By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
The Washington Redskins fired linebackers coach Dale Lindsey yesterday, marking the first time Coach Joe Gibbs has let go of an assistant coach or position coach in his three-year tenure since returning from retirement. Lindsey, whose gruff nature and abrasive public comments often rubbed Gibbs the wrong way, had a reputation as a hard-nosed taskmaster, but also as someone who generally squeezed ample production out of less talented players.
Washington's defense ranked 31st this season and set an NFL record for fewest turnovers forced, prompting many to question whether the staff would return intact. Gibbs said at the end of the 5-11 season that he did not intend to fire any coaches -- Lindsey, like nearly the entire staff, received a three-year contract extension a year ago -- then terminated Lindsey's contract yesterday. The linebackers struggled in 2006, but so did the defensive line as well as the secondary; safeties coach Steve Jackson came under fire in particular for the performance of his players, but team sources indicated no further coaching dismissals were expected.
The Redskins have long been high on defensive assistant Kirk Olivadotti, who has drawn overtures from the Miami Dolphins in recent years, team sources indicated, and it is very likely he will be named Lindsey's replacement. Olivadotti was promoted to defensive line-special teams coach last year, and continued to earn strong praise from Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense. Last year the Redskins also promoted from within when quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave departed for Atlanta, giving an opportunity to another young coach, Bill Lazor, a philosophy Gibbs espouses in these situations.
"We appreciate the work and effort Dale has given the organization over the past three seasons, but we have decided to move in a different direction with our linebackers," Gibbs said in a statement released by the team. Gibbs was unavailable to comment yesterday, while Lindsey and Williams did not return messages left at Redskins Park.
Olivadotti's reserved and subdued nature are in stark contrast from Lindsey. Williams routinely singled out Lindsey for praise when speaking about his linebackers, and while decidedly old school, Lindsey, who will turn 64 tomorrow, helped coax strong outings from previously unknown linebackers such as Antonio Pierce, Lemar Marshall and Chris Clemons in his first two seasons in Washington.
However, Lindsey had a tremendously strained relationship with star linebacker LaVar Arrington -- who was benched for much of the 2005 season -- and, according to team sources, received a stern rebuking in his office from Gibbs this season after making harsh public comments about Arrington, who was then playing for the New York Giants, as well as Marshall, the Redskins' starting middle linebacker. Gibbs is overtly genteel in his public statements about players, and Lindsey's direct approach ran counter to that.
Marshall's play waned in 2006 -- multiple offseason surgeries a year ago set him back -- while starting strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington suffered because of injury problems as well. Journeyman Warrick Holdman was again thrust into the starting lineup on the weak side, while rookie Rocky McIntosh, the Redskins' top pick in the 2006 draft, did not crack the starting lineup until the final few weeks of the season, with the team long eliminated from playoff contention.
However, Washington's biggest breakdowns often came in the secondary -- the Redskins allowed a league-high 30 touchdown passes to just six interceptions and the most passes of 20 yards or more (55) in the NFL -- and free agent Adam Archuleta, the highest-paid safety in league history, had a public falling-out with Jackson. But Williams has deep ties to Jackson, a former player of his and longtime assistant, as well as to cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray, who joined the organization last year.
"Dale's not the reason they gave up so many TD passes and all those long passes," said one football source with ties to the Redskins organization. "When your defense is that bad I guess somebody has to pay, and Dale is an older guy who's on his last legs, so I guess he's the scapegoat. But he's not why that secondary was horrible."
Lindsey has 29 years of NFL coaching experience and was a defensive coordinator with San Diego. This was his second stint with the team, after overseeing the linebackers for two seasons in 1997-98. Olivadotti, 33, joined the organization in 2000 and has spent his entire NFL coaching career in Washington.