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Dan Snyder is not going anywhere.
Saturday, May 25 will mark the 20th anniversary of Snyder officially becoming the owner of the local NFL franchise, and throughout the years, the 54-year-old has earned a reputation as a meddlesome, micromanaging sports owner who can’t get out of his own way.
His fickle leadership, questionable treatment of his loyal customers, and dysfunctional front office have driven away droves of fans. Washington has compiled a 139-180-1 regular season record and gone 2-5 in the playoffs under Snyder’s ownership, and there are often thousands of empty seats—or a crush of the opposing team’s fans—at FedExField during game days. The announced attendance of 57,013 on Week 2 last season was the lowest home opener tally since the stadium debuted in 1997.
The franchise is on its eighth head coach and has cycled through a carousel of quarterbacks, executives, and staff members in two decades. Since former City Paper sportswriter Dave McKenna wrote “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder” in 2010 detailing the owner’s many failures, Snyder has only piled on more to the list. (Snyder sued City Paper and McKenna in 2011 for that story. He eventually dropped the lawsuit.)
The organization has made so many missteps under his leadership that it’s hard to keep track. Native American activists and sports fans have directed their ire toward Snyder for his steadfast commitment to keeping the team’s name, a dictionary-defined racial slur. Snyder said in 2013 he would “NEVER” change it. A team official anonymously told the Washington Post in 2017 that it fired its general manager because he had a drinking problem. And more recently, the New York Times reported that the team’s cheerleaders participated in a topless photo shoot and “an uneasy night out” with male team sponsors.
Even when there’s a glimmer of hope, like during Year One of the Robert Griffin III era, or when the team hired respected executives like Scot McCloughan, the owner finds a way to end the honeymoon with his influence.
NFL owners rarely sell their teams. D.C. is stuck with Snyder. So as this 20th anniversary milestone approaches, let’s take a trip down memory lane. Trigger warnings ahead.
1999 — “I do not like vanilla.”
“I’m not focused on the money, I’m focused on the opportunity and the dream,” Snyder told reporters at his introductory press conference on May 25, 1999. “Hundreds of fans have written to me with their support and suggestions … Your most pressing issue is no different than mine. You want to win, we want to win, and we’re going to deliver that.”
The “often bitter nine-month sale process,” as the Post’s Leonard Shapiro and Mark Maske described it, concluded with a unanimous 31-0 approval from NFL owners. Snyder purchased the team from the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke for a cool $800 million—then a record amount paid for a U.S. sports franchise, and officially ended a quarter century of majority ownership by the Cooke family. Snyder, who grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, called it “the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me.”
NFL owners effused praise for the then 34-year-old, who made his fortune through Snyder Communications Inc., a marketing firm he founded in the late 1980s with his sister.
“A unanimous vote doesn’t happen very often in this league. I have a bias for owners who are passionate and will put winning on the field above everything else,” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said.
Snyder didn’t wait long to shake things up—or reveal his personality.
He removed Cooke’s name from the team’s home and renamed it Redskins Stadium in July. Snyder then sold the naming rights to FedEx in November in a $205 million, 27-year deal.
According to author John Feinstein, when Snyder didn’t like defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s play calling, he left a gallon of “31 Flavors ice cream” on his desk with a note: “This is what I like. Not vanilla.” Nolan told the Post Snyder later sent even more ice cream, “three five-gallon drums this time,” with another note: “I wasn’t joking. I do not like vanilla.”
Snyder also let go of Charley Casserly, the team’s general manager from 1989 to 1999. Washington went to four Super Bowls, winning three during Casserly’s 23-year career as the GM and assistant GM. Snyder replaced him with NFL scout and Kindergarten Ninja actor Vinny Cerrato.
2000 — Wanna watch practice? Pay up.
Washington had just come off a 10-6 season in 1999, and the young sports owner, eager to assert his influence over his childhood NFL team, assembled a high-profile squad of veteran free agents Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, and Mark Carrier to make a run at the Super Bowl. To do so, he gave the aging Sanders a hefty seven-year, $56 million contract.
Ever the businessman, Snyder moved the team’s training camp from Frostburg State University to Ashburn, Virginia, the team’s current headquarters, and became the first NFL owner to charge fans a fee ($10 to park, $10 for admission) to watch.
In one of his first, but certainly not last, instances of inserting himself in the team’s quarterback situation, Jeff George replaced Brad Johnson as starting quarterback, a decision that Johnson said was “made from up top.” Asked whether he meant Snyder, Johnson replied to the Post, “I think it’s obvious.”
Snyder’s team would finish 8-8 and fail to qualify for the playoffs. He fired coach Norv Turner after a Week 14 loss and replaced him with interim coach Terry Robiskie. The Post’s Liz Clarke wrote late in the season that it was “one of the most disappointing teams in NFL history.”
2001 — “Sports Jerk of the Year”
To replace Turner, Snyder turned to Marty Schottenheimer, a longtime NFL coach with the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs. Washington started the season 0-5, but won eight of its last 11 games. Snyder fired him anyway—revealing an impatience that would be a trademark of his ownership.
Snyder’s troubles weren’t exclusive to his football team. In April of that year, the sports owner and Verizon Communications agreed to pay $3.1 million to Florida authorities to settle claims that they transferred customers’ services to another company without authorization—a practice known as “slamming.”
For this and other inglorious acts, the comic strip, “Tank McNamara,” named Snyder the “Sports Jerk of the Year.”
2002 — It’s all about control.
Snyder hired Steve Spurrier shortly after firing Schottenheimer. Despite never having coached in the NFL, Spurrier became one of the highest-paid in the league. The folksy college coach brought his aw’ shucks demeanor and pass-happy offense to D.C. from the University of Florida.
“Steve Spurrier will bring a supercharged, exciting and dynamic brand of football to our great fans,” Snyder wrote then in a statement. “His ability to energize players and teams is unprecedented. The Redskins deserve to be back at the Super Bowl and I am immensely confident that Steve is the coach to get us there.”
Schottenheimer revealed at this time that he butted heads with Snyder because they could not agree on the process of selecting players for the team roster.
“The coaching change was not about Schottenheimer or Spurrier. It was about Snyder regaining control of his football team,” wrote the team’s former quarterback Joe Theismann in an ESPN column. “With Schottenheimer, Snyder realized he had no input. Now he has it again.”
In the first round of the draft that year, with the 32nd overall pick, the team selected quarterback Patrick Ramsey, who would become the fifth starting quarterback under Snyder.
2003 — “A lousy job”
Working for Snyder isn’t easy. After just two seasons, and with three years left on his contract, Spurrier resigned at the end of the 2003 season with a 12-20 record and no postseason appearances. The team’s 5-11 record was its worst record since Turner’s 3-13 season in 1994.
More than a decade later, Spurrier would admit he did a “lousy job” in Washington, but didn’t let Snyder off the hook.
He added that he was upset that Snyder “picked the quarterback” in Ramsey and that he did not have full control over team personnel.
2004 — An attempt at former glory
Fans began to sense a trend. The team that won three Super Bowls prior to Snyder’s ownership became a joke in the NFL. Early that year, WJFK-FM, then the team’s flagship radio station, split up the legendary trio of Frank Herzog, Sonny Jurgensen, and Sam Huff, and replaced Herzog with Larry Michael.
In a desperate attempt to get supporters back on his side, Snyder convinced Joe Gibbs, the coach who led the franchise to those three Super Bowl titles, to return. Then 63, Gibbs signed a five-year contract worth $28.5 million, which made him the NFL’s highest-paid coach. He had been out of the coaching game for more than a decade.
But while the team gained a Hall of Famer, it also traded away a future inductee in cornerback Champ Bailey, who was sent to the Denver Broncos for running back Clinton Portis. The team also threw in a second round pick as part of the deal.
Washington fans still pined for the cornerback years later.
“Everywhere I go outside of Denver, the only thing I get: ‘I wish you were still with the Redskins.’ That’s all I get. Even in this city, there’s Redskins fans everywhere,” Bailey told Washington reporters in a conference call in 2009.
2005 — More flags, less fun
Snyder earned some praise for nearly doubling the team’s revenue since he purchased the team (although part of that comes from, as Dave McKenna puts it in Deadspin, Snyder finding “so many forms of fan gouging.”)
The franchise had already been considered a profitable franchise, but the documents he filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission during his attempt to take over control of Six Flags amusement parks revealed that the franchise’s annual revenue increased from $162 million in 1999 to $300 million in 2004.
But Snyder’s reputation as a “business genius” was put to test with his ownership stake in Six Flags in late 2005. One of the company’s first moves under Snyder was to discard the beloved Six Flags mascot, “Mr. Six.” The campaign was later replaced by an unnamed Asian man shouting the tagline, “More Flags, More Fun,” in a thick accent.
The ad was panned as racist. Six Flags filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
“Snyder’s run atop Six Flags was a debacle from the start,” McKenna wrote in 2010 for Slate. “While his NFL squad’s bottom line only got blacker, Snyder’s schemes didn’t play so well at the playgrounds.”
2006 — Kill the trees.
The Department of Interior’s inspector general issued a report illustrating that Snyder wanted native trees on the hillside between his Potomac mansion and the C&O Canal to be removed so he would have a better view of the Potomac River.
Ultimately, the report blamed a National Park Service official, P. Daniel Smith, for helping Snyder broker a deal to cut down the trees, estimated in media reports at over a hundred, on government protected land.
According to a Washington Monthly report in 2014, Smith and his NPS colleagues, including the C&O Canal’s new interim superintendent, Kevin Brandt, agreed to grant Snyder a special permit to clear the trees on the condition he replace them with 600 native saplings. But Montgomery County, Maryland, which also had authority over the land, did not give permission, nor did anyone commission an environmental assessment.
McKenna reported in 2018 that Snyder had not yet replanted the trees. Last year, President Donald Trump chose Smith, a former lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, to be the National Park Service’s deputy director.
2007 — The end of Gibbs 2.0
Gibbs’ arrival injected the franchise with some much needed stability, but tragedy struck in the coach’s fourth year with the team. On Nov. 26, an intruder shot Sean Taylor, a fan favorite and Pro Bowl safety, in his home. Taylor died a day later.
“This is the worst imaginable tragedy,” Snyder said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Sean’s family.”
Washington finished the regular season on a four-game win streak and reached the playoffs, the second time during Gibbs’ return. But the years took a toll on Gibbs, who announced his retirement after the team lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the postseason wild card game, sending the team spiraling into years of ever-escalating madness.
The coach went 30-34 during his second stint with Washington.
2008 — Hip hip hooray?
Following the footsteps of a Hall of Fame coach is never easy, so it made sense that the team wanted to take time to make its next hire. After Gibbs’ departure, the team fired defensive coordinator and presumed head coach-in-waiting Gregg Williams and offensive coordinator Al Saunders.
Greg Blache was promoted to lead the team’s defense and on Jan. 25 the team hired Seattle Seahawks’ quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn as its offensive coordinator. Former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel appeared set to become Washington’s next head coach—until he wasn’t.
According to Fassel, Cerrato talked Snyder into promoting Zorn. In a stunning move, Snyder did just that, elevating Zorn to head coach on Feb. 9 after considering half a dozen candidates.
“[Cerrato] convinced [Snyder] that ‘Well, Jim Zorn’s gonna get a head job in a year, why don’t we talk to him?’ Well then everything fell in place, he pushes Jim Zorn,” Fassel recounted to New York’s Sportstalk 1240. “Jim Zorn was no more ready for that job than the Man in the Moon.”
A feud with starting running back Clinton Portis, a favorite of Snyder’s, marked Zorn’s first season in Washington. Portis has mocked Zorn for his corny attempt to rally the team with a “Hip hip hooray!” cheer.
“What the hell we doing this for?” Portis recalled in 2018 on 106.7 The Fan’s Grant & Danny show. “What is that going to do for you? Does that make you say, ‘Ahhh, I’m about to go jump through this window. Ahhh, I’m about to give it to them today.’ I’m like, what the? I’m grown. I don’t even play that kind of game with my child … That’s how the locker room got divided. Because those dudes that was doing it, as a grown man, you’re sitting up here talking about ‘hip, hip’ and throwing it up, like, are you kidding me?”
2009 — The bingo caller
In a move that still makes fans’ skin crawl, Snyder signed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to a seven-year, $100-million deal, then one of the richest in the league’s history. It’s been regarded as one of the worst contracts ever in the NFL.
Haynesworth arrived at training camp his second season in poor physical condition, questioned his coaches, and would only play 20 games in two seasons with the team. In one infamous scene in 2010, Haynesworth laid on the ground for several seconds after falling on a play.
Zorn’s tenure in D.C. appeared to be reaching its end as well. Snyder quickly soured on the coach, and four games into the season, Washington hired longtime NFL assistant Sherman Lewis as an “offensive consultant.”
Lewis had not been on an NFL staff since 2004. He was a volunteer bingo caller at a senior center when the local NFL team called. When asked, Cerrato told reporters he did not know if the consultant had been active in football during retirement.
Lewis would take over play calling duties a few games later.
Off the field, Snyder made news for suing season ticket holders who backed out of their contracts, including a 73-year-old grandmother, Pat Hill, who had been a season ticket holder since the 1960s. The team also banned the homemade posters fans were bringing to FedExField as they grew increasingly critical of Snyder and Cerrato.
This led to more outrage—and an eventual “Burgundy Revolution.” Fans became defiant and freely expressed their hatred of both Snyder and Cerrato in the forms of T-shirts, posters, and songs.
Years later, those same feelings would be directed toward Bruce Allen, whom Snyder hired as the team’s new general manager at the end of 2009 to replace Cerrato. Allen represented a connection to the team’s glory days. His father, George Allen, coached Washington to its first Super Bowl appearance in 1972.
2010 — Monday Night Massacre
On Week 10, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick decimated Washington with 413 total yards in a 59-28 victory. The team had finished the previous season 4-12 and Snyder fired Zorn after he compiled a 12-20 record in two seasons in D.C.
Not long after, Snyder found his new guy in Mike Shanahan during a booze-fueled episode with some of his closest advisers, according to sportswriter Mike Wise, who recounted the events in a 2011 Post column. Snyder drank glasses of Sassicaia, Wise said, and then “graduated to Crown Royal,” before finally saying, “Let’s go get Mike Shanahan.”
Shanahan, a Super Bowl-winning coach with the Denver Broncos, signed a five-year contract to become the executive vice president and head coach for the team.
Even with those hefty titles, Shanahan had trouble getting Snyder to keep his hands out of team personnel decisions. Washington traded a 2010 second-round draft pick plus a conditional third- or fourth-round pick in 2011 for an aging Donovan McNabb, a move that Shanahan later said, on ESPN 980, came from Snyder.
2011 — Quarterback carousel
Consistency is key for a successful NFL franchise. Washington, under Snyder, is not known for stability.
On Week 7, Shanahan, Snyder’s seventh head coach, started journeyman John Beck, who replaced a struggling Rex Grossman to become the 13th quarterback to start for the team under Snyder.
Beck had not started a game since his rookie season in 2007 and Washington went on to lose, 33-20, with the quarterback throwing 22-for-37 for 279 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Grossman replaced Beck a month later. Washington finished the season 5-11, the fourth straight season it placed last in the NFC East.
2012 — A shiny new toy
It’s been well documented that Snyder likes to make big splashes during the off-season, and no player exemplified this more than Robert Griffin III, the dual-threat quarterback from Baylor University with Olympic-caliber speed and a social media-ready personality.
The team badly needed a quarterback and a jolt of energy for the fanbase, and so it traded its original first-round selection, the sixth overall pick, a second-round selection, and first-round selections in 2013 and 2014 to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for the second overall pick, which Washington used to get Griffin.
Shanahan, whom Griffin has since said “never wanted” him, also drafted quarterback Kirk Cousins in the fourth round.
For one season, Griffin electrified the fan base and the NFL, carving up defenses on his way to becoming the league’s offensive rookie of the year. Washington won its final seven games en route to the playoffs, where Griffin badly injured his knee.
2013 — Not a mascot
Opposition to the team’s name, a racial slur, began to grow louder, and efforts from activists who have protested the name and the team’s Native American mascot imagery for decades gained momentum.
In the midst of this heated debate, USA Today reporter Erik Brady interviewed Snyder as part of a story about his wife receiving an award from the American Cancer Society. Would Snyder ever consider changing the team name, Brady asked.
“We will never change the name of the team,” Snyder replied. “As a lifelong Redskins fan, and I think that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means, so we feel pretty fortunate to be just working on next season.”
Brady persisted, and asked if Snyder would consider a change if the team lost the ongoing federal trademark lawsuit.
“We’ll never change the name,” Snyder said. “It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.”
(In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that a section of the federal law banning trademarks that may be considered disparaging violated the First Amendment. The Native American activists fighting the team over its trademark registrations ceased their legal case shortly after the ruling.)
On the field, Griffin and the team failed to recapture the magic of the 2012 season and finished the year with a 3-13 record. Years later, Shanahan would say that Griffin mentioned specific plays that he would and would not run. The coach, according to Sally Jenkins of the Post, believed Griffin’s words came “straight out of the owner’s mouth.”
2014 — ‘A culture of fear’
After Shanahan’s scorched-earth exit, where he denied being the source of anonymous leaks, the Post published a deep-dive into Snyder’s dysfunctional leadership. Every head coach has left Snyder’s team with a losing record.
“What you find is there’s a culture of fear,” one anonymous former employee told reporter Rick Maese. “That seems to be [Snyder’s] approach. I wouldn’t say he has the ability to inspire, not much in the way of leadership skills… People are afraid to step out of the box. Do his executives go out of the way to challenge him? I don’t think so. You heard a lot of, ‘This is what the corner office wants.’”
The report painted a picture of a meddling owner who brings trouble on himself. The words “moody,” “mercurial,” “unpredictable,” and “openly hostile” were used to describe him. Multiple staffers told the Post that they received bags of apples in lieu of a holiday bonus one year.
Not long after the Post article ran, Snyder hired Jay Gruden, the brother of Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden, as the eighth head coach under his ownership.
Later on during the season, fans took photos of expired beer from that summer’s World Cup, a flashback to 2006, when the team sold bags of peanuts from an airline that had been out of business for more than a year.
2015 — A (brief) new era
In a move that fans hoped would finally signal a new era of responsible front-office leadership, Washington hired a well respected talent evaluator, Scot McCloughan, as its general manager.
McCloughan took over Allen’s duties in shaping the team’s personnel—at least that’s what Allen told reporters. McCloughan had found success with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks but also admitted to struggles with alcohol.
“Since I’ve been here, it has been nothing but…, ‘Let’s get better and find a way to win football games!’” McCloughan told the Post shortly after his hiring. “As a general manager, it is so nice to feel that and hear that. It has been awesome.”
The team would name Cousins as the starting quarterback, effectively ending the RGIII era in Washington.
2016 — Captain Kirk
“A different vibe from Redskins owner Daniel Snyder,” a Washington Post headline declared in January 2016.
Maybe Snyder had learned from his mistakes. The team had just come off a 9-7 season with a playoff appearance. A young, promising coach in Gruden roamed the sidelines and an even younger football genius named Sean McVay served as the offensive coordinator. McCloughan was in charge of putting together the team. Now Snyder just had to resist the urge to interfere.
Cousins, whose inconsistent performance had split the fan base between supporters of him and Griffin, was on his way to setting several franchise records.
But the team finished a disappointing 8-7-1, and the seemingly solid foundation was cracking, even if fans didn’t know it at the time.
2017 — Throwing an employee under the bus
McCloughan became the only GM that season to miss the NFL scouting combine. Rumors began to spread.
In early March, Allen announced that the team fired McCloughan a little more than two years into his four-year contract. Publicly, Allen and the team wished the executive well, but in a Post article about the firing, an anonymous official attributed the decision to McCloughan’s drinking problems.
“He’s had multiple relapses due to alcohol,” the official said. “He showed up in the locker room drunk on multiple occasions. … This has been a disaster for 18 months.”
Players in the report said they did not see anything from McCloughan that would compromise his job performance. Media members and fans ripped how the team handled the situation.
“If this really was the issue, you don’t send him out the door by smearing his reputation or pointing the finger at him,” said ESPN’s Michael Smith. “This is why this team will never prosper … That is not the way you treat an employee.”
2018 — Tell the truth. Get fired.
Time and time again, Allen incorrectly pronounced his starting quarterback’s name.
In video interviews, Allen referred to Kirk Cousins with what sounded like “Kurt.” To some, it showed a lack of respect for the player who set several passing records for the franchise. Washington appeared reluctant to give the quarterback a long-term deal.
Cousins’ status with the team proved to be one of the biggest questions in the off-season. He eventually signed with the Minnesota Vikings for a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal. The team replaced him with Alex Smith.
A few months later, some of the team’s cheerleaders told the New York Times about a topless photo shoot and uncomfortable night out in Costa Rica in 2013 that included being “personal escorts at a nightclub” for some of the team’s sponsors. Cheerleaders told the Times that “their participation did not involve sex,” but described the arrangement as “pimping us out.” The team responded in a statement that each cheerleader “is contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment.”
That May, Snyder, in another apparent effort to appease fans and quiet discontent, hired Brian Lafemina as the team’s president of business operations and chief operating officer. He came with years of experience in the NFL and managing programs focused on fan experience.
It offered a small glimmer of hope. One of the Lafemina’s first moves was to eliminate the season ticket waitlist that the team had boasted about for decades, asserting it sold out home games dating back half a century.
“I’m a pretty simple person,” Lafemina told The Post that September. “If you have something to sell, I think the best way to sell it is to tell them it’s for sale. To me, it was no more complicated than that.”
Snyder parted ways with Lafemina and the executives he brought in less than eight months later. The team, according to the Post, had been “dissatisfied with the early returns on his efforts to boost flagging season-ticket sales and game-day revenue.”
2019 — Superyacht
With McCloughan and Lafemina gone, Allen’s position within the team’s hierarchy has been strengthened, even as fans call for his firing. Speaking at the Senior Bowl, Allen made a rare media appearance and explained why he believes he’s the right person to lead the team.
“I share [the fans’] passion for this franchise,” he said. “I share their passion for the things that we can accomplish … We’re going to get this whole organization believing in it.”
Around the same time, the Guardian reported that Snyder had bought a $100 million, 305-foot superyacht, the Lady S, outfitted with the world’s “first floating private Imax movie theater,” which cost an additional $3 million.
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren recently called out Snyder for the purchase. “I’m pretty sure he can pay my new #UltraMillionaireTax to help the millions of yacht-less Americans struggling with student loan debt,” she tweeted.
Prior to last month’s NFL Draft, a report leaked that Snyder would once again have a hand in who the team drafted. Washington would end up with former Bullis School star Dwayne Haskins Jr., the player Snyder reportedly wanted, with the No. 15 overall pick, and complete a draft that pundits have deemed “excellent.”
But as history has proven, the bigger the hope, the greater the disappointment. Snyder has shown little ability to change. And while he is loathed as one of the worst owners in sports, he can count on at least one fan in high places: Donald Trump.
“The owner is a—he’s really a good guy,” the president told Larry O’Connor of WMAL. “He’s been a supporter, and he’s done a very good job.”
Trump must be watching a different team.
Leonard Shapiro contributed to this report.