With Allen not replaced by another lead executive, the Redskins’ business operations have been chaotic in recent months, several people with knowledge of the situation said, and there has been uncertainty as to which executives have direct access to Snyder. New coach Ron Rivera has been widely praised inside the team for the way he has rebuilt its football operations, establishing clear expectations for the players and delivering a plan for the other coaches amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. But the rest of the organization at times has been paralyzed by the lack of a single decision-maker, these people said.
Now, as Snyder faces the greatest crisis of his 21-year ownership — key sponsors, advertisers and NFL officials demanding he change the team’s name — he will contemplate the move with a small, insular circle of advisers, the top two of whom are not even team employees, have never worked for an NFL team and have little connection to Rivera or the rest of the organization’s staff. Multiple league officials said Snyder has no choice but to change a name that is offensive to many and is a dictionary-defined racial slur, but they added he is not coming to that decision easily.
“He’s bunkered in,” one person with knowledge of Snyder’s deliberations said. The individual, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to be able to discuss more freely sensitive issues surrounding the state of the franchise.
For most of the past 10 years, Snyder leaned heavily on Allen to provide advice and run the day-to-day operations. Though many employees found Allen’s leadership style to be dismissive and suffocating, he “kept things running,” one former employee said.
During Allen’s decade in the front office, he was effective in ensuring it was his voice in Snyder’s ear, along with that of Snyder’s personal financial adviser, Karl Schreiber. Allen did so by undercutting the influence of Scot McCloughan, the team’s general manager from 2015 to 2017; Brian Lafemina, president of business operations and chief operating officer for eight months before being let go in December 2018; and others.
Snyder’s circle is now dominated by Schreiber, who is the chief financial officer of Snyder Enterprises — and not a Redskins employee. Schreiber, who manages Snyder’s personal businesses interests and his River House estate in Potomac, is also director of the Original Americans Foundation that Snyder formed in 2014 to support the needs of tribal communities and counter groups calling for the team to change its name.
In confronting major challenges and complex issues since he bought the Redskins in 1999, Snyder has retained blue-chip strategists such as former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, former White House communications officer Julia M. Payne, lawyer and lobbyist Lanny Davis, communications consultant and pollster Frank Luntz and professionals from global communications firm Burson-Marsteller.
But Snyder has cycled through strategists just as he cycles through coaches. The Redskins have had eight head coaches and two interim head coaches in his tenure.
According to two people who worked directly with Snyder on Redskins issues, his decision-making style is driven more by personal whim than by expert counsel.
“He goes through his Rolodex and calls random people until he gets an opinion he likes. And he follows it,” said a person who worked with Snyder for seven years.
Said another person with five years of direct experience: “He seeks advice, but he only hears what he wants to hear. His favorite phrase is ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about!’ ”
Most recently, Snyder has sought and received counsel on the name issue from Jay Leveton, a friend as well as a partner in the Stagwell Group, a Washington-based marketing firm, multiple people familiar with the situation said.
When Snyder fired Allen and hired Rivera the next day, he said his new coach would be the primary voice of the franchise. But Rivera’s responsibilities are supposed to remain on the football side, leaving all of the key business decisions for the organization — which Forbes last year valued at $3.4 billion — to be made by a handful of vice presidents or outside consultants who take charge only when the issue relates to their expertise, people familiar with the organization’s structure said. But those same people say the loose coalition of executives has been overwhelmed by bigger decisions — such as the organization’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which closed all NFL team facilities, as well as its response to social protests following the death of George Floyd and a sudden flood of demands that the team change its name.
Compounding this indecision is the fact that Snyder has been out of the country for most of the past three months, spending the pandemic’s early weeks in the Bahamas, briefly returning to Maryland and then heading to Europe, where his latest deliberations about the team name have taken place, multiple people familiar with his movements said. Though Snyder has been described as very active in business deliberations, the fact that he has not been physically closer to the team’s facility as it slowly reopens has added to the sense of a leadership void.
Some Redskins officials say Snyder has become the franchise’s primary decision-maker in Allen’s absence, and a few insist the organization is heading in the right direction despite the name issue, pointing out that Snyder — unlike many team owners — has not laid off any employees during the pandemic.
“I’ve never seen a better group of people than we have now,” said Terry Bateman, a longtime adviser to Snyder who is not officially a team employee but has been taking a leadership role on the business side since Allen’s departure. “I’ve never seen the organization in better shape.”
Multiple people inside and outside the organization said that as other teams began making statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following Floyd’s death, the Redskins’ business executives seemed unsure of what to do. Small displays of solidarity on social media led to a furious backlash. Finally, in early June, just as the players were finishing a virtual minicamp, Rivera was asked to address the non-football employees and help craft the team’s statement.
A few days later, Rivera gave the Redskins’ statement, condemning Floyd’s death, expressing solidarity with nationwide protests and twice saying, “Black lives matter.” He also announced team-run town halls where people could discuss racial issues with a panel of black coaches and executives from the organization.
In an interview Saturday, Rivera said he was surprised to learn he would have to talk to the franchise’s non-football employees and help craft the organization’s response after already leading several days of discussions about Floyd’s death with the players. He said he wanted to fully understand the issues before doing so and spent several days discussing it with a group that included activists, religious leaders and police before coming to a decision.
He said he is still getting used to his role as the organization’s primary voice — something he wasn’t in his nearly nine years as the Carolina Panthers’ coach.
“The interesting thing for me is that I’m going to make some mistakes,” he said. “This is my first time. I’m going to learn and correct them.”
Though two people with knowledge of the situation said Rivera has been worn down by dealing with non-football issues, the coach denied that. “Not at all,” he said, adding that “there are a lot of good people working for us” and that he has learned to rely on them to handle things that aren’t related to the team.
Sam Fortier and Mark Maske contributed to this report.