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Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Snyder's history of coaching hires

By John Keim

Before the Washington Redskins' head coaching search gets fully underway -- though, in reality, it began a couple weeks ago -- let's take a look back at the coaching hirings owner Dan Snyder has made. This will be his sixth hire since buying the team in 1999. That leads to constant changing of schemes, which means a constant changing of talent to fit those schemes. And constant losing. Will this time be any different?

Here's a look at his past coaches, all but one of whom was considered a big-name hire:

Marty Schottenheimer

Why he was hired: Predecessor Norv Turner was viewed as too soft when it came to discipline. Snyder went for a strong-willed, no-nonsense coach.

Why it failed: Schottenheimer had too much power for Snyder’s liking. When Schottenheimer fired Vinny Cerrato shortly after taking over, it started the beginning of the end for him. Partners in Snyder’s group did not like Schottenheimer and, by Week 3 of his first season, rumors of his demise already had begun.

Record: 8-8 in one season.

Dan Snyder
Dan Snyder will be making another coaching hire this offseason.
The ending: Schottenheimer had to wait nearly a week after the season ended to have his fate decided. And every day a media horde would follow him from the facility to his car awaiting an update. It was bizarre. The day Steve Spurrier resigned from Florida, colleague Liz Clarke of the Washington Post and I were in the press room. I remember her immediately saying, “Snyder’s going to hire him.” It was a gut feeling based on knowing how the then relatively new owner operated. I hedged, saying how people close to him said he’d never: A) Leave Florida and B) Coach in a colder climate. A week later I vowed never to assume anything. And I'll still say this: Had Schottenheimer remained in control, the Redskins would have had more success. He went .500 with Tony Banks and Kent Graham at quarterback and a roster devoid of serious talent. You did not hear excuses when he was done.

Steve Spurrier

Why he was hired: After watching Martyball for a season, the Redskins opted for the supposedly innovative Spurrier, whose offenses at Florida were fantastic. He also was hired because he did not want power. That was evident from the get-go and most especially during the draft when Spurrier had little involvement.

Why it failed: Turns out personnel matters more than scheme. Who knew? Spurrier thought he could win with former Florida quarterbacks Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews.  Nope. Spurrier did not keep typical NFL coaching hours. He was ill-prepared for the NFL and he did not have a front office that could bail him out. He was a good guy and entertaining. But I remember his first press conference when he could not name but one Redskins player. It became clear: He was unprepared for the job.

Record: 12-20 in two seasons.

The ending: Spurrier wasn’t fired, but rather resigned. When the news broke he was on a golf course. I happened to be on the phone with one of his former assistants, who said he had earlier told his wife that after being on his staff he could not figure out how the guy even won in college.

Joe Gibbs

Why he was hired: Because he’s Joe Gibbs. Snyder was like every other Redskins fan, a Gibbs worshiper because of the Redskins’ success under him in the 1980s and early ‘90s. Three Super Bowl wins tend to make you a legend.

Why it failed: It didn’t fail as much as it didn’t succeed in grand fashion. The Redskins did make the playoffs twice in four years under Gibbs. But the coach who oversaw dominant offenses throughout the 1980s with nine finishing in the top 10 in total yards had a mediocre attack in Washington. Their top ranking in total yards per game was 13th and in points was 11th.

Record: 30-34 in four seasons.

The ending: Before the 2007 season, Gibbs, myself and another reporter chatted casually outside their weight room. He talked about golfing and other leisure activities and seemed like a man wanting an easier lifestyle. Adding to that desire: His grandson had leukemia, which he often talked about. Then came the 2007 season and Sean Taylor’s death. By the end Gibbs was drained. Only Redskins management was caught completely off-guard by his retirement.

Jim Zorn

Why he was hired: Because others turned them down, notably, and lastly, Steve Spagnuolo, who did not like that the staff already had been hired. A month-long search led them back to Zorn, hired as an offensive coordinator. The Redskins also touted him as Gibbs-like in terms of his personal side.

Why it failed: Because he should never have been hired as a head coach. The Redskins started strong under him, winning six of their first eight games and there was a thought that perhaps the quirky Zorn could indeed make it work (players and coaches would say they often had no idea where he was going with his messages once he started talking). He could not. Injuries hurt down the stretch, but the Redskins went 2-6 and then 4-12 the next year. Zorn had no power in the organization and several players could bypass him and go right to the owner. But Zorn was overmatched.

Record: 12-20 in two seasons.

The ending: Came fast. Zorn was fired after the Redskins returned from a season-ending loss at San Diego.

Mike Shanahan

Why he was hired: He was the biggest name available and Snyder had been talking to him for a while. There was even chatter that had the Redskins indeed landed quarterback Jay Cutler, their next move would have been to fire Zorn and hire Shanahan. His two Super Bowl rings and résumé suggested it would at least be a solid hire.

Why it failed: All sorts of reasons, from the salary-cap situation to Robert Griffin III’s knee injury. But to just blame those would be incorrect. There were bad personnel decisions, not enough depth produced through the draft and a head coach who perhaps trusted his instincts too much. They had little margin for error so when anything went wrong, games (and seasons) unraveled.

Record: 24-40 in four seasons.

The ending: As you know, it occurred Monday morning.