Nothing came easy for Charley Casserly.
As a 26-year-old coach at Minnechaug High School, Casserly lost everything he owned in a house fire. He had just $500 in the bank, a car with 120,000 miles on it and various pieces of old furniture that he acquired from Goodwill and the Salvation Army.
“I didn’t have a lot,” Casserly said. “But I had enough.”
After paying his own way through both high school and college, Casserly developed a strong work ethic at an early age. He picked up a variety of different jobs, selling newspapers and working at a local grocery store to pay tuition at Bergen Catholic High School. He held down three jobs during the summer to help pay for his education at Springfield College.
And at age 28, he finally caught a break.
Casserly was offered an unpaid internship with the Washington Redskins, where he worked directly with legendary coach George Allen.
“I had been in the working world for a long time,” Casserly said. “But when I had the opportunity to go to the Redskins, I knew it was an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Casserly originally planned on spending seven months as an intern before making a decision on his future. He spent much of that time in training camp with the team and on the road, unearthing unpolished talent as a scout.
“When you’re in that position, you appreciate the opportunity more,” Casserly said. “When it’s like sudden death, you understand how serious this is and decide that nobody is going to outwork you.”
After several months of sleeping on a couch and renting out a nightly space in the local YMCA for $8 a night, Casserly was hired as a scout in February 1978 and earned a salary of $17,000 per year.
Despite having barely enough money to live comfortably, Casserly handed over his first paycheck to the people who helped him the most. He listened to the advice of his little league football coach, the person who Casserly says had the biggest influence on his life as a young man.
“He made a comment,” Casserly said. “He said, ‘That’s not how things work. What you want to do is go help somebody else like I helped you.’ So I never forgot that.”
During his early years as a scout, he discovered free agents Joe Jacoby and Jeff Bostic, who were original members of the famed “Hogs” offensive line and key components of Washington’s first two Super Bowl teams.
While working his way up the ladder with the Redskins, Casserly put his mentor’s words into action and helped restart the franchise’s internship program that was discontinued shortly after he was hired.
“Obviously, I started as an intern with the Redskins,” Casserly said. “We needed people to work but we just wanted to give young people a chance.”
As a key piece to the program, Casserly has been able to help more than 30 people, including current New Orleans Saints’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, move on to successful positions within college or professional sports.
During the NFL strike in 1987, Casserly was put in charge of assembling a team of replacement players, a task that is seemingly enshrined with the release of the 2000 Warner Bros. film The Replacements.
“You come to work everyday and your players are out there picketing, so you were torn,” Casserly said. “But you have a job to do. You don’t know how long this thing is going to last, so once you walked through the parking lot and into the building, you went to work.”
Casserly and his team pulled players from Canada and called on four men from a halfway house to fill the Redskins’ roster and lead the team to victories over the St. Louis Rams and the New York Giants before they faced off against their longtime arch rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.
The Redskins were the undisputed underdogs. Superstar players such as Tony Dorsett and Ed Lee “Too Tall” Jones had crossed the picket line and were supposed to defeat Washington handily.
But the Redskins shocked the world and defeated the Cowboys by a final score of 13-7.
“It was an exciting experience for all of us,” Casserly said.
Shortly thereafter, Casserly was promoted to general manager. In what is perhaps one of the most impressive Draft Day moves in NFL history, Casserly acquired all of the New Orleans Saints 1999 selections, plus their first- and third-round picks in 2000 by swapping the Redskins’ fifth selection in the first round for the Saints’ 12th choice, all the while managing to obtain the player Washington wanted, future Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey.
He continued the Redskins’ history of uncovering high-quality players in the later rounds of the draft and selected Brian Mitchell (1990), Stephen Davis (1996) and Keenan McCardell (1991).
And, most impressively, Casserly played an integral role in assembling three of the Redskins’ four Super Bowl-winning teams.
“Those were the greatest experiences,” Casserly said. “That is the ultimate goal.”
Casserly always knew that, at the end of his career as an NFL executive, he wanted to teach at the college level and do something on televison.
“Coaching is teaching,” Casserly said. “In fact, it’s the ultimate form of teaching. So I was around great teachers for my entire career in the NFL. The principles I see in coaching are the same principles I see in teaching.”
He has been able to fulfill both of those dreams, teaching Professional development in the School of Recreation, Health & Tourism while serving as an NFL Insider on The NFL Today on CBS.
“At this point in my life,” Casserly said, “I’m doing everything that I wanted to do.”