Kids, be John Mara. Don’t be Dan Snyder. Today’s lesson in character comes from the annual NFL bloodbath when teams fire their failing coaches the day after the season ends. The New York Giants fired their head coach, the Washington Redskins their president, having fired their coach in mid-season.
The Giants stumbled through two seasons with head coach Pat Shurmur. They won 9 games and lost 23. They did worse the second season than they did the first. That wasn’t all his fault. The general manager Dave Gettleman made some bone-headed moves (and the team still suffered the effects of his incompetent predecessor), some new players didn’t play as well as expected, some key players got injured. His players supported him, and sometimes the Giants looked like a really good team. But he didn’t do well enough to keep the job.
The Redskins suffered disaster after disaster under president Bruce Allen. Holdouts, a brutal injury a couple years ago to a gifted quarterback who should have been starting this season, injuries to other players. Disastrous free agent signings. Toxic organizational culture. Loss of fans. Other things too, I’m sure. I don’t know much about the Redskins and life is too short to find out more. (It’s the Redskins.) Let’s assume the coach who was fired after five games and the president who was fired this morning needed to go.
How were they let go, that’s the important thing. Mara did it with class, Snyder with whatever is the opposite of class. Mara acted as a man of character. Snyder acted like a self-serving lout.
Mara v. Snyder
Here’s Giants’ owner John Mara on firing head coach Pat Shurmur: “This morning, we made the very difficult decision that it would be in the best interest of the franchise that we relieve Pat of his duties. The last three seasons have been extremely disappointing for the organization and our fans. Pat has been a successful and highly-respected NFL coach for 21 years and he is not solely responsible for our record. But we came to the conclusion it is best to have a fresh start with the coaching staff. We very much appreciate how much Pat has done for this franchise. He is a man of character and integrity and the team has conducted itself with pride and professionalism.
Mara then says: “As owners, we take full responsibility for our recent poor record.” He promises he and his partner, Steve Tisch, will do better from now on.
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And here’s the Redskins owner Dan Snyder on firing the team’s president: “As this season concludes, Bruce Allen has been relieved of his duties as President of the Washington Redskins and is no longer with the organization. Like our passionate fan base, I recognize we have not lived up to the high standards set by great Redskins teams, coaches and players who have come before us. As we reevaluate our team leadership, culture and process for winning football games, I am excited for the opportunities that lie ahead to renew our singular focus and purpose of bringing championship football back to Washington D.C.”
The Study in Contrasts
One speaks well of the fired employee, and regrets having to let him go. The other doesn’t and tries his best to make him a non-person. The first tries to protect his employee’s good name, the other hurts it, by leaving a silence others will fill in with criticism. That’s the biggest difference, and the most damning for Snyder, but not the only one.
One takes responsibility for the problems (the owners hired the coach, after all), the other doesn’t (though he hired the president, after all). One says “we” and means himself and the other owner, effectively saying “I” as in “I’m at fault, blame me.” The other says “we” meaning who knows who. No one in particular. And certainly not him. He means to diffuse responsibility.
The first admits the team did badly. The second claims the team simply failed to do as well as it has in the past. One promises to do better, after having taken the blame. The other talks about his excitement about the future, as if he’s an outsider who didn’t have anything to do with the problem.
In other words, John Mara told the truth. Dan Snyder obscured it. The Giants’ owner took responsibility. The Redskins’ owner deflected attention. Mara manned up. Snyder tried damage control.
Kids, be John Mara. Don’t be Dan Snyder. Be a courteous man and a class act. Don’t be a [Snyder].
David Mills is a senior editor of The Stream. After teaching writing in a seminary, he has been editor of Touchstone and the executive editor of First Things. He edits the site Hour of Our Death and writes the monthly “Last Things” column for the New Oxford Review.