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Defensive-Minded Blache Puts Everything on the Line

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2004; Page D01

In 2002, the San Francisco 49ers were so impressed with Greg Blache during an interview for their head coaching vacancy that the organization flew him back for a second, more extensive interview. Blache -- who was then the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears -- eventually lost out to Dennis Erickson, whose candidacy had been shrouded in secrecy. Blache, now the Redskins' defensive coordinator, remains one of the most highly regarded assistants in the NFL.

Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach-defense, naturally has received the most credit for guiding a unit ranked second in the NFL, despite being forced to use obscure and inexperienced players. Williams has countered talk of his departure by promising his players that he'll return next season.

Redskins defensive line coach Greg Blache is highly regarded -- and coveted -- throughout the league. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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Nonetheless, Blache is perhaps Washington's most likely assistant to be lured away, especially after his masterly job of overseeing the club's defensive line. (No group on the defense has exceeded expectations as much.) Blache served as the Chicago Bears' defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2003 before signing with Washington as its de facto defensive line coach. He could be offered a true defensive coordinator post by another team, but Blache said this week he is pleased with his situation in Washington and would only leave for an enticing head coaching job.

"All young guys would like to marry a supermodel," said Blache, a defensive line coach for 11 seasons, six with the Green Bay Packers, then five with the Indianapolis Colts before joining Chicago. "Half of 'em would drive you crazy and drive you to drink. As you get older, you learn to realize what you're supposed to like and what's best for you is not always equal."

The NFL is expected to have several head coaching openings, particularly with the 49ers. Erickson's situation is so tenuous the club recently granted him permission to interview with Mississippi. Erickson, who has three years and $7.5 million left on his contract, withdrew from consideration after the interview.

Blache, 54, recently was a finalist to become head coach at Notre Dame, but the school chose Charlie Weis, the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator. Blache, a former Notre Dame defensive back and assistant, has lived up to his reputation in Washington.

The Redskins have the NFL's third-best defense against the run, allowing an average of 83.1 yards per game. Tailbacks have mustered only 3.1 yards per carry -- easily the NFL's best. Because of injuries, defensive ends Ryan Boschetti, Ron Warner and Demetric Evans all have made their NFL starting debuts this season.

Although he didn't make the Pro Bowl, Cornelius Griffin is statistically one of the NFL's best defensive tackles. Griffin has the second-most tackles among defensive linemen and leads the club with 4.5 sacks. Griffin credits Blache's emphasis on technique and fundamentals as the main reasons for his career season.

In 2001, the Bears made their first postseason appearance since 1994 with the NFL's second-best run defense. That season, the linchpin was rookie Brian Urlacher, who credited Blache for helping him convert from strong-side to middle linebacker.

Blache's résumé apparently came close to getting him the head coaching job in San Francisco in 2002.

"In the coaching circles, I had heard from very knowledgeable people that he did a tremendous job when he interviewed with the 49ers the last time," Williams said. "There's no doubt in my mind, if that's what he wants to do [become a head coach], he's capable."

The Redskins' hiring of Blache was seen as a coup around the NFL -- he had been pursued by several teams.

Owner Daniel Snyder made Blache the highest-paid defensive line coach in the NFL; the three-year deal, worth almost $2 million, is the equivalent to a defensive coordinator's salary.

The NFL's objective of increasing the number of minority head coaches certainly could be a factor in Blache's situation. The league has enacted a policy that requires teams to interview at least one minority for each head coaching opening. Last year, the Detroit Lions were penalized $200,000 for not interviewing a minority head coach before hiring Steve Mariucci.

The policy's flaw surfaced recently in the case of the Miami Dolphins' head coaching opening. On Wednesday, the Dolphins offered the job to LSU Coach Nick Saban. Although Saban was always considered the front-runner, Miami interviewed former Raiders coach Art Shell, who is black. Shell's interview was criticized by the Pollard Alliance, which advocates minority hiring, as a charade.

Blache, who is black, said he wouldn't interview with a team with which he didn't have a legitimate shot to get the job. However, Blache said each situation should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

"Every situation is unique," Blache said. "Sometimes people say, 'Well, you're going for an interview, but you're being taken advantage of.' That works both ways. You can also go in and take advantage of a situation. It depends on the individual and where they are in their careers."

Redskins Note: The team signed cornerback Korey Banks to the practice squad after losing linebacker Billy Strother to the Dolphins. Strother was signed to Miami's active roster. NFL rules permit signing a practice squad roster as long as the new team places the player on its active roster.

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