BRISTOW, Va. – On the rare occasions when Dan Snyder speaks to a gaggle of reporters, he doesn't go long. Two minutes, and he's antsy to move on. Somewhere in there he usually drops the key adjective he's using to describe the current state of the Washington Redskins.
So, on Thursday, when surrounded by notepads and microphones after a dedication ceremony at the Youth for Tomorrow school founded by Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, the Redskins owner gave his latest sound-bite assessment as his team endures yet another circus of a season.
"I'm personally frustrated we're 5-7," Snyder said.
That's actually an improvement. Last year he was "embarrassed" and "apologetic." The Redskins were free-falling to a 4-12 record. A coach who been calling bingo games was brought out of retirement to call plays. Coach Jim Zorn's firing was inevitable as early as September. The Redskins, as they have so many times over the last decade, became a punch line.
That was supposed to come to an end this year. New coach Mike Shanahan, the hard-nosed two-time Super Bowl winner with the uncompromising scowl, and new general manager Bruce Allen would restore a sense of professionalism. No more laughingstock Redskins.
No such luck. A yearlong, almost comical to-and-fro with suspended defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth has dominated the season. The football world also scratched its head over Shanahan's benching of Donovan McNabb late in a loss to the Detroit Lions, then scratched its head again when Shanahan sounded like a coaching novice trying to explain it, then scratched its head yet again when McNabb was given a much ballyhooed contract extension — only to learn a day later that the fine print allows the Redskins to render the deal moot at the end of the season.
There have been other lesser amusements. A mix-up caused the team to turn in the wrong name on the inactive list before one game. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall threatened to ignore the defensive coaches so he could always cover the other team's top receiver. Clinton Portis insulted female journalists, apologized for his remarks, then a week later said he stood by his original comments.
It's always something with this team, isn't it?
"No doubt," cornerback Carlos Rogers said this week. "We'll give you some news, whether it's good or bad. We always seem to have some news."
The big news this week, of course, was Shanahan's decision to suspended Haynesworth without pay for the rest of the season for "conduct detrimental to the club." Haynesworth, who signed a $100 million contract that contained $41 million in guaranteed money, stands to become the biggest of many big mistakes made during the 11 years of the free-spending Snyder's stewardship.
"I wish it had worked out better," Snyder said Thursday. "I wish he had played better and everybody played better."
That's about all Snyder would say about his wayward investment. The owner said Shanahan, who has contractual control over personnel matters, is now the person who "speaks for all of us." Shanahan, for that matter, said he didn't even consult Snyder before deciding to suspend Haynesworth.
And to those who are wondering why the Redskins still manage to live in such a drama-heavy zone, Snyder echoed a sentiment he's had to express all too many times over the last decade: "Have a little patience."
"When you have a new organization in place with Bruce Allen and his team, and coach Shanahan and all new coaches, things take a little time for them to shape what they want to do," Snyder said. "It took Joe Gibbs a year (6-10 in 2004) to get his organization shaped the way he wanted to, and the next year we went to the playoffs and made a good run, and we're looking forward to the same thing with coach Shanahan and Bruce Allen.
"Obviously where we are right now in the season is not where we want to be, but we're making progress as an organization, and I'm feeling great about Mike and Bruce. They've got great leadership. We're in good hands."
Players who have been around for a few years are the first to admit that the Redskins regularly create more than their share of turmoil, but they agree with the owner's sentiment: It was asking too much to expect Shanahan to clean up all the muck in one year.
"Last year, it was just a miserable feeling in the building. Very tough to come to work," linebacker London Fletcher said. "And it started early. It started maybe around Week 3, Week 4. ... That hasn't been the case this year. Coach Shanahan, we all know that he has a track record that's proven, he has a way and system that works, it's just a matter of us continuing to work at it. We all want to have instant success. It's just the way people are wired in this day and age. Instant coffee. Instant fast food. We want everything instant. This year, we want instant division championship, instant Super Bowls. We want to instantly be a top five defense, offense, special teams, and it's not happening for us right now, but we've got to continue to improve."
Shanahan was careful about preaching the message of patience early in the year. No sense in giving the players an excuse to have a bad season. Now that the Redskins are essentially out of the playoff picture, the coach's remarks are on the same wavelength as the owner's.
"Dan has really supportive since I've been here. He's going to give me a chance to do things the right way, build this thing, build this organization the right way, and I thank him for doing it," Shanahan said. "There's going to be some growing pains. There's going to be some mistakes we make along the way, but we'll make them full speed ahead, and hopefully make enough right decisions where we can get this organization back to where it's been."
Notes: Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett gave the latest harsh assessment of Haynesworth on Thursday, saying "sooner or later he's going to have to grow up and understand what's going on." ''Not everybody in the National Football League's going to let Albert do what he wants on the field, it doesn't work that way," Haslett said. "Wherever he goes or stays here, it's going to be under the same constraints. He wasn't happy this year with the 3-4 (scheme)? He wasn't happy last year with the 4-3? What else do you want to do? You want to run a 2-5?" Haslett also backed Shanahan's decision to make Haynesworth inactive for last Sunday's game against the New York Giants. "The guy doesn't practice well on Thursday, about as poor as I've ever seen, and then Friday, (he has a) so-called 'illness' that he doesn't practice," Haslett said. "And you're the head coach on Saturday night getting ready for Sunday, you've got to make a decision what's best for the football club, and I think Mike made the right decision."