The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

With Bruce Allen gone, Daniel Snyder has no more excuses

Bruce Allen, the president of the Washington Redskins, was fired Dec. 30. A day earlier the team lost 47-16 to the Dallas Cowboys, ending the season 3-13. (Video: Reuters)

It’s on Dan now. More than ever, it’s on Dan.

For a decade, Bruce Allen provided the owner of the Washington Redskins some measure of cover. It’s odd, really, because Daniel Snyder’s the one who hired Allen, who empowered Allen, who allowed him to morph into whatever he wanted to be at the moment — football talent evaluator or politician or roster builder or sports business czar. That Allen failed at them all exposes him, for sure, and it’s unimaginable that he has a future in the sport.

But it should further expose Snyder, too, because he kept Allen in power for all those years that yielded not a single playoff victory and a severely depleted fan base. The only way to distance himself from all that failure is to put in place a viable front office that works to select the kinds of players presumed new coach Ron Rivera — whom we’ll get to — wants and needs. Then Snyder must go to his office, close the door and open it only when someone needs a check signed to pay for a decision he or she made — a decision made independent of ownership.

It’s folly, of course, to expect Snyder to remove himself from the core processes of his business, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t beat the drum — just as we did when Allen was hired all those years ago. Allen’s record as an executive here — whether he was the top football person at the moment or not — was 62-100-1. Terrible by any measure.

But Snyder must acknowledge — if not publicly, then at least to himself — that he has overseen all the decisions that led not only to the futility of Allen’s tenure, but to the futility of his ownership, writ large. He can, for instance, blame Vinny Cerrato for convincing him to hire Jim Zorn as head coach, but it was Snyder who employed Cerrato in the first place. There’s one common element in all the emptiness, one parking spot that has remained the same in Ashburn for 20 years: the one that’s marked “Mr. Snyder.”

His record in 21 seasons of ownership is 142-193-1. At times of monumental change such as this, it’s worth reminding Snyder of the company he keeps. The only NFL franchises with worse winning percentages during that time are Jacksonville, Oakland, Detroit and Cleveland. That’s paper-bag-over-the-head territory, and it’s squarely where Snyder has led the franchise he says he loves.

The Redskins’ all-time record is now .500. Tracking the descent to perfect mediocrity.

“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.,” Snyder said in a statement Monday.

On a winter Monday when he is rearranging the deck chairs, it’s a fine thing to say. But why in the world would any fan believe a word of it? Snyder long ago ceded not just the benefit of the doubt, but any reason to believe anything he says will come true. Maybe the replacement for Allen will work well with Rivera and build a football operation that will succeed. But as 2019 closes, there’s no reason to believe that’s what will follow. The cloud is dark, and Snyder has ensured that the fans don’t expect the forecast to change.

Keep that in mind when Rivera is introduced as the replacement for Bill Callahan, who was the replacement for Jay Gruden, who was the replacement for Mike Shanahan, who was the replacement for Zorn, on and on. Forgive me if it feels like, even before Rivera arrives, we’ll be writing some assessment for why it didn’t work in three, four, five — pick a number — years. And forgive me if it feels like the assessment will have less to do with Rivera as a coach and a human than it will with the environment in which he was forced to work.

Among Rivera’s first questions before accepting the job should have been, “You have the second pick in the upcoming draft; who is making that choice?” It’s not just that the pick will be the first step in transforming a roster that needs a significant degree of transformation. The process, in this case, matters more than the pick.

Sally Jenkins: Redskins need to hire Rivera before he comes to his senses

Yeah, we’re two decades removed from Snyder signing any rundown shiny bauble he thought could help him buy a championship, Bruce Smith or Deion Sanders or anyone in between. But a decade later he was still engineering the trade for Donovan McNabb and pushing for the exodus of draft picks that landed Robert Griffin III in the draft. There are people who believe Snyder wanted to select quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the 2019 draft and Gruden, then the coach, did not. Rivera needs to believe such shenanigans have stopped, or he shouldn’t accept the job.

Ron, Ron. Poor Ron. Pull up a chair. Let us tell you what we’ve learned.

The truth is Rivera has to have some idea of what he is getting himself into. He has to understand that people who enter Ashburn with their reputations intact almost invariably exit with them tarnished, some irreparably. By all accounts, the former Carolina Panthers coach has the content of character and thickness of skin to endure the worst of what such a workplace can offer.

But the worst is what he has to expect. This is no longer a place where legacies are enhanced or solidified. The best Washington can offer under Snyder has been endurance and survival.

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Rivera will be the ninth coach, including interims, of Snyder’s tenure. Such instability isn’t coincidence. It’s ingrained, and Rivera should be wary. Taking the job in Ashburn while there are other opportunities out there suggests he lacks either the caution the situation calls for or the interest from other teams — or both.

But why start his tenure by questioning Rivera’s judgment? In nine years with Carolina, he went 76-63-1 — a mark that would, by Snyder’s standards, have him lionized rather than fired. Three times he won at least 11 games, something none of Snyder’s 21 teams have managed. He was fired with his team 5-7 this year only after the greatest NFL indignity — losing to Washington.

Rivera, then, is the character here who deserves the benefit of the doubt. Snyder, of course, does not. Allen’s departure and an overhaul of the front office and coaching staffs represent some measure of regime change, for sure.

But we have seen it before, heard that the owner would remove himself, and then watched the results. For all the characters that change, one remains the same, and we’ve learned — over all that time and through all the personnel permutations — that he is the most important. Real change can’t happen unless he changes.

It’s on you, Dan. More than ever, it’s on you.