On November 21, 2016, the Washington Redskins had a 6-3-1 record after convincingly beating the Green Bay Packers the previous night in a high-profile, nationally televised game. They looked poised to make a return trip to the playoffs, which would have been the first back-to-back postseason appearances for the franchise since the final two seasons of Joe Gibbs' first tenure.
Now, less than four months later, the Washington Redskins are imploding.
In his bestselling book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek explains why some organizations thrive and others fail, thanks in large measure to basic realities of human nature, coupled with group dynamics that date to our tribal origins.
The importance of trust is stressed throughout the book. As Sinek says at one point, “Trust is not simply a matter of shared opinions. Trust is a biological reaction to the belief that someone has our well-being at heart. Leaders are the ones who are willing to give up something of their own for us. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, leaders eat last.”
You can add "power" to that list.
Or, if you prefer, “decisionmaking.”
When the Redskins hired Scot McCloughan, it appeared that, at long last, the Dan-Snyder-led organization had turned a page. McCloughan was an undeniably gifted scout who had helped build Super Bowl teams with three different organizations, two (the 49ers and Seahawks) in key, upper-level roles.
Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen gave assurances that McCloughan would be in charge when it came to the Redskins' roster. Through his first two years, McCloughan shifted Washington from a team that seemed to be a step behind the competition into one of the better roster-building organizations in the league.
Yes, there was still much work to be done, especially on defense, but the positive strides were obvious. Snyder and Allen's decision to hire a bona fide expert seemed to be paying off.
But expertise ultimately means little if leaders aren't willing to trust it.
Thanks to some terrific reporting from Mike Jones, Liz Clarke, and Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post, we're now beginning to see just how little trust Bruce Allen (and, ultimately, Dan Snyder) extended to Scot McCloughan.
You've read the story by now, but, in summary: The Redskins' top men never had the selflessness or courage or acumen necessary to recognize that the expert they hired possesses more expertise than they do.
That is an unforgivable failure of leadership.
All of that is to say nothing of the reprehensible handling of the Chris Cooley incident. The best-case scenario there is that the Redskins didn't want to draw further attention to Cooley's remarks because of the sensitive nature of what was happening behind the scenes. Not ideal, but I could live with that. The worst-case scenario is something far more sinister.
Adding to this crisis is that the timing of the organizational implosion could not be any more damaging.
In January, the gameplan seemed obvious: Keep either DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garcon, use the money saved plus cap space to re-sign Kirk Cousins and shore up the defense through free agency. Some version of that is what McCloughan wanted to do. In fact, as the Post revealed, he wanted to lock up Cousins last year, but Allen intervened.
Now? McCloughan, the best talent evaluator on the planet, wasn't even permitted to attend the NFL Draft Combine. Both Jackson and Garcon are already gone. Cousins is in limbo, and there’s no long-term deal in place. Is he being traded? Do they even want to sign him? At this point, why in the hell would he want a long-term deal from this organization?
Meanwhile, any prime free agents the Redskins might have wanted will be wary of signing in Washington with the tumultuous front-office nightmare casting a long shadow on any prospects for near-term success.
It’s a disaster. And the fanbase is now in open revolt. With good reason.
I've always been the one to advocate for calm and measured responses, whether it be to an injury, a loss in a given game, or a whiff on a particular draft pick. Especially once McCloughan showed up at Redskins Park, I preached patience.
Granted, I have the luxury of being old enough to remember the championships, so my thirst for a title isn't quite as insatiable as that of a fan under 30. That may be part of the reason I’ve always favored keeping things in perspective, rather than issuing Chicken-Little-esque proclamations of doomsday or despair.
This is it.
The glass over my personal panic button is pretty thick. But it's time to get out the hammer.
If, as it appears overwhelmingly to be the case, the Redskins decide to part ways with an innovative and intelligent executive in favor of propping up someone with a bad track record and poor management skills---rather than relieving that bad manager of his decision-making power---I don't blame anyone for bailing on this team. Players. Coaches. Fans.
I won't stop rooting for them. As long as the Washington Redskins exist, I'll cheer for them. But I’ll never defend awful leadership. I’ll never defend an ego-driven mentality that will doom the team to four- and five-win seasons in perpetuity. I’ll never defend an organization that routinely insults the intelligence of its fanbase.
That brings me to my final point. In Leaders Eat Last, Sinek also talks about weak leaders, ones who look to raise and preserve their own status to maintain the perks and trappings of leadership at the expense of the organization as a whole. He characterizes their weakness thusly, in part, "If they choose to sacrifice those in their tribe for personal gain, however, they will often struggle to hold on to their position once they've got it. Again, the group is not stupid."
One of the hallmarks of bad leadership is the belief that everyone is stupid enough to believe anything you tell them simply because you’re designated as an authority figure. But people aren’t stupid. And a plan premised on the stupidity of everyone else falls apart very quickly.
Here in Washington, the Post tells us, Bruce Allen's belief in the stupidity of the media and the public was so profound as to think that no one would notice or question the fact that the general manager of the team wasn’t at the combine.
Snyder and Allen have refused to extend their trust to an expert they hired precisely because of his unquestioned expertise. That never ends well for any organization. In Washington, it appears to be ending disastrously.
The Redskins deserve public ridicule.
The Redskins deserve to hemorrhage fans.
The Redskins deserve to lose.
That’s as simply as I can put it. The fall from "know hope" to "no hope" is as precipitous as it is frustrating.
In Scot We Trust.