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Bruce Allen: Neither the Problem Nor the Solution (Which is a Problem)

If the Washington Redskins are serious about organizational direction, they need a strong-minded general manager that controls the vision to guide the franchise.


When we melt down, we really melt down, don't we? Part of me is just waiting for one of Mike Shanahan's press conferences to spontaneously erupt into a breakdance fight. I am pretty sure that would answer most of Dan Steinberg's prayers.

For a moment, let's pretend that our football organization doesn't consider itself more important than organized religion, more secretive than the CIA and more beloved than Kate Upton. Let's assume that the bottom line for this franchise is, in fact, WINS. Let's operate under the premise that this situation is fixable and that decisions can be made now to positively impact not just 2014, but well into future.

(Note: I elaborated my position on the Shanahan employment issue on the Ball Hogs podcast the other night, which we posted yesterday. I know it goes hand-in-hand with this discussion, but this piece is already near 1,500 words and is only the opening salvo in this discussion, so let's pace ourselves!)

I already hear people screaming at me that I am in over my head calling for Bruce Allen's ouster. Let me be clear: there is a role for Bruce Allen in this organization. We're talking about a place where Vincent Cerrato found employment for the better part of TEN YEARS. Bruce Allen has many, many skills that are extremely relevant to running a professional football organization. I question, however, whether he is the right guy to be "in charge" of the vision for this team going forward--especially since Mike Shanahan is really "in charge" of that these days.

The model that has evolved in this league where head coaches are these CEO-types entrusted to perform what were traditionally the responsibilities of the General Manager is broken in the nation's capital. Go figure--yet another institution in Washington, DC where it is hard to point out that which is working and that which is irreparably dysfunctional. The problem is that a head coach is rarely a "forever" position. Few head coaches exit on their own terms--especially in Washington during Dan Snyder's tenure. General Managers have long acted as the glue from one coaching regime to the next, cobbling together core principles and values that persevere through periods of turmoil. Therefore, there is an inherent disconnect when you have a head coach who is in charge of the long-term vision of an organization with the GM strapped into a car seat in the rear of the car. When that head coach leaves town, and either the GM or next head coach picks up the reins, you almost have to call it a "new direction." It becomes impossible to travel very far in any one direction when you change course in that manner.

As we beat each other up in comments sections and on sports radio talk shows about whether or not Mike Shanahan needs to be fired or not, I think we are missing the point. If you think Mike Shanahan should be fired, than you are in favor of firing the de facto GM. If you are in favor of giving Shanahan another year or two to try and ply his coaching chops in this town but think we need to revamp the way we evaluate and bring in new talent, than you are in favor of firing the de facto GM. If you are worried that bringing Shanahan back for a lame-duck season will cause short-sighted decisions to be made, but you are unsure that we could find a better coach in the short-term, than you are in favor of taking a hard look at the General Manager function of this team, and how that office is being run these days. They say that Shanahan and Allen "split" the GM duties, with Shanahan having the final say. THE FINAL SAY IS ALL THAT MATTERS!!!! I feel like I am taking crazy pills here. The final say is the decision.

It might be true that Dan Snyder had very few options when it came to drawing up Mike Shanahan's contract. If Shanny wanted a team of unicorns to ride in to work on everyday, Snyder would have had to make that happen. After four years of losing football, Dan Snyder should no longer feel obligated to dress up in the Gimp suit and re-enact scenes from Pulp Fiction. He needs to play the role of Butch, and take control of the situation, metaphorically speaking of course. The time to put this franchise back on course is now, and he is the only one who can do it. (I recognize the irony of begging Dan Snyder to become more involved here.)

You can hang Mike Shanahan on plenty of things--most notably his Win-Loss record--but what was the first thing this team did before Shanny's first season on the sideline? The Donovan McNabb trade is widely attributed to Bruce Allen, and despite the fact that the move may have been jammed with upside, it set Shanahan and this franchise back considerably. Cornerstones (and cornerstone moves) are very hard things to change once the rest of the structure is placed on top of it (or them). After four years of some very good moves as well as some rather questionable ones, the Redskins are quite clearly at an organizational crossroads. Now we have a head coach who gets the final say on all personnel matters going forward, but we are no longer sure that he is the guy who is going to be the shepherd of this thing for the long haul.

When Snyder changed out Cerrato for Allen, we all stood and applauded. It was a huge move. It was a necessary move. Bruce's lineage, his links to our tradition and the manner in which he sought to embrace our history all made us feel like the franchise was back on track. The biggest things Bruce Allen has done are probably things we can't see with our eyes. There was a lot of repair needed under the hood of this thing, and I am perfectly willing to credit Bruce Allen with rolling up his sleeves and getting after it. That work had to be done and continues to have to be done, but not at the cost of further ignoring a similar approach to building the Redskins brand of football back up on the field. That job was left to Shanahan, and whether we see eye to eye as to what degree this roster is better off now than it was four years ago, it seems clear that unless our front office gets a lot stronger, we will find ourselves beholden to our next head coach in a similar fashion.

You may recall this sentiment I put out there when Allen and Shanny first got this thing started: There has to be a "Redskins Way" that carries forward regardless of who our coach is, who our quarterback is and what schemes we favor. That means that when someone picks the coach, the quarterback or the coordinators, it is with this "Way" in mind. It means that you don't hire a coordinator that thinks 180 degrees opposite of what the team is constructed to do. It means that when you make draft picks, you weigh the ability for a particular player to come in and fit what you do, as opposed to picking players that would require you to change everything you do. Crazy, I know. The caretaker of this "Way" is ultimately Dan Snyder, but on a day-to-day basis, it is the role of a classic GM to sculpt and nurture this vision for--hopefully--decades. This almost certainly means that a head coach should NOT be filling this role.

How is the answer not to seek out the brightest mind Snyder can find that is willing to make what we have right now his starting point for a long term vision? How is the answer not installing an executive who will see that vision through coaching changes, quarterback changes and the evolution of the game itself? How is handing long-term franchise responsibilities and decision-making to a coach that is almost certainly not going to be here for decades the answer to anything? Isn't that just inherently short-sighted thinking? Dan Snyder could be the owner of this team for 50 more years--he can't possibly want to break that up into 15 mini-series that feature different main characters that each depart after epic disasters and high drama. If that is true, now is the perfect time to build on the momentum we do have. (It's there.)

You can't convince me that Bruce Allen couldn't still be a valuable member of our front office, performing duties that are at the core of running a successful, community-based operation. Unfortunately, I also remain unconvinced that he is the best choice for the caretaker of the vision for this franchise going forward--the rock upon which decisions that will shape this organization for decades to come shall be made.

Coming next: Forget the quarterback, why not build the offensive line into the face of the franchise? (Not unprecedented in this town, you know.)