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Shanahan and Allen form dream front office in D.C.
Dan Snyder says he can now “sleep at night.”
The same goes for every Washington Redskins fan thanks to the dream team of Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen.
For the first time in his 11-year ownership tenure, Snyder's paired a head coach and general manager whose expertise is beyond reproach.
Shanahan and Allen were hired to win something they both already own, but the Redskins haven’t earned in 18 seasons: A Super Bowl ring.
“They know what they want and are working hard to go get it,” Snyder told FOXSports.com after last Thursday’s minicamp practice. “I’m just enjoying myself. It’s been a lot of fun for me. It’s been effortless on my part.
“With Bruce and Mike, you have this coach and front office camaraderie that’s really special. To see it is really wonderful for me.”
Not to mention a necessary departure from the nightmarish 2009 Redskins.
It wasn’t just the 4-12 record – Washington’s worst since 1994 – that was so unsettling. The dysfunctional nature of the Jim Zorn-Vinny Cerrato regime brought out the worst in what was once one of the NFL’s proudest franchises.
Snyder’s description of the past two seasons as “rough” is an understatement. Among the many issues maligning the team, defensive end Phillip Daniels pointed to teammates who “would miss a lot of practices. Guys wouldn’t be ready to go. They’d miss games because they had a little fingernail (hurt).” Center Casey Rabach recalled a “loosey-goosey” environment with “a lot of rumors that were always floating around the building and what not.”
All of that has changed with Shanahan and Allen running the show.
“Discipline is the key,” said Daniels, a Redskins player since 2004. “That’s what coach Shanahan is bringing in here. Discipline will win you five or six games – easy.”
Said tight end Chris Cooley: “It’s different in a good way. I think it’s what you expect out of an NFL organization. They’re paying us so much money you think you would get everything all the time, guys who would come in and study and do everything they could (to win). Mike demands it. That’s the biggest difference and what guys are recognizing and respecting.”
Just ask Albert Haynesworth.
Snyder described his absence from offseason activities as “disappointing,” but the Redskins aren’t coddling their $100-million defensive lineman. Shanahan's taken the hard-line stance that he expects the disgruntled Haynesworth to report for training camp and play wherever the coaches tell him, especially after paying him a $21 million roster bonus in April. The Redskins don’t seem inclined to grant Haynesworth’s trade request nor release him without a return of bonus money. A recoupment grievance also is a strong possibility.
Shanahan’s approach is strongly supported by Redskins players whose minicamp was overshadowed by Haynesworth’s absence.
“He really hasn’t been missed on the field,” Daniels said. “We’ve been practicing hard to win games. My thing is we’ll go with who we’ve got here and good things are going to happen. It’s still a good locker room. Nobody really talks about it other than when the (media) questions come up.
“I think everybody is upset that he’s not here. But at the same time, we’re pretty much at the point with him asking to be traded that we’ve got to move forward without him. That’s what we expect.”
Snyder helped create this mess. Long enamored with star athletes, he personally courted Haynesworth and offered an obscene free-agent contract to a player whose suspect work ethic with the Titans was no secret.
Such mistakes were commonplace when Snyder took an active approach in personnel decisions. Those days are gone. He stepped aside as Allen and Shanahan orchestrated the offseason trades for quarterback Donovan McNabb and tackle Jammal Brown while overhauling an aged, overpaid roster.
“I learned – and I think this has to do with Joe Gibbs – the most important thing for me personally is to have a head coach who is extremely competent,” said Snyder, referring to Zorn’s renowned predecessor. “That’s what I’ve got with Mike. It creates an opportunity for me to be extremely hands off and not have to worry.”
While they’ve never worked together before, Shanahan and Allen have something in common besides strong track records. Both have something to prove after being fired following the 2008 season. One of the NFL’s most brilliant offensive minds, Shanahan won two Super Bowls during 14 years in Denver. Allen helped build the rosters that led Tampa Bay to one Lombardi Trophy and two other playoff appearances in seven seasons.
“It’s quite interesting to leave and start over again,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes you do get a little stale when you’re at a place for so long. They get used to you. You get used to them. You really have a lot more energy to do things the way you want to and the little things the right way. Not that you were doing them the wrong way, but you get to regroup and start all over again. That’s been fun.”
Allen's downright giddy about getting to help run the team his late father George coached from 1971 to 1977. Snyder jokes that Allen's the only employee who refers to team headquarters as the “new Redskins Park” because he remembers the original location before 1992.
“It’s critical to the community that we bring respect to the Redskins brand again,” Allen said. “No one was a fan of the 4-12 team. Some people coming to our games have been coming for 30, 40, 50 years. We have to respect what they’ve seen and why they became fans. We all have benefited from what they’ve created, not only for the Redskins, but the league. As we appreciate them, it will teach us our duties for today.”
That’s one of the reasons Allen organized an alumni gathering last Thursday for dozens of former players, coaches and staff. The group reminisced and watched practice while a glowing Allen mingled with those he calls “family.”
“They’ve always been welcome,” said Snyder, who took photos with some of his own childhood heroes. “But I don’t think until Bruce came in that we’ve really been organized like this. It’s great to see.”
Say what you will about Snyder’s controversial management style, but his desire to win can’t be questioned. He's spent freely on personnel. He hired a college wiz (Steve Spurrier), a Redskins legend (Gibbs), a respected graybeard (Marty Schottenheimer) and an up-and-coming offensive assistant (Zorn) trying to find the right head coach. None of this has worked. The Redskins are one of just four NFC squads that haven’t reached a conference championship game since Snyder became team owner in 1999.
“I can’t even imagine what it has been like for Mr. Snyder,” said Cooley, a Redskins player since 2004. “He’s scrutinized so closely by the media, the fans and even people on the team. He’s a guy that loves football. He loves the Redskins. He would give anything to win a Super Bowl. It’s hard to fault that. But I think he’s made good choices this season. I’m really looking forward to moving forward. I know he is, too.”
Even if that means moving away from the spotlight and meddling with football operations.
“This is now going again in the right direction,” Snyder said. “I enjoyed myself with Joe Gibbs. I think the fans enjoyed his past three years. Now, we’re really able to pick it up with Mike and Bruce. It’s exciting again, but it’s going to take some time. We’re going to be patient and build something special here.
“I’m just enjoying the ride.”
And for that, Redskin Nation can rest easy.