Since Daniel Snyder bought the Washington Redskins in 1999, the refrain has become familiar: Every time the team has faced a coaching change, fans, media members and a few observers in and around the league wonder how the team will get another coach with any credibility to work in Ashburn.
On the heels of Mike Shanahan’s firing following a 3-13 season, the relative appeal of the Redskins’ coaching job again is being debated. The Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have filled their coaching vacancies this week, leaving the Redskins competing with the Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions for available coaches.
“I keep reading it’s a bad job,” said Charley Casserly, the former general manager of the Redskins and Texans. “It’s not a bad job. Dan Snyder gave total control to Mike Shanahan. He’s put Bruce [Allen, the team’s GM] in charge now. Bruce is coach-friendly. People won’t mind working with him. There are zero issues with the franchise and that job.”
But in the wake of the scrutiny surrounding Shanahan’s relationships with both Snyder and quarterback Robert Griffin III, Casserly’s view is not universally held.
“They are probably the least desirable job that’s open,” said one person with ties to multiple NFL coaching candidates, speaking on the condition of anonymity in return for a frank assessment of the Redskins’ situation. “They gave up so much for RGIII. And they are so dysfunctional.”
Two front office executives with other NFL teams, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Thursday they rank the Redskins’ job behind the Lions’ coaching job in terms of desirability. Both executives called the Lions a playoff-ready team with quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and a talented defensive line.
Both executives ranked the Browns’ job as the least desirable, with Cleveland having fired its coach, Rob Chudzinski, after only one season. One executive placed the Redskins second and the Vikings third, while the other reversed those two.
Former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, now an analyst for ESPN, said by telephone Thursday: “It is a desirable job. There’s only 32 of them. When people talk about maybe ownership is going to be more patient in Detroit, in Houston — okay, maybe. But if you coach for the Washington Redskins, you’re gonna be paid market value.
“You’re gonna live in a nice area of the country. . . . If you’re a guy with multiple teams after you and you can choose, maybe some of the things that have gone on there in the past can affect you. But guys are not gonna turn it down. Most guys don’t have multiple offers. And you’re not gonna be in a situation there where you’re desperately looking for a quarterback.”
Snyder rarely has had trouble finding a high-profile coach willing to work for him. His coaching hires have included Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs and Shanahan. When those hires were made, each was considered a significant coup. The moves generally were costly; Shanahan, for example, had a five-year contract worth an estimated $7 million per season. Now the team is searching for what will be Snyder’s eighth head coach, including Terry Robiskie, an interim coach for three games in 2000.
These Redskins must retool a roster that includes many players eligible for free agency, particularly on defense. They are without a first-round draft choice this spring thanks to the 2012 trade with the St. Louis Rams to move up in the draft order to get Griffin. But the team’s two-year, $36 million salary cap penalty by the NFL at least has expired.
“Like any job, the job wouldn’t be open unless there was talent lacking personnel-wise at some positions,” Casserly said. “There’s no first-round pick this year. But you’re back in business with the draft next year. The cap situation is better than most, maybe not perfect but better than most. The facilities are excellent.”
The presence of Griffin, last season’s NFL offensive rookie of the year who was unable to recapture that magic this season as he returned from knee surgery, should be a plus to most coaching candidates, several observers said.
“The fact is that you’ve got one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the league there to work with,” said John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the group that works with the NFL to promote diversity in hiring. “That’s the system that’s coming into the game now with [San Francisco’s Colin] Kaepernick, with [Seattle’s Russell] Wilson, with RGIII. It has always been and it always will be a quarterback league.”
Said Hasselbeck: “It all comes down to, ‘Do you have a quarterback that can play?’ That’s ultimately what it comes down to. . . . You’re gonna tell me Jim Caldwell wouldn’t want to be a head coach again? Say you’re a coordinator making $850,000 or $1 million. You’re not gonna take a job for $3 million? Even if some people would say the deck is stacked for you to fail, most guys are not gonna have multiple options.”
The Texans, who had a head start on their coaching search after firing Gary Kubiak in early December, have hired Penn State’s coach, Bill O’Brien. The Buccaneers have hired Lovie Smith, the former head coach of the Chicago Bears.
The Redskins are known to have interviewed Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and to have interviews planned with Caldwell, the offensive coordinator for the Ravens, and defensive coordinators Sean McDermott of the Carolina Panthers and Perry Fewell of the New York Giants. ESPN reported Caldwell interviewed Wednesday with the Redskins. Wooten said Caldwell is to interview Friday with the Lions and next week with the Redskins.
Other prospective candidates — including offensive coordinators Greg Roman of San Francisco and Ken Whisenhunt of San Diego and Cincinnati assistant coaches Hue Jackson, Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer — are not available to be interviewed until next week under league rules, because their teams play first-round playoff games this weekend.
In a brief interview Thursday at Redskins Park, Allen said: “We’ve had a lot of conversations about candidates, and they’re going to continue today and [will be] ongoing.”
Allen said the Redskins had not spoken to former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher. He declined to discuss other potential coaching candidates, including former Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden, or to say whether any college coaches are under consideration. He did not say whether he has a specific timetable in mind for hiring a coach.
“I’d like to do it as quickly as possible,” Allen said. “Due to the NFL rules, there are certain timelines. The most important thing is to find the right person.”