Bruce Allen’s 17-minute 14-second question-and-answer session is in the process of being picked over by the vultures who parse such carcasses for a living. (Ahem. Looks in mirror.) Allen put himself in position to have the meat gnawed off his bones, of course, because when you run a bumbling franchise yet say nothing publicly for years at a time, each word is burdened with extra weight. Allen was set up to be ridiculed regardless of what came out of his mouth, though to be sure, what came out of his mouth was ridiculous.
And you know what? That’s by design. As long as there’s a #FireBruceAllen social media campaign, there isn’t a corresponding #SnyderSellOurSkins. The blame is placed somewhere other than at the feet of the owner, Daniel Snyder.
It’s worth pointing out — and it has been pointed out, over and over — that Allen’s record since he arrived in Washington is 59-84-1. That’s garbage, a winning percentage of .413, and it’s remarkable he will be given a 10th full season, still seeking his first playoff victory.
But Snyder has owned the team for 20 seasons. His winning percentage as an owner: .436, a full 41 games below .500, with all of two playoff wins over that time. Only Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit have fewer. That’s your company, Washington. Look to the leader.
Allen is a symptom of the rot that pervades the Redskins franchise, which is now defined by the empty seats and the resentment of its own fan base more than the three Super Bowl trophies it won. Those trophies almost seem like figments now, prizes won by a different team in different times.
Snyder, though, is the bacteria that long ago caused the foundation to crumble. He is the constant. There is no one else.
“I’ve learned,” he said in 2003, four years after he bought the franchise.
“I think I’ve got incredible patience and understand things now that I didn’t have when I first came into the league,” he told a television station a year later.
“I feel like I’m finally coming into my own,” he told the Associated Press five years after that.
Those declarations all came before he hired Allen. And yet here is his franchise, on perpetual spin cycle, the results getting worse, not better.
Initially, it’s easy to see Snyder’s continued employment and empowerment of Allen as an extension of why he owns the team in the first place. Allen’s father coached Snyder’s boyhood Redskins. Why shouldn’t his son run the team two generations later? It’s starry-eyed and romantic.
Now, though, Allen has evolved into something beyond an embodiment of his boss’s fanboy instincts. In just more than nine seasons as an executive with Washington, Allen has developed into a necessary shield for the owner. His spiel during practices for the Senior Bowl on Tuesday were bound to draw criticism because the franchise’s top executive hadn’t taken questions in 588 days.
Not that there was anything to discuss over those 588 days, really. Other than the replacement for fired GM Scot McCloughan (Doug Williams), the outgoing quarterback (Kirk Cousins), the incoming quarterback (Alex Smith), the incoming quarterback’s devastating injury (broken leg), the hiring of a new executive to lead the business side (Brian Lafemina), the firing of the new executive on the business side after just seven months (wow), the failure to sell out even the home opener (waiting list?), the claiming of a player who had been arrested on domestic violence charges some 48 hours earlier (Reuben Foster), the plans for a new stadium (with or without a moat), the retention of Jay Gruden as head coach (career record: 35-44-1), and the seemingly unsettled nature of Gruden’s staff (special teams coach left for same job elsewhere, defensive coordinator sat in for interviews with other candidates to take his job, etc.).
On Tuesday in Mobile, Ala. — because taking questions in, oh, I don’t know, Ashburn would be inconvenient — Allen spoke about the “passion of our fans” being “fantastic.” But he apparently has neither the instinct nor the fortitude to regularly stand up and meet that passion with his own. That interaction would be through the filter of the media, sure, but the best executives know how to use that to their advantage. They are accountable. They lead. They build support from the fans by being there, not scorn by sprinting into the void.
Now, you see what happened there? I just spent 300 words on Bruce Allen. And this is a Daniel Snyder column.
Snyder’s ploy is working. If anyone — fans, analysts, media, other NFL owners — are mocking or degrading Allen (and they are doing all of that and more), then they’re missing the larger point. Their distaste for Allen is at such a peak level that the owner almost has become an afterthought, even as he is the root of Allen’s employment. In Snyder’s world, that’s just fine.
You know the last time Snyder took questions from a group of reporters? Best I can tell it was at a Joe Gibbs charity event on — get this — Dec. 9, 2010. Part of what he said then, with Mike Shanahan’s first team off to a disappointing 5-7 start.
“When you have a new organization in place with Bruce Allen and his team and Coach Shanahan and all new coaches, things take a little time for them to shape what they want to do,” Snyder said then. “. . . I’m feeling great about Mike and Bruce. They’ve got great leadership. We’re in good hands.”
Uh, no. Things haven’t taken a little time. They have taken a generation.
Bruce Allen is part of the problem. But he’s a symptom, not a cause. Someone has decided that Bruce Allen is the best person to operate his football team. And Allen’s willingness to serve as a human shield makes him a valuable tool for the owner who employs him, even as the mediocrity — and worse — continues ad infinitum.