Washington Redskins: Louis Riddick conversation

Conversation with: Louis Riddick (Part 2)

December, 14, 2013
Louis Riddick endured the chaos in Washington from 2001-07, first as a scout and then as director of pro personnel. He knows the toll it takes and what needs to happen. This is Part 2 of our conversation with the ESPN NFL Insider.

What does Dan Snyder need to do?

[+] EnlargeDan Snyder
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliOne has to wonder just how strong the relationship is between Redskins owner Dan Snyder and star QB Robert Griffin III.
Louis Riddick: He can do whatever the hell he wants. He owns the place. He doesn’t have to ignore players. But he has to understand the delicate culture of an NFL locker room. You can’t empower a first-year quarterback to feel he is bigger than everyone else when you have 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-year vets that you’re not doing things for. You can’t do that to a point where a head coach feels as though he has to make a stand against that kind of stuff to this degree – if you believe that’s what’s happening now and why wouldn’t you believe it considering the fact that to different degrees you’ve seen it before with Bruce Smith or Clinton Portis. You’ve seen players say, 'I can do what I want because I’m tight with the main guy.' … You have to respect how the game has to be managed from the ground level, not from the board room and be cognizant of the power and authority the head coach deserves and needs. If it’s just about, ‘I’ll do what I do because I have a right to do it,’ then don’t be mad when the results are what they are. This is a long-winded way of saying you have to make some adjustments, otherwise you’ll face this over and over.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be personable. This is a relationship business. It’s still a people business. I don’t think the upper level of management has to be so cold and impersonal that it lacks the ability to relate to or communicate effectively with the people who work for you. But the dynamic of running an NFL team from a head coach’s perspective is very unique and you can’t in any way undermine it.

Assuming this staff is gone, someone will take this job.

Riddick: Yes. … I know Dan cares about this team dearly, desperately. I know he does. He just has to make some adjustments.

I know from Robert Griffin’s perspective all the talk about his relationship with Snyder is off the mark, that they’re not as close as it’s being leaked.

Riddick: A lot of times it’s funny how when you’re a part of it and part of the problem you don’t realize how much you’re part of the problem. 'How can what I’m doing be so bad? I’m not doing anything. I’m just hanging out.' If you could have him step outside himself and look at himself. … When I used to look at old pictures of myself as opposed to now, I was wearing earrings and had all the chains and I was like, ‘What the hell is that? That can’t be me.’ While I was doing it I thought this is the way it’s supposed to be. You don’t have perspective. Perspective is going to be the key.

What’s the formula for Snyder?

Riddick: The hardest part for him is to be objective. You can’t help from keeping his subjective feelings and preconceived attitudes and biases about this game out of it. He just can’t help it. He is really attracted to the names, the star power, the perceived star power and big names and doesn’t dig deep to see what’s substance and staying power those star power names have, whether or not it really is something and if star power and names have earned all the accolades and attention they get. If you look at Mike [Shanahan], you can ask 50 different people and get all kinds of different opinions, and one thing you’ll constantly hear people say is if it wasn’t for John Elway, now what? They’ll keep saying that. That’s what they’ll keep saying. If you look past that, once he left and started to get total control and was building the organization, what happened then? What do people say about you after that point? Dan needs to stop chasing names and start trying to look for substance and look for real qualifications and then he has to re-examine his information gathering process and let the process lead to the name instead of looking to the name and saying the process took care of itself because I got the name. It’s almost like doing it backwards. He’ll eventually get what he wants if that process is sound, which is to stop getting embarrassed.

The sad part is the process once led them to Jim Zorn.

Riddick: It’s just as important in the head coach hiring process for the people who are doing the interviewing to have prepared and studied and researched what they need to ask and what they need to hear as it is for the person who is being interviewed. If you have taken the time to find out what the answer is I’m looking for, what characteristics I’m looking for that are going to take my organization to the places I want to take it to. If you don’t know what they are, then you have no shot. You’ll hire this guy, try that guy. You need to stop and look at yourself and say, 'Am I respecting the process and respecting the game and how hard it is to build a winner?'

Friday Conversation: Louis Riddick

December, 13, 2013
Louis Riddick endured the chaos in Washington from 2001-07, first as a scout and then as director of pro personnel. He knows the toll it takes and what needs to happen. This is Part 1 of our conversation with him.

You worked here when you had to deal with a lot of distractions. How crazy did it get when you worked here?

[+] EnlargeDan Snyder
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsHigh turnover and disarray within the organization have been constants during the Dan Snyder era in Washington.
Louis Riddick: I’m not going into great detail, but I’ll say this: It’s very difficult to build a team in the NFL without all those types of extra distractions to deal with, meaning the team has to be structured very clearly both when you’re talking about how the front office is set up – there are different ways to set up a front office, but the structure has to be very defined as to whose role is what and the coaches have to have it the same way. Everyone has to be allowed, as Bill Belichick says, to do their job without interference from anyone. The problem here is it’s very difficult to do that when the person at the very top, who has the right to do what he wants because it’s his team, puts obstacles – whether knowingly or unintentionally – in the way of you doing your job to the utmost of your ability, but then holding you accountable. It’s an impossible situation to win in. Thus it leads to continuous turnover that is always marked in the end by huge circus-like blowups. It’s always ugly. It gets uglier every time. That vicious cycle can only be stopped by one person. I don’t know exactly what’s happening there because I’m not there. But looking at it and listening to what’s being said brings back some very familiar feelings and memories as to what it’s like to deal with that. I know the owner cares about the team and is a lifelong fan and wants to win.

The blueprint is there from a management and structure perspective as to how to give yourself the best chance to get a Super Bowl championship. To knowingly not give yourself the best chance to do that by having these kinds of situations come up, like the treatment of Robert Griffin III … it takes away from giving the team the best chance to win.

This isn’t just about Mike Shanahan and RG3 and the owner, this is about the coordinators and assistant coaches and training staff, the weight training staff, all the support staff, the secretaries, the personnel people, the marketing people. They all look at it going, ‘Here we go again.’ What you become reduced to, regardless of whether it’s the Washington Redskins or any other company embroiled in controversy, you just start working for a check and look forward to getting paid. You become detached. You don’t care about the color or brand because you feel the brand and colors don’t care about you and if they did it wouldn’t be allowed to happen over and over.

People will read some of that and say Mike Shanahan is getting no blame. What’s his role in this mess?

Riddick: Everyone’s looking at Dan and the continuous change that’s taken place there every few years. If you look at Shanahan’s track record, is it not documented that generally speaking he’s considered someone who makes things personal and takes things to a new level when it comes to having relationships that end badly with specific players? From the outside looking in it seems very much so. You hear that it can become very personal with him and it crosses the line from being professional to personal and from different things we’ve heard, it has become personal. He may have let some of this get out of control even though he knew he could have done things to reign in this whole Robert Griffin is too entitled and coddled line at an earlier time and he didn’t do enough to get it under control and this is the result, this kind of theatrics and drama. The other role is he’s had control of this team for four years and this happened under his watch and he controlled everything. Everyone in that building that I know says he has exercised final say over everything. So to not have a line that can protect this kid, to not have constructed or put together a defense from a personnel perspective that can give them a fighting chance to stay in games and to have the offense become something it’s not good at, which is a dropback passing offense, that’s his fault. And for allowing the never-ending series of press conferences and offseason to become a back and forth, almost like a tennis match, between him and Robert. Mike has final say to football operations and he could have put an end to that. Now, even though you’ve given contractual control to Mike doesn’t mean Dan can’t have a negative influence. I was there when Marty had control over everything and things got ugly then, too. But at the same time the head coach can’t turn around and start playing this through back channels and laying it at the feet of the owner, either. [Shanahan] is more responsible for the product on the field, more than responsible. It’s him.

Do you ever think it could change here?

Riddick: Sure. Everybody has a pain threshold. Everybody at some point comes to the realization that whatever they’re doing is not working and it’s getting too painful and counterproductive to continue down the path they’re on. ... It’s hard to build a team with all the distractions available to [players], let alone when you feel like there are other forces within your own building that are making it even more difficult to keep the ship moving in the right direction. When you’re imploding from within, you have no shot. Even when you’re doing everything theoretically correct a lot of times it doesn’t work out because there are always unforeseen circumstances. It’s hard enough. You throw this on top of it, it makes it 20 times more difficult. And then you hold the people who are building the team and coaching the team responsible, but did you really give them a chance to succeed? The answer is obviously no, you didn’t. As I’m watching it, I can still remember the kind of things you start thinking about as you’re a part of it. It’s tough to have to deal with because you feel you’re a part of the team and you feel in some ways you start losing your fire a little bit. You lose your edge to help the place pull out of it.