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The 5 O’Clock Club: Winning culture - can’t build it, can’t buy it, can’t draft it... what’s left?

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

The 5 o’clock club is published Wednesday to Saturday during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Dan tried to build a winning culture

Without re-hashing every coaching change he’s made in the last twenty years, let me just say that Dan Snyder, back around the turn of the millennium, moved fairly quickly to dump Norv Turner and hire Marty Schottenheimer, who, by 2001 had spent a total of 10 seasons as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, from 1989 to 1998 recording a 101–58–1 regular season record (.634) and had three division titles, seven playoff appearances, and a trip to the AFC Championship game in 1993.

I suspect that, in his own mind, Dan saw this as being akin to his friend and mentor, Jerry Jones, as soon as he took over ownership of the Cowboys, firing Tom Landry and hiring Jimmy Johnson, who won back-to-back super bowls in his five years at the helm of the Dallas franchise.

Marty, Dan must have reasoned, was a winner! Dan was going to bring him in and ride him to glory.

When Schottenheimer finished 8-8 — ironically a better mark than Jimmy Johnson’s first year in Dallas — Dan took it as a sign that Marty was no better than Norval had been. Since Dan wanted to prove his commitment to winning, he fired Marty after one season and brought in a successful college coach, Steve Spurrier. (Not to push a narrative too far, but, Barry Switzer, anyone?)

Dan showed twice as much patience with Spurrier as he’d shown with Schott — two years and a 12-20 record was what it took for Dan to change plans.

Dan, of course, went back in time; he brought in Joe Gibbs to coach the team. Even the mighty Saint Joe wasn’t up to the challenge of re-building the Redskins’ winning culture, though he did coach the Redskins to the sole playoff win they’ve had in the Dan Snyder era.

Dan tried to buy a winning culture

If the Redskins couldn’t build a winner from the inside, Dan certainly had enough money to buy winning culture, and import it from the outside. Dan fired up Redskins One and opened his checkbook.

This led to a series of really bad decisions fueled by Dan’s desire to import winning culture.

In the tradition of Dante Alighieri, one feels as if the Redskins should have at least one more “ring” to supplement the Ring of Fame at FedEx Field — perhaps it would be known as the Ring of Shame. It would comprise the names of so many players who had marquee value but little on-field value left for the Redskins. Most fans know the names by heart already: Deion Sanders, Adam Archuleta, Jeremiah Trotter, Bruce Smith, Brandon Lloyd, and, Lucifer himself, Fat Albert Haynesworth. These are among the most infamous of the veteran free agent signings that pumped millions and millions of dollars of Dan’s money into little or no production from players who gave every appearance of having no dedication to the Redskins organization.

But even when these big contracts for mostly aging veterans slowed down to a relative trickle, I got the sense that the Redskins — even among their low-dollar or low profile free agent signings — still valued bringing in players with a “winning” background, especially guys who had a super bowl ring. I think there was a feeling that, if the team brought in enough players with championship experience, then that experience would pervade the locker room and, through some process of metaphysical mitosis, would spread to the other players on the team. These “winners’ being added to the mix would provide the enzyme to activate a “winning” reaction.

Of course, it never really worked.

Dan has been trying to draft a winning culture

You can just about imagine the meeting. It might’ve taken place with three or four guys in the boardroom in Ashburn; it could have been over dinner and drinks at the Old Ebbitt Grill, or possibly just Dan and Bruce in a late-night tête-à-tête reminiscent of a scene with Gabriel Macht and Patrick J. Adams reaching that “aha!” moment.

Whenever and wherever it happened, it looks like the Redskins made an organizational decision, not so long ago, to collect Alabama players. Dan might not be able to hire Nick Saban, but he could use the draft to gather Saban’s players together in one place.

Dan could draft a winning culture.

The problem, of course, is that Ashburn doesn’t become Tuscaloosa just because you fill the facility with former Crimson Tide players. It’s an idea that, like a lot of other plans that get adopted by corporate executives around the world daily, probably sounded really good accompanied by a powerpoint presentation or a couple of double-bourbons, but failed the test of real world application.

What’s left?

I hope you haven’t been reading this article waiting for the big payoff where I tell you about the secret silver bullet that will cure two decades of dysfunction and failure. I don’t have that.

But I do have the experience.

I have worked, at various times, for fantastic managers, and for incompetents. Rather like the Supreme Court Justice who was called on to define pornography, I may struggle to put the concept of building a winning culture into words, but I know it when I see it. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck...

I like to think that, in my time, I was a good manager, capable of creating a winning culture in my workplace when I ran businesses for a living. But I absolutely know that I can identify four men for whom I worked — two who had legendary skills at culture building and two who could only sow distrust and dysfunction no matter how hard they tried — and who define the positive and negative extremes of culture building for me.

I don’t want to give away the secrets that will make you millions right here in this article — I’ll save it for my book — but there are a few intuitively comfortable traits that I think most people can agree on that relate to building (or destroying) a winning culture.

Traits of great culture builders:

  • Incredibly (but not impossibly) high standards for everything — the leader places incredibly high standards on everyone in the organization, starting with himself.
  • Creates a positive atmosphere focused on achievement
  • Recognizes excellent performance and rewards it -- the rewards can be financial, but they don’t have to be. A pat on the back or a bit of public recognition can do wonders.
  • To succeed at building a winning culture means a focus on details. I worked in restaurants from the mid-70s to the mid-90s. In my first management job, I worked for a guy who built and maintained winning teams. He was a maniac for the details, and I learned it from him.
  • Values people over everything
  • Never stops teaching - not for a moment
  • Makes sure everyone on the team knows a few clear, strong principles that define the organization and what’s expected of the people in it

In contrast, it doesn’t take much to kill a winning culture:

  • be negative
  • don’t communicate
  • ignore details
  • set reasonable standards that most people can achieve
  • work without a plan
  • value profit (or just about anything) over people
  • think that you are the most important person on the team
  • place blame

0-3, injured, unfocused, and underperforming

The Redskins are at one of many nadirs that have plagued the team since its last super bowl win following the ‘91 season.

The team, following the loss to the Bears on Monday night, was at least saying the kinds of things that people who enjoy winning — or at least hate losing — should say.

Allen gave an impassioned post-game speech demanding teammates stay accountable and united despite their clear frustration, a source told NBC Sports Washington’s JP Finlay.

”We’re supposed to be the best athletes in the world,” Allen said. “If you don’t have the mental toughness to stay focused after three weeks in a 17-week regular season, I don’t know what to tell you. Each guy has to be held accountable and just take it from there. There ain’t no magic sauce to get this thing turned around.”

Allen insisted the locker room will not fracture. Those could be dismissed as just words, but the expression on his face made you uneasy. He played college football at Alabama. He is not used to losing.

Neither is wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who caught another touchdown pass and had six catches for 70 yards. It’s been a great individual start to his rookie season, which means nothing to a player who won so many games at Ohio State.

”I’m a win-loss kind of guy. I scored. We lost,” McLaurin said. “I want to be productive for my team, but at the end of the day I want to win and we all want to win. The box score doesn’t say ‘Terry had a great game.’ It says ‘The Redskins lost.’ I feel like that. Our team feels like that.”

Allen and McLaurin said there would be no finger-pointing. Accountability starts with each individual player and they vowed to check their own play. Running back Adrian Peterson echoed his younger teammates.

”Everyone contributes. From Week 1 to now,” Peterson said. “If anything you’ve got to point the finger at yourself. For me, even with everything that happened in the first half, at the end of the day, we were in a position to convert a first down and I didn’t execute. And if we do that we’re in a position with a fresh set of downs to get seven [points] and now we’re down six and it’s a totally different ballgame.”

But these are all words. They must be backed up on the field in New York on Sunday or they don’t mean much. The Redskins better adhere to the message or the season will slip away from them a quarter of the way into it. Will they? Allen’s manner suggested anyone who isn’t on board will face consequences.

”Nothing is ever impossible to fix. I don’t care how you lose,” Allen said. “Nothing is ever impossible. Losing sucks. Regardless of how you lose, we lost...[But] they’re going to have to be. It’s not a question of ‘if’ but you’re going to have to be and we’re going to be.”

Fire somebody, anybody — everybody! Burn it to the ground!!

I worked as a manager for decades. I had a stint of close to 5 years as the Director of Human Resources for a national company in the U.S. I owned my own business in Australia for 9 years. I’ve been the guy in charge, variously COO, GM and MD, of three different businesses.

In my professional life in the US and Oz, I probably interviewed over 3,000 people. I would guess that I personally hired several hundred — possibly more than a thousand — in the 23 years I spent running businesses. I never kept count, but I probably fired a couple of dozen people.

Here’s what I can say I learned from that:

  • Firing someone never fixed a problem; the best that could be said about it is that it might have stopped the bleeding.
  • Fixing the problem starts with hiring or empowering the guy who will replace the one you just fired.
  • If you don’t have a plan for that next guy, then making a firing decision is just a way of releasing frustration.

If Redskins fans around the world feel like I do today, then they are frustrated, disappointed, embarrassed and wanting to lash out. Losing happens in sports; we all understand that. Losing in the fashion that the Redskins have lost the opening three games of the 2019 season isn’t what I want to see from my team. There’s too much to blame on poor play, mental mistakes and lack of execution by our own players that doesn’t involve being out-played by a team that is more talented.

Fans are frustrated.

Some have a plan.

But not every plan is realistic.

The problem for the Redskins today with regard to building a winning culture is the problem that we had a week ago and for the past 20 years.

Building a winning culture starts at the top, and — while not many people doubt Daniel Snyder’s desire to win — most people doubt Dan’s ability to make it happen.

He couldn’t build, buy or draft a winning culture, and he seems to be out of options.


Jonathan Allen’s rookie deal runs through next season; with the 5th year option, the Redskins can extend that through 2021. What happens in 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Allen will be playing on his second (i.e. long term) contract with the Redskins
    (206 votes)
  • 20%
    Allen will be playing for the Redskins on a franchise tag
    (124 votes)
  • 46%
    Allen will sign with a different team in free agency
    (287 votes)
617 votes total Vote Now