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Diner morning news: ‘Skins need a new plan

Riggins blasts Snyder, but there’s no response. Why? Michael Lombardi

Print This November 05, 2009, 10:29 AM EST

QUOTE: “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” -- Japanese proverb

A civil war in Washington

Wednesday on “Inside the NFL” on Showtime, we had an appearance by former Redskins running back great John Riggins. If you subscribe to Showtime and missed it because of the World Series, make sure to catch it later this week. Riggins never holds back, and there was nothing said off camera that wasn’t said on camera. He was passionate about the state of the Redskins and even more passionate about owner Dan Snyder. Here’s what Riggins said about Snyder:

“This is a bad guy that owns this team. I'll just tell you that up front. Bad guy. And if the commissioner is worried about potential new owners and saying some of these guys shouldn't apply, he might want to police his own inside guys.”

Both host James Brown and analyst Cris Collinsworth asked Riggins to be more specific about his charge that Snyder was a “bad guy” – whether he meant in business or on a personal level. Riggins said:

“I am saying that I don't think that this franchise can be successful where you have people saying, ‘Oh, this person Dan Snyder wants to win. He wants to win.’ It's all about priorities. ‘What’s my priorities? The priority is it's all about me. I have to have my needs met, then I want to make money, and those are one and two, and then I want to win.’ You can see by the decisions that are made....I don't know if you have agreed with anything I am saying so far, but at this point, I would think you would say, ‘Yeah, I'll go along with that.’ This person knows nothing about football, absolutely nothing. I don't think they have a clue how a football team comes together, how it works. And yet they are the ones that are basically calling all the shots through a puppet, which is Vinny Cerrato. That is my take on it....I speak for the fans because these are the people that paid my salary for all these years. They are the ones that need to know that this is a bad guy.”

We offered Snyder an opportunity to come on the show at any time to refute Riggins’ comments. Snyder needs to be proactive with his public relations — like Jerry Jones of the Cowboys. Love him or hate him, Jerry is not afraid to get in front of a camera and handle a tough situation. Avoiding a confrontation or avoiding an uncomfortable situation only makes the problem worsen. Snyder cannot take the Oakland Raiders approach to public relations, which is to attack anyone who says a bad word and only do interviews they can control -- which in turn essentially become an infomercial. Hiding from this problem is not the right course of action, or the right kind of leadership. Good or bad, a leader must keep leading.

Snyder’s lack of willingness to address these issues might seem to some (me included) that he’s not willing to let go of his overall control. Saying he’s sorry and feels bad about the team’s 2-5 start is a good first step, but telling the fan base there’s a plan in place will win their support. Fans want to know their leader has a plan. They want to know their team is being guided with a purpose, and being silent on these issues sends the wrong message.

The next GM in Cleveland

I hope, I sincerely hope, that Browns owner Randy Lerner is smart enough not to include Eric “The Secret” Mangini in the process of hiring the team’s next general manager. But here’s what “The Secret” revealed Wednesday:

“Yeah, Randy and I talk a lot, so I’m sure we’ll be very engaged in that (decision).” Asked if it would hard to add a GM midway through the season, he said, “We're just going through the process, so I’m not sure how that will all play out. We have to really see what’s there, see what’s available.”

Mangini is part of the problem, not part of the solution. His authority must be scaled back because he can’t be in control of the entire organization. Lerner must communicate to his fan base that he alone is going to make the hire. He may have the next man meet “The Secret” but not allow Mangini to control the selection. Mangini controlled the hiring of George Kokinis because he wanted full control. He doesn’t want to hear a different point of view or a different side to the story; he wants people who are loyal to him. His experience in New York made him more determined to create a loyalist society in Cleveland, and no one was getting into the Browns building without pledging their undying loyalty. Since he’s been a head coach in the NFL, Mangini has wanted to work alongside his longtime friend Kokinis, and while with the Jets, both he and Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum wanted Kokinis to join them. The three have always dreamed of working together at some point in their careers. But Baltimore blocked the Kokinis move, and their dreams were never realized.

Whoever the next guy is, he’ll be walking into a very difficult situation since most of the front office employees were hired by Mangini. So the person Lerner selects must be very strong in his ability to lead, strong in his ability to change the culture in the building and very strong to be able to know and develop a comprehensive plan. Bringing in a good evaluator and making him the general manager is not going to work. Evaluating is one part of the job — certainly a big part -- but leadership and the ability to communicate are other enormous tasks and the most important jobs in Cleveland.

Do you think Lerner even knows the qualifications for the job? Do you think he understands exactly what has to happen from the front office to be a team that can actually compete for the a title? “The Secret” can say he worked for Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick and claim he knows their total program — but knowing the program and implementing it are two different enterprises. That’s like me saying I’ve watched Mario Batali cook and I can open a five-star restaurant. Not going to happen.

Belichick’s and Parcells’ brilliance lies in their ability to motivate, to know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and most critically to understand exactly what kinds of players are essential to winning in the NFL in 2009. The secret to their success doesn’t lie in their ability to keep secrets; it lies in their ability to build a team on and off the field. One of the reasons we’re seeing such a disparity in teams right now is because many NFL front office people don’t understand how to build the right team and then how to develop a program of player procurement that is the foundation of the team. Team building doesn’t mean bringing in a bunch of hard-working players who have been with the coaches at other teams and are willing to be compliant. That’s what occurred in Detroit under former coach Rod Marinelli. They had a bunch of great guys in the locker room but no talent on the field. I see the same course of action developing in Cleveland under “The Secret.”

So how can Mangini be a part of the process when his idea of team building will be diametrically different than the next hire? Only Randy Lerner can answer that question -- and all the other questions that await him as he rebuilds his team.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

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