Those words came not last week or last month but last decade. This was in the days leading up to Allen’s first game overseeing Washington’s football operation, which happened to be the night Coach Jim Zorn ran the “swinging gate” fake field goal play — back-to-back, no less — in what became a 45-12 loss to the New York Giants.
It seemed like a new low. Since then, we have 10 years of establishing fresh ones, every single one of them under Allen’s watch.
It’s worth revisiting Allen’s reentry to the Washington football scene right now for two reasons. First, there is reporting — first by NFL Network, then by The Washington Post and others — that Allen’s role as team president will be evaluated by owner Daniel Snyder at the conclusion of the season. Whether or not there is serious consideration for removing Allen, it’s one of the few areas in which Snyder could provide genuine hope to his severely damaged fan base.
Second, looking back a decade might remind us that, while change is necessary and change can provide optimism, change does not always work out.
Now, to be clear: I am not advocating that Allen remain in his job. That would be lunacy. This is his 10th full season as Snyder’s top executive, and Washington’s record in that time — even dismissing the three losses he oversaw to close out 2009 upon his arrival — is 62-93-1. The team’s record the 10 seasons before Allen’s hiring: 70-90. That’s not a turnaround. That’s regression. From 2010 until now, only Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Cleveland have lost more games than Allen’s Redskins.
This isn’t a small sample size. There are no extenuating circumstances. Allen’s tenure has been a disaster that has further diminished the franchise, and he should be dismissed immediately.
But 10 years ago this month, we couldn’t have known what was to come. It’s remarkable how similar the situation was then to what it is now. The fan base in 2009 was perhaps more restless than the absolutely wrecked version we know now. But it knew what it wanted then just as it knows what it wants now: the removal of the team’s top football executive.
A decade ago that was, of course, Vinny Cerrato. Fans saw Cerrato as Snyder’s pawn, a powerless empty suit who merely carried out the owner’s bidding. He was a buffoon and didn’t deserve any title that might associate him with running a football team, but it wasn’t necessarily his fault that he took the job he was offered and did what he was told.
Allen’s reputation is more sinister — deservedly so, and we’ll get to why. But it wasn’t unreasonable, in December 2009, to view him as a worthy replacement for Cerrato, whose forced resignation was hailed far and wide as a pivot point. Allen had been an executive with the Oakland Raiders, with whom he went to the Super Bowl with none other than Bill Callahan, who is Washington’s interim coach at the moment. He went from there to Tampa Bay. He had served as a player agent. He had coached in college. He constructed rosters for teams coached by his father, George, in the old USFL. There’s a way to see his résumé as diverse and interesting, and his ties to the old Washington glory days — he was a ballboy when George coached the team — added a romantic element, too.
Now, Allen’s ties to the past are mostly ridiculed as the only reason he has his job — because Snyder grew up a fan and wants, first and foremost, to re-create those warm and fuzzy days of his youth. Allen’s tenure, though, reads as more diabolical than Cerrato’s. Cerrato didn’t have any real power — none that mattered. Allen does, and he consistently has worked to undermine those who have threatened it.
Allen’s first move here was sensible and inevitable: firing the overmatched Zorn. Snyder already had made inroads on the next coach, Mike Shanahan, and the tussle over the next four years in Ashburn became apparent: Who had final say — Mike or Bruce? In the end, Shanahan was fired and Allen survived.
That was just the start. In 2015, Washington hired Scot McCloughan and granted him authority over the roster, moving Allen into more of a business-side role. Just more than two years later — two years that produced the first back-to-back winning seasons since 1996-97 — Washington fired McCloughan. Allen survived, with his powers restored.
It works on the business side, too. Maybe the best move Snyder has made in his two decades of stewardship of the franchise was to hire Brian Lafemina as an executive to oversee business operations, a transaction that normally would be somewhat behind-the-scenes. But Lafemina moved quickly to deal honestly with the disenchanted fan base, admitting there was no longer a waiting list for season tickets and vowing to win back supporters’ trust. When Lafemina arrived, Allen lost his business-side portion of power. Eight months later, Lafemina was fired. Allen survived and now oversees business again.
That’s quite a track record over what’s close to 10 full seasons. His mark on the field is among the worst in football. His mark off it might be more damning.
And 2009 seems so long ago.
“It’s exciting because of the history, the tradition, the comfort about coming home,” Allen said at his introductory news conference Dec. 17, 2009. “Everybody who knows me — and hopefully you’ll get to know me better — knows that the principles of football in my mind are simple. It’s a team. It’s 53 men, the entire staff, everybody in the building going in the same direction for one common goal.”
That common goal surely wasn’t to be among the worst franchises in the league. Yet here we are.
There is necessary change, and that’s what’s called for now, as it was then. But the transfer of power at that position 10 years ago brought only a decade of new depths. This fan base — this fabulous, loyal fan base — should remain buoyant if it can. But do so with abundant caution. Getting rid of Allen matters. But who replaces him, and what real power he holds, matters just as much.
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