Washington Redskins' Early Success Defined a Dormant Decade

David WebberAnalyst IFebruary 1, 2012

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 04:  Owner of the Washington Redskins Daniel Snyder speaks to reporters during a press conference with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at the Super Bowl XLV media center on February 4, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. The Green Bay Packers will play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV on February 6, 2011 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

It all began in 1999, when a brash young man named Daniel M. Snyder decided to become the owner of his favorite NFL franchise, the Washington Redskins.

Redskins fans know what happened next: a decade of futility that turned one of the NFL's most respected franchises into a laughingstock and perpetual also-ran.

But it didn't start that way, not by any means.  In fact, it started spectacularly.  In Snyder's first season of ownership, the Redskins won the NFC East with a 10-6 record and thrilled the fans packed into the newly-named FedEx Field with a high-flying, record-setting offense.  

The Redskins handled the Detroit Lions in the first round of the playoffs before bowing out to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The loss reaffirmed that the Redskins were not yet a dominant team, but the ticker was undoubtedly pointing upwards.

As it turns out, that success was the worst thing that could have ever happened to Washington.

In a classic case of "businessman-turned-fan", Snyder took his early success in stride and decided to take more control of the Redskins than anyone could have imagined—to the detriment of the team.  His decisions were passionate, and they were definitely in the interest of winning, but they were impulsive and, well, stupid.

Start with the 2000 season.  The Redskins had high expectations, and also managed to draft perennial All-Pro OT Chris Samuels and the immensely talented LaVar Arrington.  The season included an early five-game winning streak, but a 7-6 record led to the first of many dubious decisions.

Snyder fired head coach Norv Turner, despite the winning record, and filled the spot with interim head coach Terry Robiskie.  The Redskins finished a depressing 8-8, but things were about to get worse.

It was 2001 when Snyder made possibly his worst decision, and maybe a decision that changed the decade for the worse.  Marty Schottenheimer, the newly-hired head coach, started 0-5 before rallying for an exciting 8-8 finish.

Marty had shown he could coach.

He was shown the door.

He went on to coach the San Diego Chargers to two playoff appearances and turned the Bolts into one of the better teams in the NFL.

What if Marty had stayed?

His first season wasn't bad.  For all intents and purposes, it was a smash-hit success—he took a dilapidated team and turned them from bad to respectable in a matter of weeks.  For all we know, Marty could have stayed and led the Redskins for the remainder of the decade, making them a respectable franchise once again.

It wasn't to be.  Snyder's ego and impatience clouded his judgement.  His early success made him believe that every move he made would pay off.  He fired coaches with winning records.  He overpaid for over-the-hill free agents.  He traded away draft picks like shares in a company.

And then, in an interesting twist, Norv Turner took over the Chargers from Marty and continued to win. He is still employed by San Diego.

Both coaches have shown they can win in the NFL.

What would the decade have been like if Snyder had kept one of them?

We will never know.  The success of 1999 spawned a mismanagement monster that denied Washington the same success that came to them in the 1980s.