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While winless, the Redskins at least had the allure of a train wreck. But a single-win squad whose coaching staff and quarterback have an imminent expiration date? Who cares? Assuming the Giants restore order to the cosmos and rout the Skins come Sunday, there’ll be a bigger buzz around town about Mariah Carey’s next movie. Two words: Jagr, Jordan.
But wait! There is a way for Dan Snyder to save his team from the apathy of defeat. The solution is right under the owner’s nose. Or, rather, the nose of the solution is right under the owner.
It belongs to Pepper Rodgers.
Snyder manages to inflict almost as much hurt on himself as he does on his team. Calling booing Skins fans “fickle” these days, as Snyder did before the National Press Club recently, is akin to labeling Kabul’s fleeing populace fickle. As if coveting All-Pros and big-name NFL coaches didn’t get Snyder and his football team in enough trouble, the Napoleonic One now publicly drools over All-Americans and big-name NCAA coaches. Reports had him traveling the country last week to “scout” Fresno State QB David Carr, while dropping Florida coach Steve Spurrier’s name liberally and citing him as a potential replacement for the Skins headmaster, Marty Schottenheimer. (And this isn’t meddling?)
Spurn Spurrier, Danny boy. Hire Rodgers as the Skins coach. Sooner rather than later. He’s the right man for these times.
Officially, Rodgers is listed as the Redskins vice president of football operations. Unofficially, he’s Snyder’s sidekick and supplier of football credibility. Rodgers, a former college star who coached in the NCAA and for various lesser pro leagues, was brought into the fold late last season just as Snyder was about to fire Norv Turner, with the team well on its way to the hell it’s now mired in. At the time, Rodgers was glad-handing for Skins sponsor FedEx and hadn’t had a job in football since his short and largely disastrous stint as the self-proclaimed “vice president of nothing” for the then-Tennessee Oilers.
Snyder almost hired Rodgers, now 70, to replace Turner. But Skins assistant coaches and players reportedly threatened a revolt, so Terry Robiskie ended up taking the bullet as interim coach and Rodgers was put in charge of finding a permanent replacement.
Rodgers’ mission ended with Herr Schottenheimer running the show. Too bad Rodgers didn’t pull a Dick Cheney. Remember, Cheney’s original job with the Bush campaign was to find the best running mate for the stumblin’, bumblin’ candidate. And Cheney rated Cheney to be the best man. (Heck, Pepper even has Dick’s heart: He had triple-bypass surgery before the season.)
Rodgers has had his share of successes as player and coachhe was named MVP of the Sugar Bowl and kicked the winning field goal in the Orange Bowl, and he’s one of only two people to both play and coach in the Orange Bowl; Spurrier is the other. But those gridiron glories all came long ago, and there’s not a shred of evidence that he’s in touch with today’s NFL. (Come to think of it, those are the same qualifications Schottenheimer brought to the job.)
There is indisputable proof, however, that Rodgers is a hoot.
Just two years ago, in fact, Rodgers ran a hoot of a campaign for mayor of Memphis against a popular incumbent. At the height of the campaign, he promised that, if elected, he would resign. That bizarre ploy, like most of the ploys Rodgers has cooked up in his career, got some attention but didn’t work out too well: He got a minuscule 0.15 percent of the vote. Not only did Willie Herenton get re-elected in a landslide, but professional wrestler Jerry Lawler, a guy best remembered for breaking Andy Kaufman’s neck, whupped Rodgers by receiving nearly 10 percent of the vote.
Rodgers’ ability to keep his sense of humor during losing situations, which would come in handy here, has made him fodder for sermons. If you look on the Web, you will find that ministers around the world have told the tale of UCLA alumni and fans making Rodgers’ life miserable during a season when his Bruins got off to a horrible start. Nobody in Southern California would hang out with him. “My dog was my only true friend,” Rodgers said of that year. “I told my wife that every man needs at least two good friends. She bought me another dog.”
During a brief run as coach of the Memphis Mad Dogs of the Canadian Football League, Rodgers nearly started a border war by saying that the Great White North league should drop everything that separated it from the NFLincluding the 12th man and 110-yard playing fieldto make the game easier for Americans to understand. “The extra 10 yards screws up the American fans,” Rodgers said.
Schottenheimer holds an English degree; Rodgers is an author. After getting fired from Georgia Tech, he wrote a football novel whose title fits Schottenheimer’s current situation: Fourth and Long Gone.
Rodgers can handle taking a job with built-in impermanence, as he showed when working with the Oilers in Memphis, where they played while their Nashville stadium was being built. Asked how anybody could get excited about a team that was scheduled to leave after just two years, Rodgers said, “If you put me on an island with Cindy Crawford for two years, that’s better than nothing.”
And he can be rigid in the face of adversity. When his players at UCLA were having difficulty adapting to the wishbone offense he’d installed and the school’s alumni demanded that he adopt another system, Rodgers didn’t budge. The wishbone, he said, “is like Christianity. If you believe in it only until something goes wrong, you didn’t believe in it in the first place.”
But he can show flexibility when called for. Legend has it that when at Kansas, Rodgers finally got fed up with the antics of running back John Riggins. “I won’t let him play this week!” Rodgers told an underling. But when the assistant coach reminded the boss that the upcoming opponent was conference rival Missouri, Rodgers reconsidered: “By God, I won’t let him play next week!”
By putting Rodgers in charge, Snyder would not only be admitting that the Redskins are a joke, he’d be embracing that status. ABC and Monday Night Football employed that strategy last week with great success. Saddled with its first 0-4 vs. 0-4 matchup, the network hired Richard Simmons to ridicule the Redskins all night long, and during its telecast scrolled scads of mocking minutiaeQB Tony Banks is the fumblingest player in NFL history, the 2001 Skins offense was on the verge of breaking 60-year-old records for ineptitude, and so on. The experiment, which marked the first time ABC went ironic with an NFL telecast, worked fabulously: The rancid matchup brought in more viewers than Fox’s simultaneous broadcast of Game 5 of the Yankees/A’s playoff series.
Snyder must know by now that his team is a joke: The low point of the franchise’s history may have come when Jay Leno brought out Tom Cruise a few weeks ago to slam the team on The Tonight Show. NBC reran the episode on Tuesday.
So go the ABC route and hand Rodgers the reins. Unless, come to think of it, Richard Simmons wants the job. Dave McKenna