Dan Snyder’s reign as the owner of the Redskins began on May 25, 1999.
He took over too late to have much impact that year, and the team seemed to be going in the right direction. It won a playoff game that first season and came close to making the NFC title game.
Then Snyder went into full “I am the boss” mode. In the next seven years, the Redskins posted one winning season.
As an NFL owner, Snyder has the kind of power usually exercised only by kings. He answers to nobody. The fans have nowhere else to go if they want to watch pro football in Washington. So Snyder can continue to run the team while taking in all the money that comes with owning the NFL’s biggest stadium.
Here’s a look back at Dan Snyder’s seven biggest mistakes.
➊ Hiring Vinny Cerratoas vice president of football operations.
Snyder not only hired the incompetent Cerrato in the summer of 1999 but brought him back in 2002 after Marty Schottenheimer pushed him out the door a year earlier. Cerrato is the perfect “yes man” for Snyder, the enabler who asks “how high” when Snyder tells him to jump instead of telling him “no’’ when he comes up with a harebrained idea.
➋ Hiring Steve Spurrier as head coach in 2002.
Spurrier was the quintessential Snyder hire: a big name not cut out to do the job he was hired to do. Spurrier was a college coach whose “fun-’n’-gun” offense wouldn’t work in the NFL, and with a $5-million-a-year contract he also didn’t want to work very hard. After going 12–20 in two NFL seasons, Spurrier negotiated a buyout of his contract and is now back in college where he belongs.
➌ Bringing back Joe Gibbs in 2004.
Snyder grew up in the Gibbs glory days from 1981 to 1992, when the team went to four Super Bowls and won three of them. But Snyder wasn’t getting the same Hall of Fame coach who left 11 years earlier. Gibbs had been away from the game too long, and, more important, he didn’t have the support he had in 1980 when the Redskins had Bobby Beathard scouring the country for players. The Redskins collapsed to 5–11 last year, and if Gibbs has another losing season, he’ll likely retire for good.
➍ Firing Schottenheimer after he coached for one year in 2001.
Marty may have been Snyder’s last best hope to turn the franchise around. He went 8–3 in his last 11 games after starting out 0–5. Joe Gibbs did the same thing two decades earlier when he went 0–5 and 8–8 in his first season in 1981 and then went to the next two Super Bowls. But Schottenheimer thought he was supposed to run the team, and Snyder wasn’t going to let an experienced coach take his toy away from him. The firing of Schottenheimer was a sign that for better or worse—and it’s been worse—Snyder is running the franchise.
➎ Trading Champ Bailey and a second-round pick to Denver for Clinton Portis.
Bailey is one of the league’s best cover corners. Portis, a good running back, was hampered by injuries last year and rushed for only 523 yards. But even healthy he’s not as valuable as Bailey. The Broncos used the second-round pick to take Tatum Bell, who rushed for 1,025 yards last year.
➏ Drafting Patrick Ramsey in the first round in the 2002 draft.
Ramsey was supposed to be the quarterback of the future. He wasn’t, which led Snyder to trade a third-round pick for over-the-hill Mark Brunell in 2004 and then draft Jason Campbell in the first round in 2005.
➐ Signing Deion Sanders in 2000.
Bringing in Prime Time was one of Snyder’s first big moves, and it was a clue Snyder wasn’t destined to be a prime-time owner. Although Snyder has made many other dumb free-agent signings—such as Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier, and Adam Archuleta—the signing of Sanders set the tone for the franchise. He was past his prime but still had big name recognition. And Snyder loves the idea of hanging out with big names.
This piece originally appeared in the August 2007 edition of the magazine.