AP INTERVIEW: Snyder on 10 years as owner
By JOSEPH WHITE AP Sports Writer
ASHBURN, Va.(AP)—Dan Snyder’s shirt was soaked and his appetite was voracious, both the result of watching his Washington Redskins go through an offseason practice in humid northern Virginia heat. A nice spread of Thai food awaited him in his stylish office on the second floor of Redskins Park, along with a chance to reflect on his 10 years as one of the most scrutinized owners in the NFL.
Inside the room were two other Redskins employees. Snyder nodded toward one of them.
“He’s 34 years old over here. He’s probably too young to own a team,” Snyder said. “Maybe I was originally, as well.”
Snyder himself was 34 when, a decade ago this month, he became the youngest majority owner in the league, purchasing the team from the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke. He instantly became a lightning rod for controversy, the new guy trying to shake up things before thoroughly learning the business.
Buoyed by an NFC East title in his first season, Snyder overspent for players; turned training camp into a circus by charging admission; fired a coach who had a winning record with three games left; and became personified as a heavy-handed rich kid intent on playing fantasy football and making lots of money - all within his first two years at the helm.
So now, when asked in an interview with The Associated Press why people love to pick on him, he didn’t have to think hard to come up with a humbling answer.
“I think I fueled the fire with some of the things I did,” Snyder said. “I made some early, very silly mistakes, whether it be firing Norv Turner during a season, or training camp, trying to make it something special and grandiose when in reality it’s a family event. I think that I didn’t understand the game and the contracts and their lengths and the commitments. I learned an awful lot from Joe Gibbs in terms of the types of players we seek. … I did some of that to myself.
“On the other hand,” he added, “once that snowball started rolling, there’s a festering effect.”
Indeed, Snyder-bashing quickly took on a life of its own. Other teams have lost more over the last decade - Snyder’s overall record of 76-84 with three playoff appearances is mediocre but certainly not awful. There are plenty of other rich and demanding owners, many of whom have fired good coaches, signed bad players and made a ton of other mistakes.
But that doesn’t stop people from blaming Snyder for anything and everything, including the user-unfriendly location of the Redskins’ 12-year-old stadium. “I write back: ‘I swear I wasn’t here in ’97,”’ he said.
Hiring Steve Spurrier? It was a move many would have made, giving one of college football’s most innovative coaches his shot at the NFL. It was just one of those things that didn’t work out. “Things that we thought we were getting we weren’t quite getting. He probably for his family and himself did the right thing by getting out of the NFL.”
Joe Gibbs? It was certainly a no-brainer to bring back a Hall of Fame coach, and the result was modestly successful: two playoff appearances in four seasons before Gibbs retired again at the end of the 2007 season. Snyder and Gibbs still talk frequently, and the owner has a proud place in his office for a book homemade by Gibbs’ wife, Pat, inscribed with the words: “Thanks to the Snyders. So many photos were taken by so many different people, but these are the ones that were special to us. Hail to the Redskins.”
Jim Zorn? Snyder sees a bit of his 1999 self in the man who went 8-8 after a 6-2 start last season in his rookie year as a head coach.
“I think he’s in the midst of getting the feel for being a head coach,” Snyder said. “I put him in a position where he had on-the-job learning, on-the-job training, and I think he’s done a good job of understanding it. I think that some of the nuances that were probably new to him were some like me, when I first got here: the media, the scrutiny, the criticism, the praise, the cheers, the idea of some instant success. I had some as well when I first got here, and sometimes it’s not the best thing for you. Sometimes it’s best the other way around: You build that success, and I’ve learned that throughout the years.”
Vinny Cerrato? Well, the jury’s very much still out on Snyder’s personnel guy, and whether the Redskins would be better off with a traditional general manager.
“I feel like he’s done some real good things and a few bad things, like everyone,” Snyder said. “There’s no one in this business who doesn’t make mistakes.”
Snyder does deserves credit for assembling an extensive Redskins charitable network. Sure, it’s something that’s come to be expected from all pro teams these days, but community outreach was negligible by comparison under Cooke.
“It’s been overlooked, absolutely,” said Snyder, who this year received the Community MVP Award at the Washington Football Legends for Charity banquet. “Because it’s not a great sound bite: The owner of the Redskins built a whole bunch of education stuff at schools. That’s not glamorous. It’s a whole lot more glamorous to say we’re signing X, Y, Z free agents.”
Snyder has changed both personally and professionally over 10 years. Before the interview, he invited the reporter to have something to eat and asked him about his family. Snyder then talked about his own three children. He’s teaching his 7-year-old son how to fish, and the boy starts playing tackle football for the time next month. His kids love art, and lot of hikes in Aspen were on the itinerary for this year’s summer vacation.
“I lost 30 pounds by getting in shape,” he said. “It just fitness stuff and trying not to eat too many cheeseburgers. We love the outdoor stuff.”
The small talk is a big deal. The Dan Snyder of 10 years ago was too busy trying to conquer the world in a day - or at least win the Super Bowl in a year - to engage in such banter.
“I was just an eager young guy, and now I’m ‘seasoning,’ ” he said. “And I’ve enjoyed probably the last five, six years the most. The understanding for me is really developing.”
No fewer than four times over the last decade, Snyder has been shaken by tragedy and sickness. He survived a bout with thyroid cancer in 2001. His father, Gerald Snyder, died in 2003. His wife, Tanya, is battling breast cancer. And in his office is the last jersey Sean Taylor(notes) wore before the talented safety was shot and killed in 2007.
“It all started when I got cancer. That was scary, but quite frankly, that helped build some maturity with me. But the most startling was losing my father, losing your best friend, losing your true mentor. It aged me and matured me. And I think I’ve tried to be closer to what he was since he’s passed away,” said Snyder, the emotion showing in his voice. “We go through that phase in life when we think our parents aren’t that sharp and we end up realizing that they’re extremely sharp. … He was more patient than me - always. He was less knee-jerk. He was more ‘Let’s sit and talk about it.”’
“And my wife recently getting sick,” Snyder said, “has just sort of put a perspective on family.”
Snyder then pointed to a photo of him and Taylor about to exchange fist bumps.
“That’s about a month before he passed,” Snyder said. “Before the game. He was horsing around. He always came over. What a great, great person. It’s a shame the misperception on him was so strong versus the reality.”
This is not to say that Snyder has become a softy. Those who do business with him say he’s still demanding and often confrontational. He remains the champion of the offseason, seemingly always the first on the phone in the wee hours of free agency in winter, paying whatever it takes to get a coveted player as soon as humanly possible. This year, he set an NFL record by signing Albert Haynesworth(notes) a contract that included $41 million in guaranteed money.
“I live and breathe to win here for the Redskins,” he said. “I absolutely will do anything, and I tried to make as good a decision as we can. I think the fans can appreciate that I’m willing to spend, I’m willing to invest, I’m willing to do whatever I can to support the franchise. … It’s been a learning experience for me, and it’s been great. I started off awfully young. I feel like I’m finally coming into my own.”
Next week, Snyder will oversee the start of his 11th training camp, full of optimism once again. “I think we’re pretty good,” he said.
So how will Snyder’s world look 10 years from now?
“I hope we have a few Super Bowl trophies and I hope we have some division championships,” he said.
Then he smiled.
“And I expect to have a lot of gray hair.”