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Flawed owner involvement is one of worst-kept secrets in sports

The general consensus among fans in our nation's capital is that Jim Zorn is not the problem. It's not that they think he's a good head coach, because they don't. It's more that firing Zorn is like putting a band-aid over a gunshot wound. It may cover up the hole momentarily, but the problem is still there. Namely in team owner Daniel Snyder.

Flawed owner involvement is one of the worst-kept secrets in sports. That we almost never hear about the "suggestions" ownership makes to management and coaches is understandable. Those executives and coaches know it would be career suicide to place any type of blame on the owner. Heck, at Redskins home games these days, security personnel allegedly threaten fans with eviction if they're wearing or carrying any anti-Snyder clothing or banners.

As a player, you're never privy to the conversations that take place between ownership and their staff, though sometimes a decision can be so head-scratching that you figure something must be up.

I vividly recall a Cowboys game in which one of Jerry Jones' aides walked over to our head coach Dave Campo and said something. Campo then went up to our offensive line coach, who in turn told our high draft pick that he was back in the game, this after he had been pulled a series or two earlier for poor play. It was like an adult game of whisper down the alley, only the message didn't get lost in translation. It was time for Jerry's pick to get back on the field. That always made me wonder what other mandates were coming down from on high.

And it's not just Dallas. I found the reports curious at the end of training camp that Bills owner Ralph Wilson summoned not only his head coach and general manager to his home in Detroit, but also the offensive and defensive coordinators. I have a deep admiration for Wilson and can understand his desire to find out what was going on with his Bills and to reiterate his expectations for the season after a horrible preseason, but the coordinators? My assumption would be that he is talking with them in some way, shape or form about X's and O's, and I think that is when it can become dicey.

I've been told many other stories over the years, either by assistant coaches or front office executives, about owners making starting quarterback decisions, making assistant coach hiring decisions, interrupting coaches' game-planning meetings to have weekly two-hour phone conversations with the head coach, and doing much more. At least Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams came out publicly recently with his desire to see more of Vince Young at quarterback, so we all know the origins of that decision if Young starts this week.

I prefer that as opposed to Adams demanding behind the scenes that Titans head coach Jeff Fisher play Young, which would in turn force Fisher to explain the rationale if he falters. Though, come to think of it, even if Young does play, Fisher won't let on that it was the owners' influence and will still be forced to explain Young's performance.

We see this phenomenon unfold all the time when it comes to team spending. The fans and most members of the media primarily speak in terms of the salary cap and the amount of available room. I have been told on good authority by several team executives, however, that the cap is only one consideration typically, and not even the biggest one. Every team has an amount it's willing to spend in a given year, regardless of the cap. We just don't know what it is, so sometimes executives like the Bucs' Mark Dominick find themselves constantly defending their teams spending habits even if the reality may be that they have been given a very specific cash ceiling by their superiors.

It's easy for fans to point to the relative lack of success of teams like the Cowboys and Redskins of late and blame the owners for being overly involved. The suggestion being, of course, that Jones and Snyder hire "real" football men, then step aside and let them do their thing. That sounds all well and good, but would you do that? If you were the owner of an NFL team, would you take a backseat and decline to have significant input on all of the football decisions? I didn't think so.

You see, making the decisions is why businessmen like Jones and Snyder get involved in pro football. It's an adrenaline rush. Snyder and Jones, and owners like them, are playing the coolest game of "Madden" or "Fantasy Football" ever, only the people involved are real and the buy-in for their fantasy league is about $799,999,980 more than the $20 league you're in. It's no secret that one of the reasons Marty Schottenheimer lasted only one year in Washington was that Snyder wasn't having a whole lot of fun being behind the scenes. Not his style.

So where exactly does that leave you, as the fan of a team with an over-involved owner or, even worse, an under the radar owner who is much more heavily involved than you would ever know? Nowhere, really. The owners have paid for the right to do whatever they want and the only way the fans can truly show their displeasure is to refuse to buy the tickets and merchandise. Or watch the games on television. Then maybe they will start losing money and sell the team. Good luck with that.

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