By Mark Maske and Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 3, 2006
The leaguewide head-coaching purge that began over the weekend continued in full force yesterday, as four more NFL teams fired their coaches. That left seven clubs looking for new coaches, and Washington Redskins defensive boss Gregg Williams immediately emerged as a top candidate for several openings.
The Houston Texans contacted the Redskins seeking permission to interview Williams, who also appears to be a leading candidate for the openings in Kansas City and St. Louis.
The Texans' Dom Capers, the Rams' Mike Martz, the Green Bay Packers' Mike Sherman and the New Orleans Saints' Jim Haslett were fired a day after the Chiefs' Dick Vermeil announced his retirement and Mike Tice was told by the Minnesota Vikings that his contract wouldn't be renewed. The Detroit Lions dismissed Steve Mariucci during the season.
A league source said the Texans contacted Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs to ask for permission to interview Williams next week. A source close to Williams said that the Texans, Chiefs, Rams and Vikings expressed interest recently.
"There are four teams I definitely know are interested in Gregg," said Williams's agent, Marvin Demoff. He declined to elaborate. In recent weeks, Williams said that the opportunity to return to Missouri, his home state, or Houston, where he began his coaching career, would be uniquely attractive to him, but yesterday declined to comment and said he is focused entirely on the playoffs.
Teams must ask the Redskins' permission to interview Williams, as he is still under contract and the Redskins are still playing. The Redskins could wait until after their playoff game to grant permission -- and are under no requirement to do so -- and any interviews would have to be conducted next week in the Washington area, according to a general manager familiar with the process.
Gibbs is expected to wait until after Saturday's game to inform teams whether the Redskins will grant permission for an interview, according to a team spokesman.
During his weekly news conference yesterday, Gibbs said that he realizes the team has several coaches who could become candidates for other jobs.
"We hope they'll stay here and continue to work with us," Gibbs said. "We also understand that sometimes things come up like that and they want to consider them and we'll just work through it as we go and see what happens. We're going to try to keep everything intact, I know that."
League and team sources said they anticipate Redskins owner Daniel Snyder will do everything he can to retain Williams, whom he made one of the highest-paid assistants in NFL history when he hired him in 2004. Snyder has the means to match the financial package any team could offer, and it is already a well-established tenet within the organization that when Gibbs, 65 and in the second year of a five-year deal, leaves coaching, the job would go to Williams, 47, should he still be here.
Williams has made it clear that interested owners must be committed to winning and spending on staff and players. Last year, Williams quickly turned down two interview opportunities, but there are several jobs that offer locales and emotional pulls that others do not.
"There are definitely certain things that would be intriguing," Williams said before the end of the regular season, "but it's got to be the right situation."
None of yesterday's firings surprised many people in the league, even though Sherman and Martz had made their teams regular participants in the playoffs before this season and Haslett had endured the most trying of circumstances since the Saints were displaced from New Orleans in August by Hurricane Katrina.
The reshuffling probably isn't done, with other changes possibly in the works. The Oakland Raiders probably will fire Norv Turner. The Buffalo Bills could dismiss Mike Mularkey, although it appears that team president Tom Donahoe could be the first to go. Herman Edwards is under contract with the New York Jets but has been mentioned as a possible successor to Vermeil, and there has been talk about the Dallas Cowboys' Bill Parcells contemplating retirement.
Some executives around the league believe that Marty Schottenheimer could be in some trouble in San Diego and that there is a long-shot chance that Jeff Fisher won't be around for another season in Tennessee. There had been talk of Dennis Green's job being in jeopardy in Arizona, but it seemed to be an indication that he would stay when he began reworking his coaching staff yesterday.
Packers General Manager Ted Thompson said that Sherman was surprised to learn of his ouster in Green Bay. Thompson signed Sherman to a contract extension last summer, with Sherman coming off three straight division titles. But Thompson, as a first-year general manger, inherited Sherman as his coach, and Sherman was relieved of his coaching job a year after the Packers stripped him of the GM duties. He had a 57-39 regular season record in six seasons but was only 2-4 in the playoffs.
"I just think it was time for a new face in that position," Thompson said.
Martz, like Sherman, led his team to the playoffs four times in six seasons. But Martz coached only five games this season, taking a leave of absence to have treatment for a bacterial infection in his heart, and his clashes with the front office made it clear that he would not be retained. Martz has been cleared by doctors to return to coaching and he, Sherman, Haslett and Mariucci could be candidates for jobs elsewhere.
The Saints went 3-13 this season and will have the second overall draft choice. There had been reports recently that Haslett was weary of the club's vagabond status and might resign. General Manager Mickey Loomis said at a news conference that he and Haslett "mutually agreed" yesterday to part ways, but called the move a firing and said the club would pay Haslett for the one season remaining on his contract. The Saints haven't reached the playoffs since the 2000 season, Haslett's first as the coach.
"It's a difficult decision," Loomis said. "Jim's a good football coach. I think he performed very well under some adverse conditions, unprecedented conditions."
The Texans' league-worst 2-14 record made the dismissal of Capers inevitable, especially after owner Bob McNair hired former NFL coach Dan Reeves as a consultant. Reeves said at the time that he wasn't seeking to coach, but didn't rule out coaching in the NFL again, and suspicions around the league remain that Reeves could be on the Texans' sideline next season. The club decided to retain Charley Casserly as general manager, but McNair said in a written statement of the decision to fire Capers: "We had to make a change."