The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After a decade of change everywhere but the top, Redskins finally move on from Bruce Allen

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, left, announced the firing of team president Bruce Allen on Monday morning. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Over the past decade, as the Washington Redskins’ performance faltered and their attendance diminished, change occurred at every level of the franchise except for the top. Owner Daniel Snyder fired coaches, cycled through executives and overturned rosters. But he stayed loyal to team president Bruce Allen, the Super Bowl coach’s son who arrived in 2009 as a savior and became, over a string of dismal seasons and messy personnel changes, the primary antagonist of an angry, shrinking fan base.

Fans mocked Allen for his public utterances — he once said the Redskins were “winning off the field,” and this year, at a news conference announcing the firing of coach Jay Gruden after an 0-5 start, he declared, “Actually, the culture is damn good.” He inspired the social media hashtag #FireBruceAllen. Monday morning, the day after a 3-13 season ended, those fans received their wish.

A franchise in constant upheaval during Snyder’s futile two-decade tenure, the Redskins conducted a sweeping change Monday, perhaps the most momentous yet considering Allen’s prominence in the franchise and proximity to Snyder.

The Redskins fired Allen, an attempt at offering demoralized fans hope after a season that included three victories and oceans of empty seats at FedEx Field. As they shuffled other personnel beneath Allen, the Redskins arranged to meet with Ron Rivera in the hope of hiring him as their next coach, potentially turning to a respected leader who coached in the Super Bowl four seasons ago.

The Redskins have not won a playoff game since the 2005 season. Their pursuit of a new stadium, which Allen had been running, remains in limbo. Washington’s 3-13 season, which culminated Sunday with a blowout loss at the rival Dallas Cowboys, dropped its all-time record to exactly 603-603-28, marking the first time the franchise hasn’t been above .500 since the final day of the 1975 season.

Svrluga: With Bruce Allen gone, Dan Snyder has no more excuses

By afternoon, a white moving truck parked in front of the main entrance to the Redskins’ offices. Workers wrapped furniture in plastic and wheeled it into the trailer as part of the team’s season-ending clean-out.

“I don’t know if I have the answer to what needs to change,” running back Adrian Peterson said. “But obviously things are changing here.”

The Redskins’ day started with the 7 a.m. announcement that Allen, a close Snyder confidant who had a hand in every major franchise decision over the past decade, had been fired. The Redskins compiled a 62-100-1 record under Allen and appeared in two playoff games, winning neither.

“Like our passionate fan base, I recognize we have not lived up to the high standards set by great Redskins teams, coaches and players who have come before us,” Snyder said in a statement released by the team. “As we reevaluate our team leadership, culture and process for winning football games, I am excited for the opportunities that lie ahead to renew our singular focus and purpose of bringing championship football back to Washington D.C.”

The shake-up continued as the Redskins fired longtime head trainer Larry Hess, according to a person familiar with the situation, and it’s unclear what additional changes might come to the team’s front office. Hess, often described as a close friend of Snyder’s, had been with the Redskins for 18 years. The team’s medical staff was put in the spotlight this season amid the holdout of star left tackle Trent Williams, who accused the Redskins of misdiagnosing a growth on his forehead that turned out to be cancerous.

Snyder’s dismissal of Allen served as an olive branch for many disenchanted fans, even if his exit is only the latest in a string of changes under Snyder. The Redskins have cycled through leadership on both the business and football sides under Allen for years, hiring and firing coach Mike Shanahan, general manager Scot McCloughan, respected business executive Brian Lafemina and so many others.

“I went from zero hope to some,” said Danny Rouhier, a radio host for 106.7 the Fan. “That’s valuable, I think. That little sliver, where the door is cracked open again, where you might want to believe and look forward to Sundays instead of dreading them, is a welcome change.”

From ‘winning off the field’ to ‘damn good’ culture: Bruce Allen’s Redskins tenure in quotes

In October, Redskins fan Chuck Coltman paid $1,600 to fly a banner reading “Fire Bruce Allen” over Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., while Washington played the Dolphins. Even though Coltman had once heralded Allen’s arrival, he allowed himself Monday to buy into the Redskins again.

“Now I actually have a reason to feel optimistic. Was I happy when Bruce Allen joined the organization and Vinny Cerrato was gone? Absolutely,” Coltman said, referring to the team’s onetime general manager. “I really was optimistic then, and I felt like there was a good chance that there would be a change. With Mr. Snyder, we can’t argue with his desire to win. … I may be wrong, but I feel he maybe now has learned that culture is important and you’ve got to leave the football decisions to football people.”

In the Redskins’ locker room Monday morning, players packed their belongings and huddled to speak in hushed tones. A few made use of the ping-pong table, but most shuffled to and from lockers with hoods up and faces in phones. Several notable players — included injured quarterback Alex Smith, who many close to the team say has gained Snyder’s ear — expressed uncertainty about the future.

Allen, who had told reporters after Sunday’s game that he would speak with them Monday, was not available for comment.

Rivera traveled to the Washington area Monday with his wife ahead of an expected meeting with Snyder, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. If he and the Redskins reach an agreement, Rivera will need to right a franchise in deep disarray, attempting to succeed in a place where accomplished coaches such as Shanahan, Marty Schottenheimer and Steve Spurrier exited with scarred reputations.

“There are some cultural things that need to be addressed,” quarterback Case Keenum said.

Rivera, 57, is one of the most respected figures in the NFL, regarded for his ability to build camaraderie and toughness through both support and discipline. He led the Carolina Panthers to a 76-63-1 record over eight-plus seasons before new owner David Tepper fired him this fall. But Rivera has not confronted a situation like Washington’s. While many fans rejoiced over Allen’s ouster, Snyder himself remains.

Snyder has spent more time away from Redskins Park in recent years, often traveling in Europe on his superyacht. But people familiar with the situation say he remains heavily involved in team decision-making, such as his influence in selecting quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the first round of this year’s draft.

The owner’s approach without Allen may grow less restrained, one person familiar with the team’s inner workings said. While Allen’s direction produced poor results, he was one of the few people Snyder listened to and often acted as a governor on Snyder’s impulses. Allen took part in almost every major decision for the franchise on business and football matters, wielding as much influence as almost any NFL team executive.

Snyder has grown frustrated with his inability to deliver a winning team, and those close to him have difficulty predicting how he’ll manage the franchise without Allen.

“Now, Dan is a wild card with a lot of money and a lot of impatience,” the person familiar with the team’s inner workings said on the condition of anonymity so as to offer a more candid assessment. “This may have caused a lot more trouble than people realize.”

Monday brought change to Washington, perhaps the most significant version yet under Snyder. Whether it leads to real change on the field is still to be determined.

“I’d like to tell everybody that, hey, Bruce Allen is gone, and things are going to be way better,” the person said. “I’m not sure that’s true.”

Scott Allen, Kareem Copeland, Les Carpenter and Sam Fortier contributed to this report.

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