Saul offers critical view of ‘Skins’ struggles

Former Washington Redskins offensive lineman Ron Saul speaks during an interview before Friday's Firemen's Parade in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – Ron Saul enjoyed his time playing for the Washington Redskins.

He enjoyed the winning that the National Football League franchise experienced during his six seasons in Washington, which culminated in the team’s first Super Bowl championship in 1982. He enjoyed playing for the fans, for the game he and his brothers had grown up playing. And though he spent most of the 1982 season injured, the former guard enjoyed playing the role of mentor for a group of offensive linemen that would affectionately become known as “The Hogs.”

“Thirteen years in the NFL and when The Hogs came in, [Jeff] Bostic and [Russ] Grimm and all that, they were still peeing the bed when I was a rookie,” said Saul, one of this year’s sports guests for the 88th Annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, on Friday afternoon. “So they come in, I’m 11, 12 years in the league and to get to burp and bottle feed them, that was good. … They called me ‘Grandpa Hog,’ and it really went well.”

Following Saul’s retirement from professional football in 1982, the Redskins, with “The Hogs” at the forefront, went on to win two more Super Bowl titles (1987 and 1991) under then-head coach Joe Gibbs.

The present is a much different time for Washington.

Since winning Super Bowl XXVI in 1991, the Redskins have made the playoffs five times – just once since 2007 – and claimed an NFC East championship just twice (1999 and 2012). Washington has won seven combined games over the last two seasons.

Simply put, these aren’t the Redskins that Saul remembers.

“I just feel so bad for the team now. Six or seven out of the last nine seasons they’ve finished last,” he said. ” … That’s not Redskins. That didn’t happen when I was with the ‘Skins.”

So what exactly has changed in Washington since the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s? Saul said it all begins with Redskins owner Dan Snyder.

“You’ve got to start on top,” Saul said. “And not that Dan Snyder is a terrible guy or anything, but these owners, to me, the owners are not really football people.”

Since Snyder took over ownership in 1999, the Redskins have compiled a record of 108-148 and have had eight different head coaches during that 16-year span. Saul said Snyder’s penchant for “interfering” with his coaching staff – which he added is a contrast in style to Snyder’s predecessor, longtime Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke – has made it tough for Washington to keep head coaches for any extended length of time.

“I think Dan interferes more,” Saul said. “I think these owners, Jerry Jones and Dan need to stand back. … I think what Jack Kent Cooke did was hire a coach and say look, you’ve got three years. If you build me a decent winner in three years, if you have winning seasons there’s a good chance I’ll sign you up for another three. He’d say, ‘I’ll stay out of it.'”

Saul said the Redskins’ struggles under Snyder are starting to wear heavily on fans, pointing to low attendance at Washington’s home games as an example that they are getting “fed up” with Snyder.

“When I played, when we played the Pittsburgh Steelers there was a little section in the stadium that had Steelers tickets sold. Everything else was burgundy and gold. They weren’t getting the Redskins tickets,” Saul said. “Now … you go, you play the Steelers, everybody’s got a Terrible Towel in the stands. You play Philadelphia, 50 percent of the stadium’s green. You play New York, it’s blue. … That would’ve never happened when I was playing with the Redskins. It’s just a shame.

“They’re not giving up. They still hope it’s going to turn around … but why go root for a team that’s only going to win three or four games a year?” he added. ” … Why go to the stadium when people are just laughing at you?”

Saul said that there is hope in the future for the Washington franchise, noting that Snyder has started “backing off a little bit more.” Saul added that he thinks the recent hire of Scot McCloughan as the Redskins’ new general manager is a step in the right direction, as was the decision to draft offensive lineman Brandon Scherff in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night to bolster protection for quarterback Robert Griffin III.

“I think it is [a good step],” Saul said of McCloughan’s hiring. ” … Now is Dan going to intervene? I don’t know. If he stays out of it and says McCloughan you’re the man, we’ll see what happens three years from now. It’s not going to happen this year. It’s not going to happen next year. It’s going to take about three years because they need a lot of help.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com