By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
With his hopes of preventing Joe Gibbs from retiring as coach and team president of the Washington Redskins exhausted, owner Daniel Snyder celebrated the coach's career yesterday and then turned his attention to identifying his replacement. Gibbs's sudden departure to spend more time with his family leaves Snyder seeking his sixth coach since purchasing the team in 1999, and could lead to an overhaul of the roster and coaching staff, particularly should he opt for a candidate from outside the organization.
Players, surprised by Gibbs's exit, voiced support for Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense. But when asked about that yesterday, Snyder responded only that he would take his time and go through a "process."
Snyder praised Gibbs for leading what he believes was a revival in the franchise the past four years, reaching the playoffs twice but never advancing past the second round while setting spending records for players and coaches alike.
He badly wanted Gibbs to remain beyond the year left on his contract, discussing the situation with him until about 2:30 a.m. yesterday, four years to the day that Gibbs's hiring was announced. Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls during his first tenure with the team, said he did not want to be a figure who loomed over the next head coach, and although he will be a special consultant for Snyder, he will return to Charlotte.
Gibbs carried dual roles for Snyder, overseeing the coaching and personnel department, and Snyder said repeatedly yesterday that he is not pursuing candidates for a general manager position. He has said he supports the team's management structure, in which he, Gibbs and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato are in charge of final player and drafting decisions. Even with Gibbs gone, Snyder does not believe he needs one proven executive, with no attachment to the coaching staff, with authority on personnel matters.
"I think Joe and I feel very, very comfortable over the last four years that it's been working in terms of the front office," Snyder said, "and I'm a believer that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. We've done a pretty good job there."
Most in the NFL believe Snyder will pursue Bill Cowher, who won a Super Bowl in Pittsburgh and works for CBS but has said he is not interested in coaching next season. Other possibilities, according to some sources, are Southern California Coach Pete Carroll -- if Snyder is willing to forget the pro struggles of the last college coach he hired, Steve Spurrier -- and former Redskins great Russ Grimm, a longtime NFL assistant with strong ties to Gibbs.
The NFL requires that all teams interview a minority candidate for head coaching vacancies. Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis assistant head coach-quarterbacks; Mike Singletary, San Francisco assistant head coach-defense; Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier; and Atlanta offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, a former Redskins staff member, are possible contenders.
"I think what we're going to do is go through the whole process, take our time, and make the right decision," Snyder said. "And from that standpoint we haven't even had our first meeting or any thoughts at all."
During his season-ending news conference Monday, Gibbs expressed his desire that the entire coaching staff be retained, but yesterday he deferred to Snyder on all such matters, realizing that a coach from the outside would want to surround himself with coaches and players he is familiar with. Much of Gibbs's offensive staff was composed of his assistants from his first stint here, from 1981 to 1992, and his departure could mean the end of the coaching careers for friends such as Joe Bugel, Don Breaux, Rennie Simmons and Jack Burns.
"I feel real comfortable with whatever Dan decides," Gibbs said. "It's important for an owner to have somebody there he feels real comfortable with. I know how Dan feels about the coaching staff here. He knows what kind of talent we have, but I also think Dan's got to go through a process and feel real comfortable. I think he's the right person to make that choice."
Starters on both offense and defense began lobbying for Williams yesterday, including wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, who won a Super Bowl with Cowher in Pittsburgh. "I want the best coach for the job, and Gregg certainly is at the top of the list, no doubt," Randle El said. "I would love to see him get it just 'cause we've gotten going with the crew that we have here. I would love to see Gregg keep it."
Cowher would likely want control of the roster, and, should he opt to return to coaching, could command a salary approaching $10 million -- twice as much as Gibbs was making. Several sources at Redskins Park believe the allure of Cowher will be too great for Snyder to ignore, as he is the one available candidate with star power and credentials. Cowher continues to tell associates that he has no intention of coaching in 2008 -- "Bill is perfectly content with what he is doing right now and thoroughly enjoys his life," one source close to him said -- but Snyder is a relentless negotiator and outspends all other teams.
Carroll, on vacation in Hawaii, has been a huge success at USC, although his first go-round in the NFL was mixed (33-31 in four seasons) and he would likely want roster power, sources said. Several NFL executives contacted yesterday said there was a dearth of proven candidates, with many relatively unknown assistants getting interviews for the vacant head coaching positions in Washington, Miami, Baltimore and Atlanta.
Grimm, who nearly replaced Cowher in Pittsburgh a year ago before going to Arizona as an assistant, played for Gibbs and was part of his staff in his first stint, and is a name familiar to Redskins fans. Marty Schottenheimer, who coached the Redskins in 2001 and left under duress, has repaired his relationship with Snyder in recent years and was out of coaching in 2007. Recently fired Ravens coach Brian Billick could be a candidate, some NFL sources believe, should other options not work out.
As a rule, any coaching change in the NFL brings significant organizational changes and often a year of transition before the new staff takes hold. Gibbs went just 6-10 in his first season back -- he was 31-36 overall in his second stint, including playoffs -- reshaping the entire staff and roster, a process that Snyder said has left the franchise in good stead.
"Joe's done a great job of stabilizing a situation that became unstable before, quite frankly, and really took hold," Snyder said. "He's taught me a lot. I've learned a tremendous amount from him and just enjoyed it. It's been a great four years. I wanted another five-plus."