It was a news conference about nothing, really. The Washington Redskins didn’t change the way they function. There was no dramatic ushering of a new era, no significant shift in vision, no new faces. They just reintroduced the same people Tuesday morning, with enhanced titles.
And that was the most honest, self-aware and possibly encouraging thing they could have done.
Change? Washington isn’t going to change because it doesn’t want to change. During Daniel Snyder’s controversial time as owner, the franchise has bumbled through one disaster after another, igniting and extinguishing hope with stunning recklessness, presenting potential saviors and then torturing them in their fickle cycle. There have been two constants: failure and revision. Washington loves only the beginning of things — the start of something fresh, the grand debut — and after that, the countdown to chaos begins. To follow this franchise is to toe the thin line between optimism and skepticism.
Change? Why bother? Washington would’ve been fighting itself again. It didn’t need another Scot McCloughan, another charming newcomer to inspire trust and big dreams and then disintegrate amid the toxic environment. There has been no succeeding against the tide. So it makes sense to identify and promote the people who have shown they can operate within it.
That’s why Doug Williams, the classy and humble former Super Bowl MVP quarterback, is now the senior vice president of player personnel. This run-on title makes him the top dog in football operations, sort of. Bruce Allen, the team president, is still running the show, along with his other responsibilities. But Williams gets to be the boss within Allen’s vague parameters of the role.
Don’t expect Williams to whine about the limitations of his power, however. Before he was fired, McCloughan became frustrated with Allen and the awkward way Washington does business. Over his 3½ years as a personnel executive here, Williams has adjusted to the franchise and made an impact. He can handle Washington’s crazy. His temperament — an unflappable yet self-deprecating manner similar to Coach Jay Gruden’s approach — is necessary to do this job.
Here’s how well Williams knows the franchise: While interviewing with Allen, he proposed the vice president job title instead of general manager and preempted any possibility of a power struggle by articulating his role.
“It was important to me,” Williams said. “And this is the honest God’s truth: We had a general manager. It didn’t work out that well.”
Williams wants to make the franchise a consistent winner again. His ego doesn’t require a ton of credit or final say on personnel matters. He just wants a say, a stronger say. He’s smart about this, too. He knows that if he does the job properly, he won’t be overruled often. Despite all the issues that McCloughan had, the franchise followed his vision, and his influence was felt. He couldn’t handle the accumulation of nitpicking and the scrutiny because it was different from what he had experienced. Williams, a first-timer in this role, has no such personal experiences to compare.
“A general manager has his hand in everything,” Williams said. “My job is to control [the football operations department], and I think if we do a good job, no matter what happens, we all get credit for what this football team does.”
It’s impossible not to be happy for Williams. If you can’t muster joy about his promotion, you’re probably a joyless creature. He’s just a hard-working, well-intentioned, good man who is skilled at reading people and making them feel comfortable. He’s two months shy of 62 years old and finally receiving this opportunity. It’s a great story.
In a sense, Washington’s front-office restructuring represents a show of faith to the faithful. Several talented and loyal employees have been rewarded. Eric Schaffer, who has invaluable versatility and agility, is now the vice president of football operations. New titles were also given to Kyle Smith, Tim Gribble, Richard Mann and Scott Campbell.
Yes, it was cheaper to hire from within. Yes, these men all have plenty to prove. This will be a different challenge than the one they faced after the organization cut ties with McCloughan. They did great work in free agency and the draft, and they didn’t make it look like they were scrambling, either. They were tremendous, but they were also enacting a plan that McCloughan helped develop. Now, they must listen to their own voices, with Williams speaking the loudest. He’ll also trust the talent around him.
“We have a lot of great things going on in our building,” Schaffer said. “There are so many people — the fabric of our organization — that don’t get recognized.”
Schaffer brought up an interesting point about this franchise. When covering such a large organization, you have to start with a macro approach, and frankly, Washington has done so many foolish, high-profile things that the flaws overshadow the other side. There are great people working in Ashburn, people whom the current elite NFL franchises would love to poach. And those great employees are able to look beyond the organization’s flaws and stay committed to improvement. A handful of them get to step forward and play bigger roles now.
“For morale, it’s a huge deal,” said Schaffer, comparing the promotions to developing and then re-signing draft picks to big contracts. “This should be an aspirational place.”
It would be an aspirational place if Washington could get out of its own way. For nearly two decades, the franchise has often looked outside to try to recreate past glory. This time, Snyder and Allen are turning to the people who know them best. It’s possible that could lead to greater understanding, better chemistry and less resistance. It also could mean the franchise will become blind and even more stubborn. You’ve learned not to get carried away with optimism.
Nothing changed Tuesday. Washington is as Washington as ever. That’s a scary thought, a troubling thought, and yet there’s something reassuring about recognizing the importance of the ones who clean up all the messes, redouble their efforts after every disaster and keep believing.
It’s easy to expect more of the same disappointment with Allen still in charge, but it’s hard not to like his lieutenants. When Williams stepped onto the podium, you saw something a little different emerge, even amid the pessimism, something that now carries greater relevance as the franchise tries for the 4,891st time to get this right.
You saw a portion of the organization’s soul.
It still exists. Hallelujah, it still exists.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.