Titans Assistant Is First to Talk With Redskins

Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. (Getty Images - Getty Images)
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By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 11, 2008

The Washington Redskins interviewed longtime Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for their vacant head coach position yesterday, league sources said, the first of what could be many such sessions as the team looks for a replacement for Joe Gibbs.

Schwartz, 41, a Baltimore native and Georgetown graduate, was scheduled to fly to Atlanta last night to interview for the Falcons' head coaching position, league sources said.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who is spending this season as an NFL analyst for CBS, remained steadfast in his desire to take the 2008 season off as well. Sources close to Cowher reiterated that stance yesterday, saying he is happy to be away from coaching for now and unwilling to pursue a new coaching job until 2009.

With Cowher and other high-profile candidates seemingly off the market -- at least for now -- several NFL executives contacted yesterday said they expected that Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach-defense under Gibbs, eventually would interview for the job. Veteran Redskins players have been campaigning for Williams since Gibbs announced his decision to retire on Tuesday.

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has not met with the team's coaching staff since a meeting on Tuesday.

The agents for several high-profile coaches said they believed Williams to be a strong candidate, but noted that the Redskins are completing their due diligence and are engaged in a normal hiring process by reviewing numerous candidates. Washington must also comply with a league rule that requires all teams to interview at least one minority candidate for a vacant head coaching position. Indianapolis assistant Jim Caldwell, Minnesota assistant Leslie Frazier and San Francisco assistant Mike Singletary, who are black, are getting consideration from many teams.

In addition to the Redskins and Falcons, the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins are searching for new coaches.

Schwartz has spent the last nine years in Tennessee, where he was a lower-level assistant under Williams, then became defensive coordinator when Williams became head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2001. Schwartz shares an attacking defensive philosophy with Williams.

The interview with Schwartz was out of character for Snyder, who has usually pursued established veteran coaches since taking control of the franchise in 1999. Schwartz and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, did not return phone messages yesterday.

"Jim Schwartz is a good head coaching candidate, and he runs pretty much the same system they're already running," said one NFL executive who is watching the Redskins' situation closely. "So that makes some sense. But would you really want the student when you already have his teacher? To me, it's Cowher or Williams in Washington, and Cowher's telling everyone he's not coming back."

A high-ranking official with a team seeking a new head coach said his club held a strategy meeting this week when Gibbs suddenly retired and spent considerable time analyzing how that development would impact the market.

"We studied it pretty closely after Dan Snyder came into the mix, and we think he's either going with a name like Cowher or [Steve] Mariucci, or sticking with Williams," the official said. "But there aren't a whole lot of those 'name' guys out there, and the biggest one is saying no."

Schwartz's defenses in Tennessee have annually been among the NFL's elite under Coach Jeff Fisher, one of Williams's closest friends. Schwartz began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Maryland in 1989, and joined the pro ranks in 1993 as a scout for Cleveland. He moved with the franchise to Baltimore and was a defensive assistant with the Ravens from 1996 to '98, then joined the Titans as a defensive assistant in 1999.

Among other well-known potential candidates, Marty Schottenheimer, a former Redskins head coach and one of the winningest coaches in NFL history, has not been contacted by the Redskins, according to his agent, Trace Armstrong. Sources who have spoken with Southern Cal Coach Pete Carroll continued to say he has no intention of returning to the NFL.

The Redskins are also expected to approach several candidates from among the eight teams remaining in the playoffs. Washington could approach Caldwell and Seattle assistant coach Jim Mora, should their teams fail to advance. Coaches from playoff teams are essentially off-limits until they are eliminated or until the bye week later this month before the Super Bowl. As of yesterday afternoon, the Redskins had not asked Arizona for permission to interview assistant coach Russ Grimm, a former Redskins offensive lineman who lacks head-coaching experience.

Gibbs spent yesterday at Redskins Park and is advising Snyder through the transition, but did not take part in the meeting with Schwartz. He is expected to play a minimal role in the hiring process. Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, the team's vice president of football operations, are interviewing candidates, sources said.

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