Here’s what will get you fired from the Washington Redskins: honesty. The quickest way to lose your job is to refuse to parrot the institutional lie. Safety D.J. Swearinger Sr. was cut for running his irrepressibly honest mouth about their coaching weaknesses. Chief operating officer Brian Lafemina was let go for honestly acknowledging their lousy business practices and busting the myth that there is a waiting list for tickets. The mistake of both men was in trying to make a difference, to swing the organization in a winning direction, by calling it out. These are the kinds of people who invariably end up cut or tossed to the curb by the Redskins, while the enabling go-alongers and happy-talkers remain.
Swearinger tried to change the “culture” in the locker room with his insistent if unwelcome verbal accountability; Lafemina tried to change the culture in the ticket office by treating fans “the way they ought to be treated.” Neither was able to counter the no-standards, self-deceiving culture that owner Daniel Snyder has built over nearly two decades, with his insistence on punishing everyone else for his own bad news. There is no hand firm enough to pull this franchise out of its crazy gimbal-lock spin, the constant pitching and rolling and yawing from Snyder’s unsteady hand on the controls.
Only the yes men can survive it. Swearinger is gone in less than two seasons despite being a Pro Bowl alternate, while Coach Jay Gruden has lasted for five years with his easygoing, uncomplaining pliability. The well-respected Lafemina was on the job for just eight months before he was offed the day after Christmas, while Bruce Allen, the team president, still marches on as the grinning, glad-handing false front for the owner’s impatience and back-hall chaos.
The backstab, the gaslight and the broken promise are the hallmarks of this club. Anyone who won’t peddle the chronic lie that they are just one or two good players away from a Super Bowl gets the hatchet. Time and again, passion players get pushed out the door in favor of pay-checkers, and all the wrong, insipid front office people are rewarded, and the right ones are dismissed or devalued.
Montae Nicholson breaks someone’s face in a drunken brawl, but it’s Swearinger who gets summarily cut, simply for something he said. “We feel strongly it was the right decision,” Gruden said Wednesday, after releasing Swearinger for his criticism of defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s play-calling in a season-killing loss. “We can’t have that.”
So much for institutional integrity. Should Swearinger have said it? Probably not. But Gruden won no trust from his players by perpetuating the idea that Swearinger was the Redskins’ worst problem, when everyone knows he is as dedicated and smart as he is indiscreet. Won’t men be lining up to give the Redskins the last full measure of their devotion after this?
A team that already had a reputation for long-term toxic malaise now finds itself in perhaps the most dangerous state of the past two lousy decades: only career desperados will work for it. Anyone with a real future, anyone who is not a total wreck-reclamation project, has zero incentive to sign with these jokers, unless it’s for a cap-destroying amount of money.
If you think otherwise, check out the torrent of truth-telling on social media in the immediate aftermath of Swearinger’s release. “Some [expletive] is impossible to understand,” all-pro tackle Trent Williams posted on Instagram.
Former strong safety Duke Ihenacho, now an outsider free of the Redskins’ negative G-forces, summed up their chronic unprofessionalism and lack of principles. “That front office is a circus,” he tweeted. “Good players. bad org . . . I met a lot of good people within the org during my time there. But for the most part, the way the shot callers handle [expletive] is just off.”
The front office’s record of stunning misjudgments under Snyder has become truly remarkable. The chronic lack of self-honesty means there is no ability to diagnose good decisions from bad and to learn from mistakes. Quality people are therefore pushed out or their value is ignored over and over again, with the only difference in the details. Norv Turner was fired for being too mild, and Mike Shanahan for being too harsh, though both produced 10-win seasons, of which there have been just three in Snyder’s 19-year tenure.
In the search for a successor to Joe Gibbs, the natural choice was Gregg Williams — but instead the Redskins fired him for his bluntness and went with the untried Jim Zorn. Instead of identifying the budding play-calling talent of Kyle Shanahan, they reviled him in favor of the destructive superego of Robert Griffin III. They let the brilliant Sean McVay walk out the door and straight into a coach of the year award in 2017, then granted an extension to Gruden. And of course, they fired respected talent evaluator Scot McCloughan, though he gave them their first decent draft in years.
Come to think of it, you could make a pretty good staff out of Redskins discards. It will be highly interesting to see what becomes of the Cleveland Browns, who suddenly have an exciting future with McCloughan as a roster consultant and Williams as their interim coach, stewarding rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield to a 5-2 mark. Williams will get a head job somewhere. If not in Cleveland, then in another city. Why on earth would he even consider Washington? Why would anyone?
Perhaps Gruden will keep his job, or perhaps not. Perhaps Snyder will finally jettison Allen, or perhaps not. History suggests it won’t matter in the least. Snyder’s regular season record as an owner is 139-179-1, and he has never had a team win 11 games. There is a distinct pattern to his tenure, a wobbling repetitive cycle, with periods of total disintegration, and then the spin starts again. This organization simply cannot put good people in place and hold them there, because it has no tolerance for truthfulness and therefore no coherent values.
For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.
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