By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 27, 2008
After executing his assignment well on a play during an exhibition game against the Baltimore Ravens in August at FedEx Field, Washington Redskins rookie defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander sprinted toward the sideline to connect with defensive line coach Greg Blache. Alexander figured he would receive high marks from Blache.
"Let's just say he . . . oh, man, he let me have it," Alexander said yesterday. "I did a good job on the play, yeah, but he wanted me to actually make the [tackle]. I took it with a grain of salt because it's tough love. It's not like it's a bad thing. He just wants you to do better than even you think you can. That's the way he is. That's just Coach Blache."
The Redskins yesterday promoted Blache, 58, the team's defensive line coach the past four seasons, to their top defensive position.
Blache was traveling yesterday and attempts to contact him were unsuccessful. During the season, Blache always declined comment to the media on all matters, citing his desire to retain a low profile.
Blache replaces assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, who was let go yesterday. Although Williams was the leader of a defense that produced three top-10 finishes the last four seasons, Blache, in his 21st season in the NFL, played a key role in devising and implementing game plans each week, many players and team officials said.
And Blache, a successful defensive coordinator for five seasons with the Chicago Bears before joining the Redskins, also is considered a good teacher, having tutored many Pro Bowl players, including Bears All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher. Intense and vocal, Blache is among the league's most intimidating coaches, players said, pushing them to achieve even more than they envision for themselves.
But he also is highly respected for his knowledge and commitment to his players, which is why many in the organization are pleased Blache will return next season. Williams had strong support from players to be the team's next head coach, and some are disappointed he won't be back, but retaining Blache helped lessen the blow.
"You know how good of a coach Gregg Williams is and you know what he's done for this team," defensive lineman Phillip Daniels said. "He's been there for us and had our back. We've had some solid defenses, we were ranked in the top 10 three of the last four years, so we've proven what type of a defense we were with Gregg Williams as our coach.
"But if we couldn't keep Gregg as defensive coordinator, you need to have a guy like Greg Blache in that job. If there's one person you would want to come in and take Gregg's spot, and keep this thing going, it would be Greg Blache. He's somebody that's already in the system. We're just happy that they kept Coach Blache."
Blache this season repeatedly told colleagues he had no interest in another promotion and that he didn't plan to coach much longer, sources said, but owner Dan Snyder persuaded Blache to take on more responsibility. Terms of Blache's contract could not be determined but one league source said executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato contacted him in the last 48 hours and the team made such a hefty offer that he could not refuse it.
Snyder has a history of doling out sizable contracts to assistant coaches and Blache's compensation package is expected to be in line with such spending, league sources said.
Although Blache also had the title of defensive coordinator with the Redskins, working with the defensive line was his primary responsibility under Williams. Alexander, who filled a variety of roles on defense, offense and special teams this season, and second-year defensive tackles Anthony Montgomery and Kedric Golston were major contributors during the Redskins' season-ending four-game winning streak that led to a playoff berth. They credited Blache for much of their development.
A teacher first, Blache stresses fundamentals and effort. And despite his gruff exterior and menacing scowl, Blache communicates well with players, they said.
Of course, the message often is conveyed loudly, the Redskins said. "He likes doing things the right way and there are no shortcuts with him," defensive lineman Cornelius Griffin said. "He'll do what he has to do to get the job done."
Said Alexander: "He's an old-school guy who's going to give you that tough love."
Blache ran the Bears' defense from 1999 through 2003. In 2001, Chicago led the league in scoring defense at 12.7 points per game.
As a rookie in 2000, Urlacher was intimidated by Blache, whose intensity in practice set the tone for the Bears' defense. But Urlacher said he learned much from Blache, and the two men formed a bond that's still strong today.
"He was intimidating, the way he talked to you," Urlacher said recently. "He was the defensive coordinator, but he's telling you things that you probably never heard before. He definitely taught me a lot my rookie year."
Daniels was with Blache for four seasons in Chicago and joined the Redskins in free agency before the 2004 season, which was Blache's first in Washington. The transition to the Redskins was easy for Daniels "because a lot of the defense that we run in Washington was Greg Blache's defense. It was the defense both guys [Williams and Daniels] put together. When I came to Washington I was already at home in the defense because I knew it. The terminology might have changed just a little bit, but as far as the defense itself, it was the same stuff we ran in Chicago."
Although Williams prefers to blitz more than Blache, players said, they only expect to see subtle differences, if any, in the scheme the team had while Williams was in charge. "Coach Blache and Coach Williams share the same type of attitude, as far as when to get after guys and when to pressure guys . . . when to just be physical," Alexander said. "With the personnel we have why would we change that?"
New offensive coordinator Jim Zorn, formerly the Seattle Seahawks' quarterbacks coach, hasn't worked with Blache in the past but "I've heard a lot of good things about him. I'm excited that he's got as much experience in the places he's been. He's been very competitive in every place he's been, and I think it's great that he's been named the coordinator. He's already been there."
Williams achieved a lot with the Redskins, players said, but the defense is in good hands with Blache. "We were with Gregg for four years, he's like family, and you never want to see family leave," Griffin said. "But Coach Blache, he's been around a long time and he's a leader. He'll do just fine."