Man, was I wrong. I had the Redskins at 11-5 and a real contender this year. What wishful thinking.
But I do think that my major contentions for why the Skins would have a breakout year were sound. Sort of. I said I saw real greatness in Jason Campbell and Jim Zorn. I stand by that, but more in the character sense at this point than in their game time execution. Campbell seems much further along as a bona fide NFL starting QB than Zorn as a head coach, but both guys stayed steady and impressed me with their unflappable tenor all year.
Now there are so many big question heading into the offseason, with Zorn out and Shanahan in, from whether to keep Campbell and/or Clinton Portis to constructing a coaching staff to building an offensive line.
Knowing Where to Put the “X”: Priceless
And yet, there really is only one question: What to do about the fact that the Redskins culture has been built around Dan Snyder since he arrived here over a decade ago. Snyder is clearly effective at building a business from a football franchise. Yet, the culture has had to live the with a sort of hubris and the blind spots that come from that. A businessman trying to run a football organization without football experience is a sort of hubris that the man at the top is allowed to have.
So will he relinquish the culture to Mike Shanahan now, or at least the football side of it? I suspect he will. But that must be proven. And I think it could really work well to have a balance of power between the football and the business sides of the house. That would be real culture change.
But the culture change I want to see–the change to a culture of winning–cannot occur without demanding football excellence. Shanahan will have to impose that on Snyder in clear and in subtle ways, and then have that trickle down so that all the players see that the Redskins organization is not a retirement village for the old and overpaid. We need more hungry guys. We need mean streaks. But we need discipline.
The combination of tenacity and discipline is what is lacking across the roster on a consistent basis. The Redskins linebackers seem to have these skills. The one player who I think shows the clearest lack of these combined traits–but the most potential to hit the next level–is Laron Landry. He could elevate into someone closer to Sean Taylor, a player who he seems to have the tenacity to be like, if he were disciplined enough not to look for the killer hit on every play.
The culture of what Michael Wilbon calls “Celebrity Football” is the opposite of tenacity and discipline. Snyder has built that. Shanahan must undo that old culture before he can build his own. This is no sure thing. Shanahan is a celebrity himself.
Culture Change from the Grassroots Up
If I could make one bold move with a wave of the magic wand to ensure the culture change the Skins need, I would directly involve the Redskins fan base in a disciplined way. When Jason Reid called the Skins fan base the smartest he has seen, I think he was hitting on a profound opportunity.
The Skins fans are Snyder’s biggest financial asset, to be sure. But it could be a football asset too. I have done a fair bit of research on the ability for blogs, Web2.0, and the like to reshape culture by bringing the top-down and the bottom-up together into more effective communication.
If the “new” Redskins regime with Snyder, Shanahan, and Bruce Allen at the helm wants to be more profitable, more focused, more vetted in its decisions, and more beloved by fans (especially Washington natives like me who view this organization as something of a sacred trust that is very much part of my family), then there is an incredible untapped opportunity to bring the fans even more into the football decision-making circle. Concepts like Crowdsourcing and the wisdom of crowds are relatively untapped, but there are great opportunities. Cut away the obvious haters on the Redskins Insider blog, and you have a passionate and intelligent group of people who have many valuable insights for Snyder and his team.
We have motive alignment: We want him to be successful! The question is one of collective intelligence. How could you use a concept like Crowdsourcing to harness the insights of the Redskins fan base? And how could you keep the passionate fans from drowning each other out?
For those skeptics who think this idea is silly, you may want to stop. Our Democracy may have passionate citizens drowning each other out with partisan back-and-forth all the time, but the fact that American is the leading nation on earth says something about the power of (messy) cultural development from the grassroots up.
Of course, such development needs to be directed. But with our interactive media ecology, all that would be needed would be some basic planning to get things started, some rules of engagement to keep things positive, and some goals to keep everyone pulling in the same general direction.
For the launch, imagine this grassroots fan engagement campaign kicked off with a big public event with guys like Jason Reid, Mike Wise, and Doc Walker coming together to frame things moving forward. Let the Skins management be involved if they want, but not as the drivers. No one would trust that. Journalists and sports casters should have the name recognition, critical analysis skills, and financial independence to play the key role to bridge the gap. And let them name the launch even something honest and forward leaning. I dunno, maybe something like “The Public Trust: Connecting Redskins Fans and Management for Game-Changing Results.”
Then have these journalists pose specific questions (the kind that should bubble up after hours and hours of coverage of the team, whether on print, radio, or TV) about every aspect of the organization. Start with evaluating the salary cap. Not every fan understands it, but some do. And other perspectives, like that of an everyday contract manager, could be highly valuable. Same with evaluating personnel. A mom calling in or emailing responses to questions about how the players talk negatively in public about the coaches (like DeAngelo Hall did about Zorn) may bring in the winning ideas. If a mom said to let the alpha dog (Snyder) back up the coach by chastising these young, rich loudmouths in public, we would all know she is right. That’s culture change.
The journalists could then take all that they have heard from the fans at this event, aggregate it into a collected series of report (written and video), and then publish it prominently at a website for ongoing evaluation of team performance. That would take blogging to the next level, no. How fascinating would it be to see over the course of the season if the wisdom of the collective grassroots proved to be superior against the small circle of decision-makers at the top.
Let the data speak for itself. If the fans overwhelmingly wanted to keep Jason Campbell but not Clinton Portis, but the Skins front office went the other way, we may see some surprising results over the ensuing year. The fans collectively may have a better idea of what to do than the front office. Or not. Knowing one way or the other would be helpful.
Of course, there are all sorts of scenarios where apples vs. oranges comparisons would come in. How do you compare Jason Campbell’s success (or lack) at another team against his track record here? Or against his future projects. The beauty here is that you could break down mechanics, stats, intangibles, etc. and there would still be a level of inconclusiveness that would keep it interesting. Folks would still talk and debate, probably even more because there would be a sense of ownership by the fans.
And if Dan Snyder embraced this, I suspect there would be a strong bridge built between him and the fans as a result, which would only strengthen his ability to make bold moves to get the kinds of players the collective decision-makers identify as critical to future success. Snyder’s tenacity at getting the players he wants is a great asset–but it needs discipline. Shanahan and Allen plus this grassroots approach could provide that discipline.
Web 2.0 tools could capture all this, from live video of the launch event to posting of the “report” created by the journalists/sportscasters to ongoing comments, polling/voting, and in-season coverage. It would be totally fascinating to the entire sports world as well, as it could even become a model for integrating the fan base into the team culture, and vice versa. Why not? Fortune favors the bold!
Yeah, for real. Absolutely. It is not as silly as you may think. One key reason why I think this can work is because Shanahan and Allen can be fired by Snyder. The clock is already ticking on them. Not so with the fans. Thus, we are not locked into the culture of Snyder’s Redskins the way team management is. This is a new football realpolitik, where we cannot be fired by Snyder, nor can we fire him. Within that tension, we might as well take our shared motivation forward towards winning Super Bowls and work together.
Building a culture of success is very hard. Wanting it, paying top dollar for it, bringing in previous winners is not enough. We have learned that the hard way. I fear we will learn the hard way again, with more top down attempts to create something that simply takes time.
If we want to accelerate things, I think getting more structured, channeled input from the fans as laid out above could not only bring in more insight on the process, it could also bridge the gap between the fans and management to make everyone feel a sense of shared ownership. That would probably give Snyder a better sense of how to market his franchise more efficiently (and thus freeing up resources for better players, coaches, and facilities). It would also ease the tensions among the grassroots towards Snyder, which I think would give him the sense of support one needs to be patient and let the culture naturally emerge from all the parties working together to produce a consistent winner.
For real for real, the data is in that supports this. People are motivated toward mastery in what they do. That means tenacity+discipline will organically come with patience if you set up the conditions forward and get motivated people in the right places. That means you need to celebrate small, incremental, ongoing successes when things are going in the right direction slowly. This is not Celebrity Football, but it is moving towards mastery. It is the creation of a culture, and this approach can include the fans with journalists/sportscasters playing the critical intermediate, independent role. It’s what players do every day in practice. Refinement, isolation of weaknesses, transforming bad habits into winning ones.
Fans kept out of the process of such engagement–when the tools of doing so are readily available–not only strains a public trust, but it also may prove to be a bad strategy.
What Could Be Lost
The downside risk of more Celebrity Football, in my book, is the loss of Jason Campbell. We saw Jason stand and deliver all year. Not perfectly, but pretty consistently. He kept getting sacked and kept getting up. He became more fiery as the season went on. And when Clinton Portis seemed to call him out in public, he bit back harder and then took the high road to squash things from becoming an offseason distraction. Well done!
Look at the skills and leadership of the three Skins QBs who led them to Super Bowls, then look at Campbell. Don’t tell me he can’t get it done.
This is my opinion as one fan, but that is what this is about. So I guess I am kicking off this grassroots fan ownership and culture change right here. Let me draw my line in the sand and state clearly what kind of culture I want:
Keep Jason Campbell.
He has enough mastery of the skill of being an NFL QB and enough greatness in him as a man to be an effective leader. He can lead a good Skins team from good to great–from where they are today to the promised land of winning Super Bowls.
Because of all the diligence and drive invested in him and by him already, I believe that he will learn how to win it all here. He will learn to master all the in-season and in-locker room machinations needed to call forth the best efforts of his team to seize victory on the field. He has shown it when the team has been down. Wait until the get some real momentum under Shanahan! My guess is that Jason will get such a strong taste for success that he will gain a leonine hunger to get back there again. That is the killer instinct missing this year on the field, the very thing that must be established for winning culture change on this team. I still believe Campbell has that killer instinct in him, and we have seen flashes of it already (especially against the best teams the Skins have played against).
There is so much downside risk in a culture of Celebrity Football. Celebrity Football says you need a fiery guy like Jay Cutler or Mark Sanchez, but that’s silly. It also may be a projection of the kind of guy Snyder sees himself being on the field. But this season has shown that a strong but silent personality at the QB position can still win the respect of the team, and the fans. A recent Redskins Insider poll has shown this emphatically.
Getting rid of a guy like Jason Campbell is the biggest risk that this organization faces right now. If he will still have us, I say he must stay!
Look closer and deeper at how JC has been treated in the pursuit of these flashy QBs, examine how he has responded as a man of real character, see how the players have stuck with him, and recognize how his game has improved steadily (though slowly at times). How can anyone conclude that we know his upper limits yet, as a passer and as leader of this team?
Give Jason Campbell more time. Build a culture of discipline, tenacity, and patient mastery around him. Let Snyder, Shanahan, Allen, and the rest of the football organization–and even the collective wisdom of the fan base–come together around him. Let him know this thing is on his shoulders, and we are all standing by to follow him to the promised land, even though it may take longer than we want.
If our team were to really do this, I suspect we’d see what we all really want–us and the whole football world chanting “Hail to the Redskins” again–before we ever thought possible.