Soccer star seeks Skins GM job
The first time Joanna Lohman met her future boss, she told him that, among other things, she wanted to one day become the general manager of the Washington Redskins.
"That's the second thing she ever told me when I first met her," recalled Craig Lussi, who hired the All-American soccer player from Penn State into the commercial real estate business.
"She was driving an old beat-up green Ford Taurus station wagon," Lussi told me this week. "I asked her what she wanted to do. She said I want to be GM of the Redskins. I just looked at her like you've got to be kidding me. I said what makes you think you're qualified to do that. She said I'll do whatever I need to do."
Now, this paper has already profiled Lohman--a Springbrook grad, professional midfielder and defender, and occasional U.S. national team call-up. My colleague Paul Tenorio has already written about Lohman's extensive off-field business pursuits, the praise she's received from Al Gore, and her goal to mix corporate success with athletics.
But this week, when she earned her first GM job--as the general manager of the Freedom Futures, the amateur developmental squad associated with the Washington Freedom--seemed an appropriate time to ask Lohman about her Redskins dream. (Which I discovered by reading the Washington Business Journal, for the record.)
"That's an honest goal for me," she said. "Things have moved in a direction where I would hope that it isn't a completely unrealistic goal for myself. I'm hoping someone in the Redskins would read this and take me under their wing. Football's my favorite sport, and obviously the Redskins are my hometown team, so I've always had this love affair with the Redskins. Being a part of their organization is something I would always want to do. Everybody has to start somewhere. If I could somehow get in the organization and work my way up, who knows?"
And she has the background that so many Washingtonians of her age do. She owns Darrell Green and LaVar Arrington jerseys, plus an old-time Skins Starter jacket. She is part of a massive tailgating group, where she is known as "The Mayor." She is friendly with Charles Mann, whose daughter plays for the club team Lohman grew up with.
Her boss, Lussi, is a longtime Skins fan who used to watch games in Jack Kent Cooke's box; he said he could see Lohman successfully captaining the organization down the line.
"Absolutely," he told me. "Joanna makes you better. She makes me better....She's very in tune to what people want. That's why she gets these meetings with people she has no business meeting with....You get Charles [Mann] and Joanna in a room, it's like magic, full of energy, full of life, full of ideas. You sit in that room, and you feel like there's nothing you can't do, and people like that."
(One caveat: the Redskins don't technically employ a general manager at this time. But Lohman is only 27. You never know.)
So, how would she handle the festering sore that has been the 2009 season? Well, Lohman is concerned about the relationship between franchise and fans, and would work to make sure that fans are feeling well-treated.
"I think they maybe underestimated how much this team means to the city, and I don't think you can alienate your fans for that long before you start seeing some consequences," she told me. "That's something I would take to heart. We always have a reputation in the Redskins organization for drafting and [signing] players with high glitz and fame. I think I would go back to more of a blue-collar approach, getting players that don't necessarily have the names quite yet but have the work ethic and, really, the brains. Football is a sport that really needs intelligent players You can't go through the motions in a sport like football. Things are coming at you so fast, you need to understand the game."
She never played the game of course, besides backyard skirmishes with her brother and his friends, which she gave up when she became serious about advancing through the soccer ranks. I asked her if she'd be able to evaluate talent, and she said with enough work, and with hiring "some pretty smart people around me," it was possible.
And why the Redskins? Why do people, including professional women's soccer players, care so much?
"The Redskins allow all people, from all walks of life to come together to root for a common cause.," she explained. "Through economic struggles, disasters, and extreme times, football--and in this town, the Redskins--provides a reprieve. It is form of entertainment that, no matter the circumstances lets us all cheer. My tailgate is the perfect example of this. We have babies, kids, adults, mothers, grandmothers, men, women, all religions, and all races. All of us, in our Redskins jerseys, hats, and jackets, mix together in harmony. The Redskins bring us a sense of community."
Lohman didn't really want to assess Jim Zorn's performance, saying she respects how hard he's worked and that it's important for the organization to have a strong, centralized, motivating personality who everyone in the building respects. And I did ask what her guiding football philosophy might be.
"Building the team around the offensive line and protecting the quarterback is essential," she said. "Overlooking that can really ruin your season. No matter how good a quarterback you have, if you can't protect him that can ruin your season. Being around Joe Paterno at Penn State, his teams have always been blue collar. We don't have names on the back of our jerseys. It's always about the team before the individual. I think the Redskins could benefit from that type of outlook a little more."
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