You want to know how hard Brian Lafemina’s job was as the Washington Redskins president of business operations, chief operating officer and franchise savior?
This is how hard it was.
Lafemina and his newly imported business and marketing team, brought in by owner Dan Snyder to stop the bleeding at the box office and change the toxic narrative that had come to define the Redskins, had an idea for a marketing campaign — seemingly a simple campaign with a catchy phase.
It was just a small part of the long-term plan by Lafemina and his departed team of executives — chief marketing officer Steve Ziff, senior vice president of sales and marketing Jake Bye and chief commercial officer Todd Kline — to make the Redskins matter again.
They used it early in the season as part of their sales pitch to unite a fractured and damaged fan base, a connection to the Redskins song, “Hail to the Redskins.”
They put it on signs inside FedEx Field. They used it in video board messages and television commercials. They used it in burgundy and gold towels to wave.
One ad showed various Redskins — Josh Norman, Alex Smith, Chris Thompson and others — making big plays and celebrating on the field, with dramatic music in the background and shots of happy fans at FedEx Field, ending with an Adrian Peterson score and a Larry Michael, “It’s a Redskins touchdown” call.
One fan could be seen holding up a “We Hail” towel, and the ad finishes with the words, “We Hail,” with “gamedays” under it, promoting the Sept. 23 game at FedEx Field against the Green Bay Packers.
Well, “We Hail,” didn’t last long.
According to sources, Snyder was angry about the campaign and ordered it halted. Why? He believed it was too close to the words “Sieg Heil,” sources said.
Yes, that’s right — the chant that would be heard at rallies in Nazi Germany (Sieg Heil, according to the German-English translation, does roughly mean “Hail Victory,” one of the lines in the Redskins‘ team song).
And with that, team president Bruce Allen had another knife to stick in the back of Lafemina.
The news emerged late last week that Allen, despite a growing social media campaign demanding the beleagued Redskins boss be fired, was not going anywhere. My podcast partner, Kevin Sheehan, first broke the news on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast Friday morning, and the Washington Post followed with a quote from Tony Wylie, Redskins senior vice president for communications, who, when asked about Allen’s status, replied, “There was never any question about this. Of course he’s coming back.”
Wylie told me the team had no comment on the “We Hail” campaign or Allen’s role in Lafemina’s departure.
Yes, of course Allen is coming back. He didn’t drive Lafemina and his team from the building only to surrender power.
Not only is Allen, who has become the object of the wrath of an angry Redskins fan base, staying on as team president in charge of football operations, but he is taking over the business side as well — the job that Lafemina had.
Allen drank Lafemina’s milk shake.
As I’ve written before, I always believed Lafemina, a former NFL executive who was hired in May, and his crew were not long for Redskins Park, though I thought they might last longer than seven months, forced out a few days before Christmas. Lafemina spoke about things like honesty and transparency — a foreign language to Allen, and, for that matter, to Snyder as well.
The owner bought into Lafemina’s plan early, and was told that things would get worse before they would get better, sources said.
That opened the door for Allen to engineer a campaign against Lafemina, and with each small crowd at FedEx Field and the transparency embraced by the new business team that led to a narrative of a once-proud franchise in trouble — which, of course, was the truth — Allen used those stories and images to undermine Lafemina every chance he got, sources said.
Soon, Snyder soured on Lafemina and his team. All of this came to a head at the end of November with the team claiming Reuben Foster, the San Francisco linebacker released by the 49ers after his Tampa arrest and imprisonment on domestic violence charges (which have since been dropped by the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office), Foster’s third arrest in 12 months.
Lafemina went to Snyder and Allen with direct feedback from corporate ticket holders upset with the Foster acquisition, sources said – and they were rebuffed.
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” one source said.
They were all gone a few weeks later.
Now Allen is calling all the shots, from the turnstiles to the trade market. To the victor go the spoils, right?
His kingdom was on display at the final home game on Dec. 30, a few days after Lafemina and company’s departure — a stadium with perhaps 10,000 Redskins fans surrounded by about 40,000 Philadelphia Eagles fans.