and haven't reached the playoffs. The franchise last participated in a postseason game on Jan. 9, 1993, when Joe Gibbs was head coach.
Snyder has a reputation for being a demanding owner, but he has demonstrated some patience during the Redskins' recent struggles. When several of his top advisers recommended that defensive coordinator Mike Nolan be fired, Snyder left the decision to Turner and Turner opted to retain Nolan. According to sources, Snyder has told Turner that the coach won't be forced to fire any of his assistants during the season, although Nolan and special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel have been under intense public scrutiny virtually all season.
Snyder's postgame meeting with Turner in the locker room after the Redskins' loss in Dallas on Oct. 24 produced criticism of the owner. But sources have said Turner became more animated than Snyder during that meeting, and Snyder seems to have a relatively smooth working relationship with Turner and director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato.
His associates say Snyder wants to see Turner succeed, make the Redskins a playoff team and retain his job beyond this season. But people close to Snyder say he has been distressed by the team's 1-3 downward spiral. Some Snyder associates say they believe the team lacks intensity. Meantime, Turner has come under fire publicly in the aftermath of last Sunday's 35-28 loss in Philadelphia.
The Redskins of the Turner era have been unable to keep once-promising seasons from coming undone. A 7-1 beginning gave way to a 2-6 finish in 1996. A 4-2 start in '97 produced a final record of 8-7-1. Fullback Larry Centers said this week that the Redskins' confidence "is pretty fragile."
If the Redskins can beat the Giants on Sunday, they would remain at least tied for first place in the NFC East and would have a chance to push their record to 7-4 by winning the Eagles rematch at home the following weekend. If they lose to the Giants, though, they would be a .500 team on a three-game losing streak, and it would become increasingly difficult for them to right their wrongs.
Centers said he supports the team's coaches, and hopes his teammates are doing so as well.
"We're in the trenches together right now," he said. "You can't start to fight against the guys in the trenches with you."
Sounding perhaps more hopeful than convinced, he added: "We'll be okay."