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The Long And Winding Search

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, right, has given Vinny Cerrato a longer title -- a specialty of the organization -- but will it amount to a substantive change?
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, right, has given Vinny Cerrato a longer title -- a specialty of the organization -- but will it amount to a substantive change? (2006 Photo By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Michael Wilbon
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Nobody does the offseason like the Washington Redskins. No team in the NFL produces as much drama without actually playing a game. When Tom Brady was spotted by paparazzi wearing that mysterious boot on his right foot yesterday, who was his rival for news? Well, the Redskins, of course, and their mystery coaching candidate. If it's not big-name, high-priced free agents being introduced, then it's Marty Schottenheimer, or it's Steve Spurrier, or it's Joe Gibbs . . . or it's Schottenheimer leaving, or Spurrier leaving, or Gibbs leaving, followed by a coaching search.

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That doesn't mean very much has changed on the field. No matter what happens in the offseason, you can pretty much pencil the Redskins in for 8-8 and have a very good chance of being right. Once again, the Redskins are looking for a head coach. Various players at various times since Gibbs announced that he was done have said they hope that Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense, is named the next head coach.

But Daniel Snyder hasn't fallen in line with that thinking just yet, not that he should. We've been told over and over that Snyder has had four sessions with Williams. Four. Question: What would you think if your boss of four years needed to interview you four times for a promotion?

You'd probably think he wasn't overly enthusiastic about promoting you.

That doesn't mean Snyder won't hire Williams; he might. And Williams, whether he was the first choice or the fourth, could prove to be worth the time and investment.

But to the outside world it looks like Snyder, with all these meetings, is trying to find a reason to promote Williams . . . or a reason not to. And that's fine, because Snyder is the one who's going to be on the hook for, what, $12 million at the very least? He ought to make sure he's comfortable with the next coach. But even if he hires Williams, whose work has certainly earned him the opportunity, we all would have the same question: "What took you so long when the guy is right there under your nose and you've known him for four years?"

All along, I've been expecting Snyder to be in the hunt for somebody with star power. Not Bill Cowher, who has said repeatedly he doesn't want to coach this season, but somebody who's been to the Super Bowl, somebody who's coached on the big stage. That's why it made sense immediately when the name of Jim Fassel, the former New York Giants coach, first came up.

Fassel took over a 6-10 team and immediately finished 10-5-1. Three years later his Giants made it to the Super Bowl. There were two disappointing playoff losses, including the one in which his Giants blew a 24-point lead to the 49ers in January 2003. And Fassel's 58-53-1 record as an NFL head coach is rather middling.

But . . . of the eight coaches in the second round of the playoffs, five had been fired and rehired, including Tony Dungy and Bill Belichick.

What might weigh greater in Fassel's favor is that he earned his stripes by working with quarterbacks. As an assistant at Stanford (1979-83), Fassel worked with a young phenom named John Elway. And while Elway had a number of great seasons, his best might have been in 1993 when working again with Fassel.

Most franchises now must count their starting quarterback as the team's No. 1 asset, especially if the club has traded up in the draft to get that quarterback, as the Redskins did to select Jason Campbell. There are more than a few people in the NFL who believe Campbell, with the right mentor, can become a championship-caliber quarterback, and perhaps Fassel is that coach.

You'll have to excuse me, please, if I hope the next Redskins coach, whoever that may be, is welcomed but not serenaded. The hype that's accompanied each of the last three coaches, particularly Spurrier, who had never coached in the NFL, was way over the top. There's plenty of time for that in that portion of the year that comes after the offseason.

(I'm going to go off-road here for a second, using a device once employed by Tony Kornheiser -- you remember him, don't you? Grizzled columnist on permanent hiatus from actually writing. . . . Tony would have a lengthy aside about something that interested him more than the news of the day. . . . For me at this moment that would be the Washington Wizards. I can't bring myself to care more about who the Redskins are interviewing than I do about Maryland beating North Carolina, Georgetown being in the top 10, or the Wizards beating the Celtics twice and the mighty Dallas Mavericks by 18.

The Wizards aren't interviewing; they're ballin', son. Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison ought to both be on the Eastern Conference all-star team for what they've done. The Wizards are so hot several of their games are being moved to national TV. They're so hot Gilbert Arenas is talking about coming off the bench when he returns to the lineup in March. The Redskins aren't playing on Super Bowl Sunday, but the Wizards are . . . against Kobe and the Lakers, no less, in a noon game that can get you out of the Phone Booth and back home in plenty of time for those Super Bowl parties.)

In keeping with this theme of being the champion of the offseason, the Redskins yesterday named Vinny Cerrato to the new position of executive vice president for football operations. The Redskins say he'll assume responsibility for all aspects of the team's football organization, including personnel, the roster, scouting and salary cap management.

The Redskins are great at giving people jobs with long titles. Al Saunders is the associate head coach-offense. Joe Bugel is the assistant head coach-offense. And Don Breaux is the offensive coordinator.

What I really want to know is how this fancy new title changes Cerrato's life. If he's got the exact same duties and has input but no power to make football decisions, so what? If he's the Boss of All Things Football, a position I keep pushing Snyder to create, then this could be a significant step in the right direction. Cerrato has taken more criticism than anybody in the organization. But I know this much: His advice as to what to do was wiser in several instances than the course of action the Redskins took.

When the dust finally settles, it might be a good thing if the Redskins have fewer men with big titles and a better chance of avoiding the same worn melodrama this time next year.


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