If Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and his team are lucky, Bill Cowher will stay retired.
Don't bet on that, of course. As human slot machines go, Snyder has the loosest payouts in the NFL when gambling on big-name coaches. Snyder's history as an owner is loaded with one splashy hire after another, from Marty Schottenheimer to Steve Spurrier to Joe Gibbs, who ended his four-year run with Snyder on Tuesday by resigning.
Snyder can't help himself from going after big names. He doesn't have the patience to actually do some research on who would be a good coach or, more important, why. Moreover, Cowher, who has said publicly several times this football season he's going to wait another year before getting back into coaching, may not stop himself from chasing the cash. When Cowher was with Pittsburgh, he was willing to extend his contract for another year or two if Pittsburgh had ponied up $7 million a year for the right.
Smartly, the Steelers passed.
Before you Chin defenders start blabbering, realize this assessment isn't a shot at Cowher. It's a shot at the star system that guys like Snyder, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and, even before them, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones created in the coaching ranks.
Frankly, it just doesn't work. When Washington bid adieu to Gibbs – he walked away from the final year of his contract because of family concerns – Snyder had received little return on the huge investment he made in Gibbs ($5.5 million per year) and what had become the highest paid coaching staff in the NFL. Gibbs was OK, compiling a 31-36 record, but a long way from the three-time Super Bowl-winning coach he was in the 1980s and early '90s.
Gibbs did a nice job over the final month of the season as well, keeping his team from falling apart after the tragic death of safety Sean Taylor. A four-game winning streak to get to the playoffs was a compelling story line. Washington also has a bright future with developing quarterback Jason Campbell around. The defense is solid, although a little old.
In short, what Gibbs did best in Washington was lay a very expensive but solid foundation. The last thing Snyder needs to do is rip up that foundation by bringing in Cowher or whatever other high-end coach he can find. They don't need Cowher to come in screaming and spitting – literally and figuratively – with his 3-4 defense and ball-control offense.
Why not? Because it doesn't work. Football is a sport where long-term success is built on putting in a systematic approach, not by changing the approach every few years.
The problem with that concept is that Snyder doesn't have patience. He can't help but to meddle. He is an extraordinarily emotional owner in all the ways that made George Steinbrenner a bad owner when he first bought the New York Yankees. In 10 years of running the team, Snyder hasn't learned. Instead, he fancies himself as some quick-study businessman who can modify the wheel.
How else do you explain an owner who once, while talking to the agent of a prospective draft pick, had the gall to say, "I have him rated as a fourth-round pick on my draft board."
Dan, are you serious? You actually think you can scout players, too?
There are countless other stories about Snyder's manic decisions. Getting rid of Schottenheimer after one season to hire Spurrier is one of the best ones. Perhaps no story proves the point better than how Snyder acts when he's at NFL owners meetings. Whenever they are held, Snyder usually is the first guy to bolt from the room, yammering away on his cell phone as he waves his hands in some emotional fit. He re-enters the meetings only to leave again with the next vibration of his phone.
Snyder can't sit still and watch the many owners who know better. Like the Rooneys, the Maras or Bob Kraft.
Right now, Snyder needs to take a patient approach. He has a solid assistant head coach in Gregg Williams. Williams' stint as a head coach in Buffalo was nothing special. Then again, neither was Bill Belichick's run in Cleveland. Not that Williams has Belichick's brilliance, but Williams has Belichick's hunger, particularly the burning hunger that comes from initial rejection and humiliation.
The type of humiliation that drove Don Shula from Baltimore, where he lost the most important Super Bowl ever to the New York Jets, to Miami, where he drove a team to perfection in only his third season.
Bottom line, here is a fact that few people understand about the NFL: Through the 80-plus year history of the league, only one man has guided two different franchises to a championship. That was Weeb Ewbank, who did it with Baltimore and the New York Jets.
A few have gotten two different teams to a Super Bowl: Dick Vermeil, Bill Parcells, Dan Reeves and Mike Holmgren. But even Holmgren, who's as good a planner and coach as you'll find, took six seasons of trial and error to get back to the title game with Seattle.
Truth is that chasing coaches with Super Bowl pedigrees guarantees nothing. The longer you do it, the more expensive, and dangerous, it gets.
- Daniel Snyder
- Bill Cowher