The backdrop — a Senior Bowl practice under ashen skies nearly 1,000 miles from the team’s practice facility — seemed fitting for a man who has endured calls for his firing from fans after posting a 59-84-1 record in nine years of leading a proud organization. Allen offered smiles, a few of which were forced, but often stared coldly as he responded to questions about being brought back for a 10th season despite a litany of issues consuming the franchise, which has made just five playoff appearances since 1992.
“Our season was a bit of a roller coaster,” he said. “We had great hopes early in the year. Halfway through the season, we were in good shape. We didn’t finish strong. We’re not going to use injuries as an excuse because we had opportunities to win some games at the end that we didn’t. It’s that determination that we need and that desire we need in order to get into the playoffs this year. We will have some new players, and obviously some new coaches will be on the staff. We’re looking forward to the season.”
Fan frustration boiled over this season, and much of the ire was directed at Allen. Attendance dwindled and was at peak embarrassment levels in the season finale, when huge swaths of FedEx Field were empty and the seats that were filled mostly contained fans of NFC East rival Philadelphia. The team brought in a new business staff last offseason — led by Brian Lafemina, who was named president of business operations and chief operating officer — to allow Allen to direct his energy toward football. But Lafemina and two other executives were let go after the season, and a fourth resigned.
Allen declined to discuss the personnel decisions, which shifted some of the team’s business responsibilities back under his purview, before he was asked about his own accountability for the squad’s lack of success.
“We were 7-9,” he said. “It wasn’t the players' 7-9. It wasn’t the coaches' 7-9. It was everybody was 7-9. [Vice president of player personnel Doug Williams] and his staff, we have to find some better players. We have to find some healthy, better players to come in, and the coaches have to put them in the right position to win. We’re in the middle of the pack, and we’ve been in the middle of the pack the last three seasons. It means you’re close. It means you’re close to being better. We have to find the right ingredients and right chemistry to do that.”
The team had a league-high 24 players on injured reserve in 2018 and 23 in 2017. One of those injuries was a broken fibula and tibia to the right leg of quarterback Alex Smith, whose career is now up in the air. Allen expressed uncertainty about him playing during the 2019 season, further clouding Washington’s outlook at the most important — and perhaps most expensive — position on their roster. A four-year, $94 million pact with $71 million guaranteed, signed before last season, will count $20.4 million against Washington’s 2019 salary cap. Allen was noncommittal when asked whether a quarterback is now a priority in the draft or free agency.
Still, “frustrated” might not be a strong enough word to sum up fans’ feelings toward Allen, team owner Daniel Snyder and the organization as a whole. The hashtag #FireBruceAllen trended on Twitter, and an online petition calling for his ouster has surpassed 13,000 signatures.
Allen was asked about the disconnect between the fans’ feeling of futility and his optimism for the future.
“Well, you see our standards,” Allen said. “We’re 7-9. We went through some heartbreaking injuries for the players, and we kept our team together. I think they saw a good football team. I know where we were for 10 games, and we have to learn how to finish the season. ...
“The passion of our fans is fantastic. They want us to win. We hear from them. I know exactly what they want. They want to win football games, and that is our job, trying to find a way to win football games.”
So why is he the right person for that job?
“I share their passion for this franchise,” Allen said. “I share their passion for the things that we can accomplish, and we're going to get this whole organization believing in us.”
There was more blowback from the fans and the general public after the team claimed linebacker Reuben Foster in late November, two days after Foster was charged with domestic violence while staying at the San Francisco 49ers' team hotel in Tampa, leading to the squad releasing him. In January, a Florida prosecutor dropped the charges. Foster had been charged with domestic violence once before in 2018, but those charges were also dropped.
Foster remains on the commissioner’s exempt list, which means he is on paid leave and able to appear at Redskins headquarters.
The Washington Post reported that Allen had masterminded the decision to acquire Foster. Coach Jay Gruden and Williams both later said it was a franchise-wide decision.
“We discussed it,” Allen said. “We went back to the reports we had a year ago from him coming out of college. Think we had a good sense of who the person was and did our own quick investigation of some of the facts that we had heard. We’re fortunate that the outcome was somewhat anticipated. We did our homework on what we had to do on the player himself. And we know a lot of people who know him. We’ll see. He still has a ways to go in order to get on the field. Right now, he’s doing everything correct.”
The extent of the Redskins’ investigation remains unclear, and Allen declined to discuss what they investigated.
The franchise seemingly has decided to run the season back in 2019 with a similar staff. Gruden was brought back despite a 35-44-1 record and one playoff appearance in five seasons. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was retained despite discussions with former Jets coach Todd Bowles and former interim Browns coach Gregg Williams. Allen said Manusky was involved in those interviews as they try “to find the winning combination.” He added that they will be talking with several coaches over the next month to glean ideas, and that Gruden will probably talk with 20 to 30 more coaches in the near future.
Special teams coach Ben Kotwica, inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray left the team for lateral moves.
“We looked at the program,” Allen said in explaining the decision to keep Gruden. “We felt the direction of the team was good. We didn’t get over that hurdle this year. [We’re] giving him the opportunity to build a staff and hopefully have a healthy team for the 2019 season.”
Allen and Snyder have been leading efforts to build a new stadium, a long and arduous process to this point. He explained that the original rendering, which included a moat, was scrapped “a few years ago,” but it’s still “feasible” for a new stadium to get done by the time the team’s lease of FedEx Field expires in 2027. Allen claimed the team can’t discuss the possibility of building on the site of RFK Stadium, believed to be Snyder’s preference, until the District and federal government work out a lease.
“We’ve been having great dialogue with all the leaders, from the governor to the mayor, and we haven’t come to a final conclusion yet,” Allen said. “But we want what’s best for our fans. This stadium isn’t just going to be for a few years; this is a lifetime commitment for the Redskins. It’s going to be where the Redskins will play for 50 years. Our goal is to build the best sports stadium in the world, and we believe that’s going to happen.”