EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With Mike Shanahan’s dismissal as head coach of the Washington Redskins expected shortly now that the season has ended with a loss to the New York Giants, the focus will quickly shift to who might replace him.
The list of prospective coaches is expected to include former Super Bowl winners Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden and less-accomplished former coaches such as Ken Whisenhunt and Lovie Smith. Up-and-coming offensive coordinators Jay Gruden of Cincinnati, Greg Roman of San Francisco and Darrell Bevell of Seattle also could draw consideration, as could longtime NFL assistant and former Redskins player Russ Grimm.
Baylor Coach Art Briles has long had his name highlighted as a potential candidate because of his relationship with franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III. The other hot names of the college ranks expected to someday wind up as NFL head coaches include Stanford’s David Shaw and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin.
It remains to be seen what kind of coach Snyder will settle on, however.
In his six previous choices since he fired Norv Turner (the coach he inherited when he purchased the team from the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke), Snyder has virtually tried it all.
After dismissing Turner’s interim, Terry Robiskie, Snyder lured Marty Schottenheimer out of retirement, then fired him after one 8-8 season after the two clashed over Schottenheimer’s level of control over team personnel. Snyder went the hot-shot college coach route when he hired Steve Spurrier, whose “Fun ’n’ Gun” offense failed to pan out over two NFL seasons. Then Snyder coaxed Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs out of retirement in hopes he could lead the Redskins to a fourth Super Bowl trophy.
Gibbs directed two playoff campaigns in four seasons before retiring again with a year left on his deal. That move came as a surprise to Snyder, however, and he wound up having to settle for the inexperienced Jim Zorn, who had no experience as a coordinator.
Zorn went 12-20 in two seasons before receiving his walking papers with the franchise in shambles and a laughing stock across the league. And then Snyder went the legend route again, landing Shanahan.
The two-time Super Bowl winning coach was expected to bring much-needed stability. Instead, his Redskins career featured three seasons of 10 or more losses in four years, and the final month of his tenure featured a return to the circus-like atmosphere of years past.
Shanahan’s dismissal would come with one year and $7 million remaining on his contract.
Shanahan first seemed unlikely to return following Washington’s Week 14, 45-10 blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. On the same day, a report leaked that Shanahan had considered quitting following the 2012 season because Snyder’s relationship with quarterback Robert Griffin III unnerved him. At the time, Snyder — despite believing Shanahan had leaked the story to provoke the owner to fire him — held off on dismissing the coach because he was reluctant to fork over the $7 million owed to him and roughly $6 million more owed to his assistants.
But as the Redskins continued to lose and the situation at Redskins Park further deteriorated, Snyder concluded there was no way he could bring Shanahan back, people with knowledge of the situation said.
If Snyder pursues a big-name coach, he could wind up having to pay more than $20 million for two coaching staffs combined.
It remains to be seen whether either Cowher or Jon Gruden has interest in returning to the sideline — and working for Snyder. Earlier this month, Cowher was critical of Snyder, saying Washington’s problems “start from the top.” But years ago, Schottenheimer said he would never coach for Snyder, and a month later, he agreed to do so.
Meanwhile, Gruden has said he intends to return to “Monday Night Football” for another season rather than coach in 2014.
Snyder also could have a hard time persuading Briles to leave Baylor for the NFL.
The 58-year-old coach has maintained a strong bond with Griffin, attending several Redskins games in the past two seasons. And he has a reputation of success when it comes to reclamation projects. He turned around the University of Houston’s football program and now has developed Baylor into a powerhouse. Griffin helped spearhead those efforts at Baylor. But one person familiar with Briles’s thinking said he believed it to be “a long shot” that Briles would leave his native Texas and the school where he is considered royalty. Another wondered whether he could handle the politics of the NFL or the high-pressure spotlight in D.C.
One former NFL executive said he expected the Redskins to pursue Whisenhunt, who also is rumored to have drawn interest from Houston and potentially from Detroit as well.
The 51-year-old Whisenhunt, who played tight end for the Redskins from 1989 to 1990, currently serves as offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers and has helped Philip Rivers revive his career. Whisenhunt coached Arizona from 2007 to 2012 and guided the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl appearance in the 2008 season and then in 2012 had the team off to a 4-0 start. But Arizona lost nine straight games, finished the year 5-11 and missed the playoffs a third straight year.
Meanwhile, another league insider said Grimm could also receive consideration from Redskins officials. And a third person called it possible that Raheem Morris, currently Washington’s defensive backs coach and the former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, could receive consideration as either the head coach or defensive coordinator. Todd Bowles, another former Redskins player and Arizona’s current defensive coordinator, also has been mentioned as a possible defensive coordinator candidate.
Firing Shanahan creates another void within the organization as well because he also had final say on all personnel moves. Bruce Allen holds the title of general manager, but he is known more for contract negotiation and salary cap management than talent evaluation, so Snyder may have to bring on a general manager to work alongside Allen.
Former San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith is on staff with the Redskins as a senior executive, but it’s unclear what his job fully entails. Washington’s director of pro personnel, Morocco Brown, could be another in-house candidate. Former Redskins quarterback Doug Williams worked under Allen while in Tampa Bay and reportedly has interest in returning to the NFL in a management role. Meanwhile, former Patriots and Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli remains on the market after being fired by the Chiefs last offseason.
Mark Maske contributed to this report.
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