WASHINGTON (AP) -At times, the Washington Redskins seem to be writing the book on how not to hire a head coach.
Other times, owner Dan Snyder simply looks a like a private man doing things in his own private way, using all the time in the world to make sure he gets the right man for a very important job.
Either way, Snyder's judgment is being scrutinized as never before. For his sake, the coach he chooses had better win some games this fall.
To be sure, there have been missteps by the owner and his brain trust during the three-plus weeks since Joe Gibbs resigned on Jan. 8. If nothing else, the long periods of deafening silence interspersed with perplexing press releases have caused Snyder and the Redskins to lose any control over their own story.
That's never a good thing for any organization, but it's asking for big-time trouble in the 24-hour, blog-heavy, message-board-driven cycle of gossip that feeds rabid fans and seeps its way into the mainstream. Snyder has never been a popular owner, but the vitriol spewed at him in forums on the team's official message board - ``Dear Danny 'destroyer of a franchise' punk snyder'' is the title of one thread on extremeskins.com - can't make him happy.
What happened?
Well, anyone looking from the outside could be forgiven for reaching the conclusion that Snyder is making things up as he goes along - and that he is at the whim of popular opinion. Did Gibbs' resignation really catch him off guard? Snyder's reaction made it appear so, even though the ``Will he or won't he'' debate surrounding the coach's return had been going on for weeks.
But wasn't Plan B already in place? Wasn't assistant coach Gregg Williams the heir apparent all along? Wasn't he the players' - and the fans' - choice?
That's where it gets murky. Even though the fiery Williams claimed his people skills had improved since his failed tenure as head coach of the Buffalo Bills, there were too many temperamental episodes over the last six months to suggest otherwise. Snyder gave Williams every chance to make a case by meeting with him four times about the job, but the owner eventually decided he wanted someone different to set the tone for the organization.
Of course, Snyder probably should have told Williams the bad news sooner, rather than let him simmer - and the message boards boil over - 10 days after their final interview.
By then, Snyder had promoted Vinny Cerrato to ``executive vice president of football operations,'' putting the owner's right-hand man in charge of ``all aspects of the team's football organization, including the roster, scouting and salary cap management.'' Such a big announcement would usually be accompanied by a news conference and photo op, but the Redskins instead issued a press release that left everyone wondering whether Cerrato's responsibilities had actually increased - or whether he was simply being given a longer title.
Meanwhile, Snyder was interviewing credible coaching candidates, even if the Redskins didn't divulge their names out of respect for the contenders themselves. Pete Carroll, for instance, didn't want his recruiting efforts at Southern Cal compromised by the news he was seeking an NFL job. But it's hard to keep a secret, and word that he talked to Snyder was revealed this week.
Jim Schwartz. Ron Meeks. Jim Mora. Jim Fassel. All took turns visiting Snyder's posh house in Potomac, Md. When reports surfaced that Fassel's selection was imminent, the message boards and blogs roared with disapproval.
Quickly, the Redskins sought to quash the Fassel furor. There was no announcement. Did Snyder hold off hiring Fassel because of the public backlash? Once again, it almost didn't matter whether he did or didn't; public perception had already decreed it so. The millionaire master marketer had lost another PR battle.
The team did appoint two top assistants, hiring Jim Zorn to run the offense and promoting Greg Blache to head the defense. Both were recommended highly by Fassel and other candidates, which means Snyder was effectively using his interviewees to help him pick a coaching staff.
Not exactly the usual NFL routine.
Fassel and Meeks are now the favorites, but Snyder is looking at other names - Steve Spagnuolo, Josh McDaniels, maybe Steve Mariucci - with a decision due after the Super Bowl. Certainly, it would take all of Snyder's salesman acumen to convince any of those prospects to consider taking over a team with preordained assistants.
It all looks so messy from the outside, but only Snyder truly knows his plan - and he isn't talking. Besides, he has every right to conduct a private, meticulous search. It's his team, and it might even be the best way to go about it.
One need look no further than the Washington Nationals, who went about things the same secretive way 14 months ago when replacing popular manager Frank Robinson. Speculation got so out of hand that team president Stan Kasten had to call a news conference just to say, in so many words: ``Everyone, chill! We know what we're doing.''
They ended picking Manny Acta, who won more games than expected his first season and is now regarded as a brilliant hire.
If Snyder can produce the same result, the message boards will love him come December.

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