Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Dec 09, 2013

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, the Capitals, the Nationals, the rest of D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Agree with your column, so how do we fire an owner who's likely to live at least 30 more years?

Getting rid of a bad owner is the hardest thing in sports. Owners almost always stick together on this because they don't want to set any precedent for booting an owner from the club by league action or by any means that could be duplicated against THEM if things go bad.

It's only when an owner fights the entire league, or defies his fellow owners, that he faces any punishment or penalty of any sort -- like the NFL owners ganging up to shaft Snyder with the salary cap penalty. He's "right," but he's also wrong because he's been in the league a long time and should know how the old-boys network functions. He crossed them all, so they paid him back. Bad guys act like bad guys. He forgot.

The Orioles attendance was cut in half over a number of years because of Angelos' incompetence and personality, but he's still there. And, sooner or later, even the bad owner gets a couple of good people who save him for a while -- Duquette and Showwalter who were out of the game, wanted to get back in and were a good mix at the right time. Even Angelos had to build up a terrible record of damaging a gold-mine franchise for more than a decade before he got the other 29 owners annoyed enough with him that they would vote the Expos into D.C.

Remember when Peter fired Frank Wren? Now he runs the Braves -- beautifully. Remember when he pushed out Pat Gillick with neglect? Now he's in the Hall of Fame. Jon Miller, Davey Johnson, Mike Mussina -- how many on the list who'll be in the HOF, in various roles, or come close to it, that he ran out, or neglected out of town.

Snyder has tried different styles, including -- with Shanahan -- being as hands-off as I could ever imagine him being with anybody. After Zorn-Cerrato, Snyder basically admitted: I'm no good at this. But he couldn't resist making friends with the great young QB -- let some of the glow rub off, maybe the fans will remember me for having the 1-1-1-2 guts to trade up for this guy. But even that backfires. Shanahan keeps tabs. If things go wrong, what's plan B and C to shift the blame. And The Danny did "succeed" in getting Robert Griffin believe that he was the full-blown almost-fully-formed NFL star -- the one and only RGIII -- before he was anything like a "finished" NFL QB. 

The reverse Midas Touch. Don't know how long it lasts. He hates this failure. He really would prefer 11-5 and less controversy -- though he's always going to have a drama-soaked, star-driven franchise because what he knows is marketing/selling/hype, not football.   

Now it all starts over again. Or will soon. A new coach. Roster explosion and rebuilding. How much blame for everybody -- plenty. It'll probably take years to put this hot mess back in some kind of shape.

It goes back to the Original Sin aganst Seattle: Shanahan and Snyder BOTH wanted to vindicate themselves so much, prove their critics wrong, that they were greedy to get back as high as possible as soon as possible. Take THAT! It was in the air around the Redskins. You can't define it. But part of the reason RGIII stayed in that game was the Skins Ethos. Or whatever you want to call a team's culture/atmosphere. They just wanted so much so fast that "they" -- Shanahan as coach, but the whole sense of the place -- that an awful foolish decision was made. Leave Him In when the whole country was saying Take Him Out. Now, it just keeps playing out.          

Lombardi, Flores, Johnson, Parcells, Ditka, Seifert, Holmgren, Parcells, Gibbs, and now Shanahan. That is 0-10. If your goal is to win a Super Bowl, it seems pretty clear that you should not hire a coach who has previously won a Super Bowl.

Good point.

Even when Gibbs came back I pointed out how hard it was -- in any sport -- for a coach to come back to the same town where he'd won it all and do it again. I remember Danny Murtaugh in Pittsburgh was one. Not many others.

Even though Houston GM Rick Smith was hired by Shananahn in Denver and they worked together for 10 years, that no guarantee that he'll be wanted by the Texans again. He's really good on the offensive X's and O's. But he's fielded one awful defense after another, hired a DC, and stuck with him, whose record with his last dozen defenses is horrendous and now has hired a special teams coach that has put together the worst special teams units in this solar system. And, except for RBs and, to a degree QBs, his record as his own GM is not special.

Who's going to want a coach with a resume that's been updated in that (shudder) fashion? We'll see.

They say hindsight is 20 - 20. Given that, do you think the Nationals were better off with either Edwin Jackson or Dan Haren than they would have been if they had just kept John Lannan?

John Lannan was 3-6 with a 5.33 ERA for the Phils and I haven't heard anybody mention his name in the loooong list of available pitchers this winter. The Nats took sensible shots at Jackson and Haren. Though in Haren's case, as I wrote the day they signed him, that was much more a risk because you were betting on a comeback by a pitcher with a ton of mileage who had lost velocity year after year and was coming off an injury. He was a thoroughbred that was running like a mule. They bet they could turn him back into a race horse. Didn't work.

Doug Fister is entirely different. He's been one of the game's more effective pitchers over the last three and four-year spans. I think the advanced metrics, that have him 10th in WAR among all pitchers the last three years, significantly overrate him and that he's just a good pitcher in his prime. But he IS a good pitcher in his prime. Smart, tough. Don't expect a star. His stuff is underwhelmingly effective. But, assuming decent health at 30, you're probably looking at an 11-12-13-14-game winner. And a rotation that now has FOUR starters who are absolutely established.

Also, Fister has loved the post-season. Tigers have won six of his last seven post-season starts.   

Plenty of depressing questions I could ask about the Redskins, but here is something a little different. Why is it that in football no one seems to care about PED use? Players are suspended fairly regularly for a couple of games but are then let back in the line up with no reactions from the media or the fans. Think about the same situation in baseball. Any player suspended for PEDs are vilified and booed mercilessly by fans when they come back. Why doesn't this happen in football?

The NFL has had an amazing ability to influence or manage football writers/media -- and, consequently, the league message -- for the last 40 years. And the networks that carry their games, of course, shill for a product that they've spent a fortune to acquire. Not always. There's some candor. But it's the exception, not the rule. Partly it's because there's only one game a week and access is so vital. Partly it's just that the NFL is full of control freaks. And they've been successful at exerting control. It's not a sport that welcomes "insight" or openness. 

When long-time baseball writers, who tend to be insubordinate and uncontrolable by nature -- for generations baseball needed daily coverage just about as much as it needed air to breath -- encounter the NFL, the reaction is often laughter followed by incredulity: Doesn't anybody tell the truth about anything around here? (Ans: No, not usually.)

Baseball writers and media have always held the sport to a higher standard than other sports and, ironically, the sport itself, right up to Selig, actually agrees with this. The NFL's standard is usually: What can we get away with? And if they don't get away with it -- like the concussion scandals, bounty-gate -- their first impulse is: How do we control it or spin it. All leagues/sports are like this by nature -- but to different degrees. Football was always been praised, ironically, for its "public relations" aptitude. That is indeed high and ironic praise for a concept like "PR." 

One of the reasons the NFL has so many problems coming into the open now is that it was so effective at keeping them secret, or denying (even to themselves) that they existed for so long. I'll be interested to see how much more gets aired -- and in what areas -- over the next five years.  

Looking at Marty, Gibbs, and now Shanny, this guy turns winners into bad or quitting coaches. And Danny boy does play favorites with players which can't help.

I reweeted a response to one of my tweets yesterday: "Washington is where coaches go to make a fortune and lose a reputation." Think the tweeter IDed himself as BobKimble.

With the Nats a likely playoff contender, the Wizards looking improved, and the Caps remaining relevant, will we look back at Dec. 8, 2013, as the day the Redskins fell back to the pack in terms of DC love? Seems like in year 14 of Snyder's reign of failure that people are not paying as much attention. How many more weeks until Spring Training?

In terms of justifiable news value, I'd say the Skins just fell behind the Caps in the cold months and the Nats in the warm months. And the Wiz are playing better, though that's a believe-it-when-I-see-it situation.

D.C. is still addicted to the sopa opera. But I think that this Shanahan-Snyder-RGIII mess may finally be disgusting enough to constitute an opportunity for Skins methedone treatment for some hooked fans.

My son DIDN'T watch the game live yesterday! I couldn't believe it. But he did come back and watch the tape just to see how awful it was. Maybe the next generation will break free and breath clean air!

I believe that December 29th in the Baseball Solstice -- the mid-point between the last game of the Series and Pitchers-and-Catchers report.  It's going to feel like a long 20 days. 

At least the Caps just beat one of their (many) nemeses -- Henrik Lundqvist -- in back-to-back lopsided wins over the Rangers, who knocked them out of the playoffs last season. That was after going 202 minutes and 28 seconds without a goal against New York. 

The winter meetings should be fun. There is an incredibly long list of useful players -- not great players, but useful pieces -- still available. I've never seen such a long list of players and pitchers who will reward (somebody's) analysis. This list may be outdated by a day, but the available starting pitchers include Ervin Santana (211 IP, 3.24 ERA), Matt Garza (10-6), Ubaldo Jimenez (182 IP, 3.30), AJ Burnett (3.30 in 191 IP), Bartolo Colon (18-6), Bronson Arroyo (14-12), Pat Malholm (10-11), Roy Halladay (how the mighty have fallen), Jason Hammel, Barry Zito, Roy Oswalt. Some may be washed up. But there's gold (somewhere) in them there hills.

The hitters, a few stars but a tons of players who could strengthen a bench, include: Shin-Soo Chopo, Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Corey Hart, Kendrys Morales, Juan Uribe, Omar Infante, James Loney, Michael Morse, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, John Buck, Mark Reynolds, Michael Young, Travis Haffner and at least 10 others.

Which of them had slugging averages over .400 last year, which at least is good for a bench player? Ibanez (.487), Chavez (.478), Infante (.450), Morales (.449), Drew (.443, a SS), Uribe (.438), Loney (.430), Luke Scott (.415).

Nats were smart to get Nate McClouth, good enough to start almost all '13 for an 85-win O's team in LF, but now a fourth OFer in Washington. That's a significant upgrade.

THE most overlooked, undervalued aspect of baseball that's STILL neglected: building a bench. Every year most teams get more plate appearances from their bench players and pitchers than they do from their 3-4-5 hitters combined. But most of the money and attention is spent on upgrading stars or starters. But for an extra $5-to-$10M you might improve your bench production by far more than you could with a comparable expenditure in any other area.    

Going to be a long road back to respectability. Figure the next GM could use a first round pick. (And let's please stop talking about whether the coach should stay or go. This is the result of 15 years without a GM. It doesn't matter who the coach is -- this team will continue to fail until a professional is making the strategic decisions for the future of the team. Let's get a real GM and let him decide who his coach is going to be.)

You mean Vinny Cerrato wasn't a real GM!!!???

Irony: the final straw to get Shanahan fired might be to say you'll bench RGIII and play Cousins. Yet the smartest move the Skins might be able to make is to play Cousins the last three weeks, see what you've got and keep RGIII in one piece. Cousins didn't look any better than Griffin on Sunday. But a dome game in Atlanta against a dead Falcon team might be a fair test followed by Cowboys at home and Giants in the tundra.

IF the coach had a good relationship with his franchise QB, then he could do that and cause no damage. But when you have a ??? relationship, it's dynamite.

BTW, by the end of 3Q at FedEx on Sunday it looked like a neutron bomb had hit -- structure left standing, all human life extinquished. 

If it keeps going like this, they're gonna need Party Decks For 50,000 pretty soon.

I am not a Snyder apologist, but the team is 3-13 (projecting) in year four of Kind Mike's reign because the owner sends a car to pick up RG3's fiancee and is not nice enough to Kirk Cousins? It seems like Shanahan had final say on everything for the Redskins over the last four years and to blame this failure on Snyder is wrong. It is also very smart as fans and the media love the narrative of Evil Snyder as that story writes itself. So, how about Del Rio as head coach? Decent run in Jax, did well in Denver this year with Fox out. Defenseive head coach and he can find some OC that can really work with RG3 without also being the head coach. Don't want Briles as an HC, unless Snyder hires a traditional GM (fat chance) that then decides to hire Briles.

All good points. Shanahan knows Snyder is easy pickings, so he's pickin'.

Del Rio is interesting. As Dave Sheinin's excellent feature on Art Briles showed, he's not leaving the state of Texas for anything. Or if he does, a whole lot of people will faint. He's 57 and has never been out of the state "for more than four or five days at a time" in his life. He's happy. He's got a 10-year contract and heds be out of his mind to come to DC now.

The good: Fister and McLouth are now Nats, bolstering two areas of the roster. Get that leffy reliever and some infield bench help if you don't deem Espinosa the answer, and you're set. The mixed: GW beats Maryland...but we'll never know if the Colonials are the best team in town because Georgetown refuses to schedule them -- and is NEVER called out for it by the local press. The bad: That fiasco of a football team in Landover. More and more, the Griffin deal reminds me of the Senators' trade for Denny McLain (though on the baseball side, the price the Nats paid for Fister appears to have equalized things after 43 years).

Congrats to GW and to "I want the ball" (three times in the last huddle) Maurice Creek who nailed the shot that beat Maryland 77-75 on Sunday. That's 8-1 GW.

I doubt that Fister ever makes up for the Denny McLain trade! Denny sent me a long hand-written letter from prison -- many pages. I guess he had a little time on his hands. He didn't like something I wrote about the trade years later. Man, I should have kept it.

By chance I clicked on the Ask Boz discussion from 9/3 and saw up top agreement that 9-7 was a reasonable guess for the season, the 'Skins had come through the preseason looking good and with no important injuries and you expressed confidence that RGIII would return at 100 percent. Now we know that was pretty much the high water mark for the season. What is the biggest single reason why, in your judgment? (Coaching staff? Can they really do that much harm?)

I'm happy I only came in at 9-7. Many can be found at 10, 11 and even 12 wins! Enthusiasm: a dangerous drug. But, come on, how many people DIDN'T enjoy the NFC East title last year and the apparent return to almost-100 percent-health of RGIII?

The big shock that few anticipated, but we (I) probably should have, is that the '12 Skins offense would not work with the RGIII of '13. The only thing the Pistol has shot this year is the Skins foot. RGIII has NEVER been a real threat to run all year. Foes just say: PLEASE let him run for 5 or 10 yards so we can crush him. They don't have any fear of the 20, 30 or 50-yard run the way they had it in their minds last year. RGIII barely had enough speed to run down the linebacker who intercepted his pass on Sunday and RGIII had the angle! By next year, w/out brace, he better be quicker. And he needs to study 10 tons of film. He glared down another primary receiver on Sunday, leading directly to an INT.   

As a Chiefs fan, I was happy to pay $12 for what ended up as sideline tickets for yesterday's game. And the score wasn't surprising, either, given the high quality Chiefs special teams and the historically awful quality of the local team's unit. But what did surprise me was how much of a dump FedEx Field is. I've been in a number of NFL stadiums around the country, and I've never seen one in worse shape. Yes, the weather was bad, but that doesn't excuse copious dried fecal matter on the walls of two bathrooms (dried would tend to indicate that it was there before the game, I'm thinking) and a general lack of concessions (most in the upper deck didn't open or closed soon after kickoff). The general appearance and feel of the place wasn't much better than RFK--where I've enjoyed many a D.C. United game with the understanding that it is a stadium waiting to be torn down. Snyder's team may be junk, but his stadium isn't any better.

Yet another rave review for FedEx Field.

But the owner has his own team airplane.

Dan ought to have a Lucky Fan Lottery every week and invite 10 randomly-chosen fans to sit with him in his box, enjoy the game, share a few laughes and give him their ideas about the game and the team. He could start in two weeks for the Dallas game. It would class up the guess list in the box. Those shots of him during losing game would have his own fans in the background sharing his grief. And he might learn something -- about people, about his fans, about modesty, about his team, about how much normal people hate that Caesar in his thumbs-up-thumbs-down box image that Snyder doesn't seem to understand that he has. I'm serious. This, or something like it, as long as there's some actual sincerity in it, would be a good idea. Don't big-time 'em. Eat a hotdog or a slice of pizza, like a fan. Get Bruce Allen to sit there for a half. What else does he have to do? What's so sad and odd is that Snyder really is the quintissential AVERAGE Skins fan, born and raised. He'd probably REALLY enjoy talking to 10 fans more than sitting there alone. That's actually who he is -- or who he was 14 years ago. Well, before the Personal Security Guard. He's forgotten who that guy used to be.

Flash: Roy Halladay to retire. One of the highest winning percenatges in baseball of anybody with 200 wins. Google: "Ferocious Competitor." If he didn't bring something to the game, an X Factor that numbers don't entirely measure, then nobody in his era did. 

Good thing these geniuses fired Danny Smith last year because the special teams are just so so much better this season.

Danny Smith: genius.

Post-game Skins player quote (forget who said it, but he said it on the record) on being on special teams: "There's too many guys who think they're too good for special teams."

Let me drag in one point about why so many Skins players are still backing Shanahan: he's going soft on them in practices and they love/appreciate it. "Coach has been doing one of the best jobs," said Santana Moss. "He's been doing the right thing by his players."

I followed up a couple of minutes later to get him to expand. "It's about protecting ytour players -- keep you fresh enough to play on Sunday. I've been on teams worse than this when we just pound on each other every week. (The coach's job is to) make sure you are healthy and fresh. Then it's on us on Sunday." Moss then added, bluntly, that the players had failed to hold up their end of that bargain.

I'd add that isn't a bad idea, necessarily, to back off a 3-6 team and hope it won't quit on you, hope you'll keep more players in one piece to fight again the next season. But it's also a crafty way to keep some of your veteran players happy and in your corner because they'd like to survive the season and, maybe, get another pay day or two in the future.

Well done calling out Shanny the way you did yesterday. All season it seems that folks haven't challenged him after some comments. still, the question is this...... what now? I think most folks realize Snyder needs to take yet another step back. This time he gave Shanny everything he wanted, and it failed. Now he probably needs football people in the roles of Team President and GM...and allow those guys to run the Organization. Also, who runs the Skins PR team? Their tweets during the game were pathetic....and their instagram halftime image left out the score (which is usually included). Fans already strongly dislike and distrust Larry Michael. But I'm curious why their messaging is so poor.

It has been written, and I laughed when I read it somewhere, that the Skins are worse at public relations than any other business in America is at anything.

Could be true. But that's how the owner wants it. He wants to control the message. Yeah, how's that working out so far.

An Owner who is pals with the Quarterback puts his Head Coach in a difficult situation. A Head Coach who hires his son as the Offensive Coordinator puts his Quarterback in a difficult situation. A Quarterback who lets his Dad to undermine his Offensive Coordinator adds fuel to the fire. What a mess. Which NFL head coaches/quarterbacks do you think are candid and forthright without causing their team's headaches? I think the Belchick / Brady model, which is the opposite of forthright, works well but I recognize it would be difficult as a reporter covering that team.

RGIII (and RGII at times) have been in this mess, too. Griffin really bought into himself as all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips. Yes, outdated, but a good description. The ESPN rehab special was 10 red flags in one. Watch the Great Me return as The Great Me. Just embarassing. He had to go along with that project day after day and think of himself as that idealized packaged person. The camera loves him. That doesn't mean he should love it back.

I wouldn't care if Belichick and Brady never spoke. (Actaully, they don't, but their lips move.) It would be enough to write about what they actually DO.

Brady praising the Pats kicker for the perfect "center bunt" to himself that ultimately won Sunday's game. It was very sincere, big grin, especially since the kicker has to be the first one to reach his own kick with about 1,000 pounds of enemy arriving at the same instant. 

Tom, As the late season coaches purges/hot seat considerations are starting, a question arises: Would teams be better off hiring a young, hungry assistant coach, a true footbal man like Andy Reid or Jeff Fischer, or a celebrity coach like Cowher, Gruden, etc. Baseball men like Francona and Farrell trump celebrities like Bobby V. The Redskins have had too many celebrity (Gibbs II, Steve S., and Shanny) coaches that maybe its time to hire a dull football man.

Good organizations in all sports have people running them who have the pulse of the young coaching/managing talent and they have people that they Really Really Want when the time comes. They may be right, they may be wrong. But that's how you should do it. For example, Rizzo has really, really wanted Matt Williams when the time was right and he could get him. It's a call based on Rizzo knowing Williams for more than 15 years, being in the same organization in Arizona. Rizzo has LIVED the due dilligence on Williams. That doesn't mean it has to work. But it's got one helluva lot better chance to work that the Skins method where the sum total of knowledge about coaches is who's on an NFL pre-game on MNF show with a big ring on his finger. None of those guys is coming to DC after Shanahan. This will end up being the Search for Jim Zorn II.

Same deal with the Caps. GMGM is totally sold on Adam Oates, they're in it totally together. It's an example of: If this guy fails, fires me, 'cause this is as good an idea as I'm capable of having. This guy was born to be an NHL coach.


Does Mike Shanahan have any chance to get into the Hall of Fame now?

The Skins Hall of Fame?

From 2002-11 Halladay went 170-75, had 2.97 ERA, a perfect game, a playoff no hitter & 6 Top 5 Cy Young finishes (1,1,2,2,3,5). Despite the "low" win total of 203 for his career, even the geriatric voters put him in the Hall of Fame pretty easily, right?

You make a very nice brief case. Thanks. But 203 wins is going to take a LOT to overcome. But Halladay probably left 50 wins on the field by pitching hurt or deep into games to get important wins for his teams.

With the Yankees going back into wild spending mode without regard of luxury taxes -- where their payroll will be multiples of many other teams, is there hope in our lifetimes that baseball ever actually have a fair system?

Don't worry too much about the Yankees spending on McCann, Beltran, etc. They just lost Cano, Granderson, Jeter is about done, Rivera, Pettitte. CC is fading. A-Rod is an anchor. They'll have to do a good job to win more than last year's 85. Yankees fans won't believe it. Come back in 11 months. They will then.

Which one do you prefer, Weasels, Skunks, or Peacocks?


I think that'll do it for today. Too many good questions! 

Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa all made the Hall of Fame today. What chances do you give Davey Johnson? Do last season's poor outcome hurt his candidacy?

The three today were all deserving gimmes. Davey's a tougher call. The '13 Nats season didn't hurt his chances nearly as much as '13 will hurt Shanahan's. But these were big years for both and both big disappointments.   

Look at what happened to the Dodgers once Frank McCourt sold. Do you think the same thing could happen to the Redskins if Synder sold the team, I don't think Dan has a friend in D.C. other than his dog.

Sure changed fast, didn't it. But then real baseball people run that franchise from the top down now. They have the money now. But eventually they'll probably have the whole system.

That quote is from Niles Paul. Can we get a list of the players "too good to play special teams", announce they are cut and why they are being cut, and make sure the other 31 teams know it. Nobody on this team is "too good" for anything.


While Rizzo will surely sign a leftie reliever and backup catcher, do you expect any surprise acquisitions this offseason?

I've learned to expect to be surpised. Everybody in baseball mentioned every decent available starter as a Nats possibility except Doug Fister. Then you study Fister and conclude that, considering what you'd have had to give up for others, he's probably the best option. All these decisions can end up failing. You judge them at the time -- in real time. Just an excellent trade. 

Why is Shanahan engaged in this sort of behavior? What owner would hire him after this record of undermining leaks?

That was his reputation before he ever arrived. Brilliant obsessive offensive football mind. Maybe lost his touch with hiring the right defensive people in Denver. Has a hot young coordinator in his son. Could make you better fast. Autocrat, disciplinarian, mean streak -- with clean out your "bad room" for you in a hurry. Might help you get back to draft-to-build. But if things go bad, nobody is better at making you wish you never met him. Given time, every part of that came true, the good and the bad. And there was good along the way.

Over and out. Really.

In This Chat
Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
Recent Chats
  • Next: