Thursday, October 15, 2009

My interview with Daniel Snyder

I've posted the transcript of the hard-hitting interview I did with the Skins' owner, Daniel Snyder.

Me: Thank you for the interview, Dan.

Daniel Snyder: You’re welcome.

Me: Let me first say, agreeing to do an interview with me is genius. Because no one reads my blog. Hell, even I have better things to do than read my blog. But now you can say you haven’t stayed silent. Brilliant.

Daniel Snyder: Thanks.

Me: Yeah, I wouldn’t get used to compliments, though.

Daniel Snyder: (chuckles uncomfortably) Uh oh.

Me: Let’s get right to it. No sugarcoating. Most Redskins fans believe that you are willing to spend money to win, but they don’t think you know enough about football to be making actual football decisions – such as hiring the coach, picking players, undermining players, making ill-advised trades. What would you say to them?

Daniel Snyder: They don’t know my real role. I’m not making decisions. The Redskins make decisions. We all agree on them.

Me: I, and I think many others, have trouble believing that.

Daniel Snyder: That’s because the media has painted it in a false way.

Me: The media that you don’t talk to.

Daniel Snyder: Maybe they’re not worth talking to.

Me: But if you don’t talk to anyone who delivers information to the public, ie – the fans, then how are we to know what you’re doing?

Daniel Snyder: I just told you what I’m doing.

Me: And I still have trouble believing it... Here’s my problem with your lack of media openness. If you’re the kind of owner who hires a GM and gets out of his way, then okay, no one needs to hear from you. But you’re not that kind of owner. You make decisions. And when those decisions go bad, we don’t get to hear why you made them. That seems to be a glaring lack of accountability.

Daniel Snyder: If certain media organizations have an angle that they want to pursue, there’s no point in me talking. They’re going to spin it to meet that angle.

Me: Uh, you could do radio interviews. You could do national interviews with ESPN or others. But actually, I think you’re paranoid. The Washington Post or the Times or anyone else covering you is not out to get you.

Daniel Snyder: Have you actually read their coverage?

Me: Yes, I read everything. And I can’t really say I disagree with most of their perceptions of you.

Daniel Snyder: That’s because you, like them, don’t actually know what’s going on.

Me: All right, well, hopefully, you’ll fill us all in as to what’s really going on.

Daniel Snyder: If your questions are fair, I will.

Me: Let’s get away from the media, and back to the team. Do you think you’re a good owner?

Daniel Snyder: How do you define good owner?

Me: We can start with a win-loss record.

Daniel Snyder: I made mistakes early on, and I’ve been upfront about that.

Me: What specifically do you think those mistakes were, and I ask that, because honestly, I still think you’re making the same mistakes.

Daniel Snyder: I’ve said I was impatient.

Me: And you’re not now?

Daniel Snyder: No. I have an aggressive philosophy and I’m not going to stop being aggressive.

Me: But if you’re making bad decisions while being aggressive, isn’t that a problem?

Daniel Snyder: Sitting back and not making decisions, in my view, is a problem.

Me: If you fire Zorn, is that being impatient?

Daniel Snyder: No decisions will be made until the end of the season.

Me: If you fire him after the season, you gave him 2 seasons. Is that being impatient?

Daniel Snyder: At the end of every season we do a thorough evaluation, and from that we determine how to move forward. All we care about is making the team better.

Me: You’re skirting around the impatience issue. There was a report that you would have fired him if they lost to the Eagles last year, the second to last game.

Daniel Snyder: You didn’t hear me say that.

Me: But that’s because you don’t talk... Is it the same answer for how it’s been reported that you asked Shanahan to take over this year, but were rebuffed.

Daniel Snyder: That’s the media.

Me: Okay, I see I’m not getting anywhere with that. It’d be a lot easier if you did some quick TV interview and said, “I didn’t try to hire Shanahan” or “no coaching decisions will be made until the end of the season.” That would help end the speculation, unless of course you were lying.

Daniel Snyder: Was there a question there?

Me: Let’s get back to mistakes and go through the history. Bringing in Jeff George, a mistake or not?

Daniel Snyder: He didn’t work out like I hoped, but remember, I didn’t make the decision to get rid of him.

Me: I don’t think that was a mistake. The mistake was bringing him in, which undermined your coach and starting QB, Brad Johnson, who won a Super Bowl a few years later.

Daniel Snyder: I said I was impatient early on.

Me: Was firing Norv before the season was over a mistake?

Daniel Snyder: I’ve acknowledged that was a mistake.

Me: Was hiring Marty Schottenheimer a mistake?

Daniel Snyder: This is all old news.

Me: No, it isn’t because I’m trying to find out if your mindset is the same today as it was back then. So, again, was hiring Marty Schottenheimer a mistake?

Daniel Snyder: At the time, it was the right decision.

Me: And firing him after one year.

Daniel Snyder: It wasn’t working.

Me: He finished the year 8-3. And he said when you fired him that you did so because you weren’t having any fun.

Daniel Snyder: That’s taken out of context.

Me: What’s the correct context, then?

Daniel Snyder: He created an uncomfortable atmosphere for everyone, not just me.

Me: But don’t wins and losses matter more than an uncomfortable atmosphere?

Daniel Snyder: Our record was 8-8.

Me: I think you fired him because you wanted to be more involved and the 8-8 record was just a way for you to justify it to the fans.

Daniel Snyder: That’s your opinion.

Me: If he had gone 13-3 and made it to the 2nd round of the playoffs, could you have put up with an “uncomfortable atmosphere”?

Daniel Snyder: I don’t think it was a tenable situation with him.

Me: What about if he won the Super Bowl?

Daniel Snyder: He didn’t. It’s pointless to answer that.

Me: No it isn’t because the majority of fans need convincing that you being involved isn’t more important than the team winning.

Daniel Snyder: If we won the Super Bowl, I’d be happy.

Me: See, here’s the crux of the issue. I, and many, many others, don’t think the Skins will ever win a Super Bowl with you being so involved in decision making.

Daniel Snyder: You don’t know what my role is, so that’s a ridiculous statement.

Me: I’m fairly confident that you have a definite hand in making football decisions. And, I’m sorry, I just don’t think you’re an astute football person. I also don’t think you create the right atmosphere as the head of the organization. I actually worry that you don’t know what the right atmosphere is. And the fans are losing hope because you don’t seem to get that, so we fear nothing will ever change.

Daniel Snyder: I can assure the fans that I’ll do whatever it takes to win.

Me: Even if that means you getting out of the way?

Daniel Snyder: I’ll do whatever it takes.

Me: So, why don’t you get out of the way, then?

Daniel Snyder: Again, you’re assuming something that is incorrect. I’m not the sole decision maker. We make decisions as a group. Front office, coaches. I’m part of the group.

Me: Well the group didn’t hire the group... So who did hire the group?

Daniel Snyder: Who specifically are you asking about?

Me: Let’s start with Vinny.

Daniel Snyder: Vinny takes a lot of unnecessary heat.

Me: Let’s go with the 2008 draft. I blogged about this. Vinny, or THE GROUP, traded out of the first round to have 2 second round picks to give you 3 2nd round picks, in which you drafted Devin Thomas, Fred Davis, and Malcolm Kelley. The team you traded with, Atlanta, used that pick to draft Sam Baker, an offensive tackle out of USC. He’s been a starter since day 1. He’s started at right tackle, and is now their starting left tackle... Do you think that was a good trade?

Daniel Snyder: It’s too early to tell.

Me: You don’t think you could use a starting offensive tackle?

Daniel Snyder: I didn’t say that.

Me: This is something I don’t get about you. I, like you, grew up on the Joe Gibbs Redskins. The biggest strength of those Super Bowl winning teams was a dominant offensive line.

Daniel Snyder: And Art Monk and Gary Clark and Darrell Green and good running backs.

Me: Yeah, you need good players at other positions, but without a great offensive line, you’re nothing. Case in point, they won 3 Super Bowls with 3 different quarterbacks, different running backs, some different wide receivers – especially in the first one. And a good, but not Steel Curtain-like defense. The one great thing they had in all of those was offensive line.

Daniel Snyder: I don’t disagree.

Me: Yet, your GROUP of decision makers has left this most important unit a mess.

Daniel Snyder: We can’t control injuries.

Me: But if everyone: fans, pundits, mutes, are saying that guys like Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas are getting up there in age, and are injury prone, which played out exactly as all of us worried, why couldn’t the GROUP see that?

Daniel Snyder: We made a calculation.

Me: That’s your answer. Maybe it is good you don’t give interviews. C’mon.

Daniel Snyder: If we lived in hindsight, every decision would be right.

Me: But everyone else saw this as a problem. The second half of last year went south largely due to the play of the offensive line. It’s been reported that you guys at Redskins Park evaluated it that way, too. And yet you did nothing.

Daniel Snyder: We brought back Dockery, and brought in Mike Williams.

Me: I’m going to assume you made a joke there... Let’s face it, your offensive line is one of the worst in the league. Your quarterback rarely has time to throw. Your running backs have taken more 3 and 4 yard losses this year than I can ever remember. You can’t win with a bad offensive line.

Daniel Snyder: Again, injuries can’t be controlled.

Me: So, let me get your mindset. You go into the season with this O-line believing that you should win the division, and so when the team ends up being lousy, you don’t feel, as one of the GROUP deciders, that you’re as much to blame as anyone.

Daniel Snyder: We’re 2 and 3. The season is not over.

Me: Okay, is it fair to say they’ve been less than stellar up to this point?

Daniel Snyder: We’re 2 and 3. No one’s happy about that.

Me: Do you think they’re going to the playoffs?

Daniel Snyder: There’s a lot of season left. So there’s no way to know.

Me: Did you expect to win this year?

Daniel Snyder: Of course.

Me: So, if you expected them to win, do you expect them to be in the playoffs?

Daniel Snyder: There’s no point in re-asking it. It’s the same answer.

Me: Okay, fine. But, is it fair to say that unless this team does go to the playoffs, you’re going to fire your coach?

Daniel Snyder: We’ll make all those kind of decisions at the end of the season.

Me: So, you won’t be firing him in-season?

Daniel Snyder: Let me just say any decision I make is what I believe is best for the Redskins.

Me: If you do fire him at some point, would he be the only one to get the axe?

Daniel Snyder: Do you think the coach has done a good job?

Me: No, he’s in over his head. But I didn’t hire him. You did. You told Coach Gibbs that Zorn would make a great head coach. He was your and Vinny’s pick. And yet there’s no accountability for that.

Daniel Snyder: What do you think the accountability should be?

Me: I think you should fire Vinny, too. The draft he was most in charge of didn’t pan out—

Daniel Snyder: Horton panned out.

Me: Yes, your seventh rounder panned out. But if you guys thought he was starter material you wouldn’t have drafted him in the 7th round.

Daniel Snyder: So, what, we get no credit for it?

Me: No, you get credit for it, but when you pick in the early rounds, you EXPECT those players to pan out. When they don’t, and when you pass on starting offensive tackles, it’s a bad draft.

Daniel Snyder: Like I said, way too early to tell.

Me: Let’s get back to Vinny. His choice of head coach didn’t pan out, since, despite your attempts to deflect, we both know you’re going to fire Zorn. So, besides the off the chart ratings for his radio show, what good is Vinny?

Daniel Snyder: Again, your assumption that it’s all on one person is incorrect.

Me: No, it isn’t. I’d suggest you fire yourself, too. There, it’s on at least 2 people... But since that’s not going to happen, I go back to the plea of me and most fans, hire a great GM and get out of his way. If he asks you to recruit a free agent, then gas up the plane and take your checkbook. But you shouldn’t be leading the charge.

Daniel Snyder: Do you know how many so-called great GMs have missed on draft picks? It’s an inexact thing.

Me: Well, one, I think it’s fair for fans to expect accountability. And two, okay, let’s assume I’m being harsh on Vinny. And maybe I am. Maybe he’s actually a good evaluator of football talent. I have my doubts, but I’m not unwavering about them. Here’s the problem, though, as I see it. He can’t control you. A strong GM would not want you involved, or would find some way to make you think you’re more involved than you are. So, because of that, I think Vinny needs to go.

Daniel Snyder: I don’t think we’re doing anything but rehashing now.

Me: Okay, back to what I started with, then. Mistakes. Was Spurrier a mistake?

Daniel Snyder: We didn’t win... How come you haven’t pointed out the years we went to the playoffs?

Me: The first time was your first year as an owner so you didn’t have time to mess things up yet. You took care of that the next year. The other two, with Gibbs there, I think you were held somewhat in check. As soon as he left, you were back to your old ways, and the team is spiraling downward... Why didn’t you hire Gregg Williams?

Daniel Snyder: He wasn’t the right fit.

Me: You didn’t like him personally, right?

Daniel Snyder: Me liking him or not wasn’t the determining factor.

Me: I think it played a huge part, since whoever you hired would have to be a part of the GROUP, and also wouldn’t have a problem with being in that kind of arrangement. Gregg Williams may have been the right coach for the job, but he was going to be a pain in the ass for you and the other GROUP members.

Daniel Snyder: How do you know he would have been the right coach?

Me: There’s no way to know, that’s right. But my point goes back to the thing with Schottenheimer. You’d rather be involved than hire people who don’t want you to be as involved, even though they might deliver wins.

Daniel Snyder: I don’t see it that way.

Me: I know. That’s the problem. Until you do, all Skins fans are in trouble.

Daniel Snyder: Again, we’re spinning our wheels here.

Me: I can talk about other things, if you wish... How about suing fans?

Daniel Snyder: I think we’re done.

And we were done... After the interview, I re-read my Zorn thoughts and wanted to flesh out my opinion of him. I like him. I think he's a good guy. Just not a good head coach. Maybe he would have been a good OC. And he was a good QB coach... But I'm torn by the fact that I'm more of a proponent of the Steeler way, where they're obviously patient with their coaches. And I also think you need to give a coach the right weapons (good O-line, good receivers, etc.). However, all I can evaluate right now is what I've seen, and while I hope against hope this O-line turns it around and becomes good, and that the young WRs turn it around and become productive, I don't think up to this point, they can be called good weapons...

So, if I'm a proponent of patience and providing good personnel to a coach, how do I explain my opinion of Zorn?... First, he should not be fired during the season. That's pointless, especially since he's the QB coach and offensive coordinator and playcaller... Let it play out...

But, as I said, all we can do is evaluate what we've seen so far. And so far, in every game, he's made at least one really bad decision. When you have a mediocre team, your coach cannot make bad decisions. The team is not good enough to overcome them. Or in the case of their 2 wins, barely overcome them against teams they should have blown out... And so I think that's the problem with Coach Zorn. If you have a pattern of making bad decisions, you're probably a bad decision-maker. That won't change, and it's not helped at all by the fact that he didn't think his bad decisions were bad...

So, as you can tell from the interview, if I were owner, I would wait until the end of the season and evaluate. If this team turns it around and becomes a winner this year, then make decisions based off that. If they don't, it's time for a wholesale change. The kind where the owner butts out. Hire that great GM and get out of the way!

Actually, I think even if the team does win this year, which obviously I'm skeptical of at this point, I still think the owner should butt out. He's just not football smart. You win year after year with football smart people captaining the ship. That's my hope for the Redskins future, because I do love this team, and I hurt badly when they lose -- and I want to have hope!

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