What Makes Daniel Snyder Tick?

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder participates in a press conference after announcing Bruce Allen has replaced Vinny Cerrato as the NFL team's General Manager at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Virginia, on December 17, 2009. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg Photo via Newscom

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The Washington Redskins released its new marketing video this week and it’s pretty slick. It should be. The Redskins have had lots of practice. After all, Danny Snyder swapped out coaches five times this decade. That’s five “new beginnings” sales campaigns.

Don’t know about you, but I’m jaded. I wish Snyder was better at building a team than hyping it. We needn’t rehash his football blunders here. They are too well known already.

I’d like to understand why Snyder does those things without resorting to name-calling. Here’s my conclusion: the guy’s a poor leader. He misapplies the entrepreneurial spirit that’s worked so well in other ventures. He just doesn’t know how to build a winning organization, much less a winning football team.

It’s a business cliche that entrepreneurs who are so good at starting businesses often get in their own way when it comes to running a grown up enterprise. Why? Because entrepreneurs are innovators who create value. Their vision, their success arises from their hands-on involvement. That skill set so valuable for start-ups does not translate as well to established organizations.

Yes, Virginia, there is a difference between entrepreneurs and leaders. The difference is why you don’t see entrepreneurs running GE.

Organizations, like the Redskins, need executives who foster excellence in every part of the group, mostly by teasing the best out the people in the group. That’s where entrepreneurs like Snyder fail as leaders. Start-ups need visionaries. Enterprises need leaders who foster teamwork at every level, and leave team members free to be their best.

Here’s Jimmy Johnson’s rant about Snyder from October 2009:

“Realize that a great 53-man roster is what wins championships, not five or six high-priced stars. Dan Snyder builds his team like its fantasy football and that’s a big negative. The Redskins need a GM who can prevent Snyder from making decisions while letting Snyder think he’s involved. Who can work that magic? I don’t know.”

Johnson added that the Redskins have good scouts, “but nobody listens to them.” That’s poor leadership.Sadly, neither Johnson nor anyone in the local media expanded on that flaw. The roster itself was proof enough of the truth of the statement.

Snyder may have been listening to Johnson. He hired Bruce Allen as general manager three months later, his first true GM since he fired Charley Casserly in 1999.

Poor leadership expressed itself off field, too. The season ticket scandals exposed an out of control sales team and insensitive management too eager to sue season ticker fans in distress.

Snyder characteristically ducked on the issue. He left it to his general council, David Donovan, to respond to an irate fanbase. Donovan said at the time that he personally reviewed every decision to sue season ticket holders. The media brought out that the Redskins were the only NFL club to sue ticket holders. Yet, in fixing the mess, it was Donovan who Snyder named as team CEO.

Perhaps Donovan is the best business-side leader available. It’s more likely that Donovan, like Vinny Cerrato, can be counted on to do things the Snyder way.

So, has Snyder changed?

A snippet from a recent CSN post by Rich Tandler suggests that he has turned a corner:

“Snyder is rarely at Redskins Park these days, and when he is there, his secretary is under strict orders to tell any player who wants to drop by to talk about an issue with the owner to go see Shanahan or Bruce Allen.”  

There is so much more to building up the Redskins than Snyder keeping his hands off the football operation.

As a fan, I desperately want the new front office set up to work. But Donovan’s place in it rankles me. For all of this to work, Snyder has to understand that his real team isn’t the players. It’s the front office. He has to be leader enough to have the right people in place everywhere. He has to form them into a cohesive unit and give his people the room to ply their expertise.

As one of my Big Blue executives explained to me, “I became a better manager when I started taking credit for the work of others.” He said that in jest, but there’s a lesson in it for Snyder.

Snyder was successful in his early ventures in college and with Snyder Communications because he made the difference. That’s his style. He wanted to be the Redskin entrepreneur. He wanted to be the difference. To outsiders, Snyder’s hands on approach to the Skins looked like so much egotism.

Danny Snyder is never more dangerous than the year after he hires a new coach (two years in Joe Gibbs’ case). That’s when he tinkers and tampers and injects himself where he should not. Next season is the true test for Snyder and Allen, recalling Johnson’s prescription of “a GM who can prevent Snyder from making decisions while letting Snyder think he’s involved.”

After Schottenheimer, Spurrier, Gibbs and Zorn, I’m not going to declare success in advance just because Shanahan, Allen and Donovan are in place.  

It would help if all those guys understand that they aren’t tampering with customer loyalty. It’s fan allegiance that is taken for granted. Snyder doesn’t own the Redskins, you see. He just owns the franchise rights to sell us Redskins stuff. Nothing about that gives him the right to mismanage our team. 

Points After: There’s an evolution in my use of Snyder’s name. He was “Dan Snyder” when he bought the team in 1999, later to be derided as “Danny” and “Little Danny” for the ridiculous decisions that followed. He was “Mr. Snyder” to me when Joe Gibbs returned, never more so than in 2007 when he banked a huge store of goodwill after Sean Taylor’s death. I dropped the “Mister” for “Daniel” during the goat rodeo of the coaching search in 2008 and reverted to “The Danny” as last season’s disaster unfolded. I would love to call him “Mr. Snyder” again, but Danny has to earn it. 

Whoa! Could there be a more boring sports topic than something about leadership, entrepreneurs, organization and other multi-syllable words? Sports consumers crave light reading with short sentences focused on players and how the team is going all the way. But this is important. It’s why just bringing in another set of personalities won’t work unless the guy at the top morphs into a genuine leader. I hope I’ve given you what to look for. And thank you so much if you’ve read this far.

 

Anthony Brown

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.

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