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To steal from Dion, the pop star (as opposed to Deion, the guy who stole from Dan Snyder): He’s the Squanderer/Yeea-aah, he’s the Squanderer…
Snyder, that is.
Apart from George W. Bush after 9/11, it’s tough to come up with a situation where somebody squandered so much goodwill in so short a time as Snyder did over a few days last week.
From a management standpoint, the Redskins had the worst week in franchise history. By Friday night, all the warm and fuzzy feelings fans had for the entire organization after the post–Sean Taylor playoff run were gone.
And this much was clear: As broken as the team’s football operation is, its public-relations operation is in worse shape.
The debacle began on Tuesday, when Snyder announced the promotion of Vinny Cerrato from vice president of football operations to executive vice president of football operations.
One small word added to a title, one giant kick in the ’nads for the fan base.
On message boards and talk radio, fans showed they weren’t happy that the first big hire of the post–Gibbs II era, amid all sorts of talk about dignity having been restored to the franchise, wasn’t a hire at all.
Except for a one-season break when Marty Schottenheimer banished Cerrato, he’s been by Snyder’s side for every draft and free-agent decision. Given all the dubious personnel decisions in Snyder’s nine seasons, there’d been a lot of wondering around here how Cerrato kept his job. (In an interview in August 2005, the Washington Post’s Mike Wise did the fans’ bidding by asking Cerrato: “Do you have any damaging videotape of Dan Snyder?” Cerrato said he didn’t.)
Yet, according to the team’s press release, “Cerrato will assume responsibility for all aspects of the team’s football organization, including personnel, the team roster, scouting and salary cap management.”
Cerrato is, officially, in charge.
Then a day later, while the locals were still cussin’ Vinny, the organization gave its base an elbow drop to the back of the head by letting word leak that ex-Giant Jim Fassel would be Gibbs’ replacement. This after Gregg Williams, the fans’ choice, had gone through a series of interviews at Snyder’s Potomac house, the one with the good view of the river.
The Fassel story sparked an online riot, with almost all of the ire directed at Snyder. Then word came that a new offensive coordinator, ex-Seattle QB Jim Zorn, would be brought in. Wholesale personnel changes are sure to follow.
And the roar calling for Snyder’s head grew louder. When fans were told to expect “continuity” during Gibbs’ retirement announcement, they didn’t think that meant the team was going to rehire Cerrato and a couple of beer vendors and cast the top coaches aside.
Amid the tumult, the Redskins decided the best PR tactic would be to make Williams, who despite the Fassel story was still officially in the running to be the next head coach, unappealing to the fans. But it wasn’t enough to just say over and over that the team had decided it could do better than Williams, who was a much-disliked loser during his only head coaching run in Buffalo. No, management decided to paint him as being anti-Gibbs.
On Friday evening, WTOP radio began broadcasting unsourced reports that Williams had “disrespected Gibbs,” apparently by not telling Gibbs the Skins defense would be a man short on the first defensive play against Buffalo on Dec. 2 as a tribute to the deceased Taylor.
But because Snyder’s operation has a history of using this sort of backdoor smear against its own—LaVar Arrington, Laveranues Coles, Adam Archuleta, et al. can testify to that—the anti-Williams leak campaign backfired fast and furiously.
By the weekend, Snyder could have won any poll of local residents on their least favorite person on the planet.
Joe Gibbs left video and audio messages on his Web site asking fans to pray for the team during the search. When somebody posted Gibbs’ request on the Redskins’ official message board, a poster responded, “I just pray [Snyder] dies.”
Just as Cerrato has been by Snyder’s side from the beginning, his public relations has been handled by the same guy—Karl Swanson, who holds the title senior vice president of public relations—since Snyder put together $800 million to buy the Redskins from Jack Kent Cooke’s estate. And Snyder’s been disliked from the start.
Yet, like Cerrato, Swanson keeps his job.
How do they do that?
In the absence of any rational theories to explain the Cerrato/Swanson phenomenon, I’ve come up with a wacky one. It’s based on my personal fixation with the goings-on at Snyder’s largest nonfootball undertaking, Six Flags. (I’ve never invested a dollar in any stock or read the business section of any newspaper, but I now check the price of Six Flags stock online more often than a typical D.C. government employee surfs for new arrivals on barelylegal.com.)
Throughout 2005, Snyder made various filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission about Red Zone LLC, an investment group he’d put together in hopes of taking over Six Flags.
An August filing showed the group’s address to be 21300 Redskin Park Drive, Ashburn, VA 20147—same as Redskins Park. That filing also listed the names of the investors whose Six Flags stock Snyder controlled.
Turns out Red Zone is made up almost entirely of Washington Redskins employees. Among the names on the shareholders roster filed with the SEC: Vincent Cerrato and Karl Swanson.
So here’s the theory: Having taken Cerrato and Swanson along for his Six Flags ride, Snyder can’t take away their day jobs.
The Six Flags/Redskins tale is just like the stories that come out about workplaces that pool money together to buy lotto tickets and hit the jackpot. Only opposite.
Red Zone owned 10,921,300 shares in Six Flags at the time of the original SEC filings.
The records don’t indicate exactly how many of those are owned by Cerrato and Swanson. But, Six Flags has fallen so far under Snyder’s reign that, even without that knowledge, you can make some generalizations about Red Zone’s investment, which was controlled by Snyder.
Such as: Folks at Redskins Park have lost a lot of money following the boss.
At one point in December 2005, the month Snyder gained control of the amusement chain, the stock, which trades under the symbol SIX, hit $11.80 per share. That means the holdings of the investment group he’d put together were worth $128,871,340.
Six Flags, not unlike the Redskins, has been going downhill ever since Snyder started running the show. By last Tuesday, the stock had fallen to $1.46 per share, an all-time low. That means the value of Red Zone’s stake had been reduced to $15,945,098.
So it’s not only goodwill that Snyder squanders: His office pool was down $112,926,242.
Last week’s record-breaking day, by the way, was the same day that Cerrato was promoted and Swanson wasn’t fired.
Swanson, who over the years has complied with interview requests from City Paper for even the most adversarial topics, asked that any interview for this column be conducted via e-mail. However, he did not respond in time for our deadline to questions about how the performance of Six Flags stock has impacted workplace morale.