Friday Conversation: Louis Riddick

Louis Riddick endured the chaos in Washington from 2001-07, first as a scout and then as director of pro personnel. He knows the toll it takes and what needs to happen. This is Part 1 of our conversation with him.

You worked here when you had to deal with a lot of distractions. How crazy did it get when you worked here?

Louis Riddick: I’m not going into great detail, but I’ll say this: It’s very difficult to build a team in the NFL without all those types of extra distractions to deal with, meaning the team has to be structured very clearly both when you’re talking about how the front office is set up – there are different ways to set up a front office, but the structure has to be very defined as to whose role is what and the coaches have to have it the same way. Everyone has to be allowed, as Bill Belichick says, to do their job without interference from anyone. The problem here is it’s very difficult to do that when the person at the very top, who has the right to do what he wants because it’s his team, puts obstacles – whether knowingly or unintentionally – in the way of you doing your job to the utmost of your ability, but then holding you accountable. It’s an impossible situation to win in. Thus it leads to continuous turnover that is always marked in the end by huge circus-like blowups. It’s always ugly. It gets uglier every time. That vicious cycle can only be stopped by one person. I don’t know exactly what’s happening there because I’m not there. But looking at it and listening to what’s being said brings back some very familiar feelings and memories as to what it’s like to deal with that. I know the owner cares about the team and is a lifelong fan and wants to win.

The blueprint is there from a management and structure perspective as to how to give yourself the best chance to get a Super Bowl championship. To knowingly not give yourself the best chance to do that by having these kinds of situations come up, like the treatment of Robert Griffin III … it takes away from giving the team the best chance to win.

This isn’t just about Mike Shanahan and RG3 and the owner, this is about the coordinators and assistant coaches and training staff, the weight training staff, all the support staff, the secretaries, the personnel people, the marketing people. They all look at it going, ‘Here we go again.’ What you become reduced to, regardless of whether it’s the Washington Redskins or any other company embroiled in controversy, you just start working for a check and look forward to getting paid. You become detached. You don’t care about the color or brand because you feel the brand and colors don’t care about you and if they did it wouldn’t be allowed to happen over and over.

People will read some of that and say Mike Shanahan is getting no blame. What’s his role in this mess?

Riddick: Everyone’s looking at Dan and the continuous change that’s taken place there every few years. If you look at Shanahan’s track record, is it not documented that generally speaking he’s considered someone who makes things personal and takes things to a new level when it comes to having relationships that end badly with specific players? From the outside looking in it seems very much so. You hear that it can become very personal with him and it crosses the line from being professional to personal and from different things we’ve heard, it has become personal. He may have let some of this get out of control even though he knew he could have done things to reign in this whole Robert Griffin is too entitled and coddled line at an earlier time and he didn’t do enough to get it under control and this is the result, this kind of theatrics and drama. The other role is he’s had control of this team for four years and this happened under his watch and he controlled everything. Everyone in that building that I know says he has exercised final say over everything. So to not have a line that can protect this kid, to not have constructed or put together a defense from a personnel perspective that can give them a fighting chance to stay in games and to have the offense become something it’s not good at, which is a dropback passing offense, that’s his fault. And for allowing the never-ending series of press conferences and offseason to become a back and forth, almost like a tennis match, between him and Robert. Mike has final say to football operations and he could have put an end to that. Now, even though you’ve given contractual control to Mike doesn’t mean Dan can’t have a negative influence. I was there when Marty had control over everything and things got ugly then, too. But at the same time the head coach can’t turn around and start playing this through back channels and laying it at the feet of the owner, either. [Shanahan] is more responsible for the product on the field, more than responsible. It’s him.

Do you ever think it could change here?

Riddick: Sure. Everybody has a pain threshold. Everybody at some point comes to the realization that whatever they’re doing is not working and it’s getting too painful and counterproductive to continue down the path they’re on. ... It’s hard to build a team with all the distractions available to [players], let alone when you feel like there are other forces within your own building that are making it even more difficult to keep the ship moving in the right direction. When you’re imploding from within, you have no shot. Even when you’re doing everything theoretically correct a lot of times it doesn’t work out because there are always unforeseen circumstances. It’s hard enough. You throw this on top of it, it makes it 20 times more difficult. And then you hold the people who are building the team and coaching the team responsible, but did you really give them a chance to succeed? The answer is obviously no, you didn’t. As I’m watching it, I can still remember the kind of things you start thinking about as you’re a part of it. It’s tough to have to deal with because you feel you’re a part of the team and you feel in some ways you start losing your fire a little bit. You lose your edge to help the place pull out of it.