By Jason La Canfora and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 31, 2008
The Washington Redskins are likely to formally interview Steve Mariucci for their vacant head coaching position this week, league sources said. As they headed to Arizona for Super Bowl XLII, owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, the executive vice president for football operations, stopped Tuesday in Indianapolis for a second series of talks with Ron Meeks, another candidate, as they seek a replacement for Joe Gibbs.
Mariucci, who has coaching ties to Washington's coordinators -- Greg Blache (defense) and Jim Zorn (offense) -- and worked with Cerrato in San Francisco, has told associates he is interested in returning to coaching after two years as an NFL Network analyst. Mariucci has been in Arizona this week working for the NFL Network, and the Redskins have said that they will make no coaching decision until after the game.
Mariucci's agent, Gary O'Hagan, said "no comment" last night when asked if a meeting with the Redskins was scheduled, but denied broadcast reports that there were plans for the sides to meet last night.
Meeks, the Colts' defensive coordinator, joined Jim Fassel, who was nearly offered the job Jan. 23, as remaining candidates who have been interviewed twice. New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could be interviewed next week.
Mariucci, 52, led San Francisco to a 57-39 record and four playoff berths in six seasons (1997-2002), but faltered with Detroit and was fired during the 2005 season after compiling a 15-28 mark. Several of Mariucci's former players and coaches said they believed the Redskins were a good fit, with the team hiring from the West Coast offense coaching fraternity that Mariucci belongs to. Some associates said Mariucci's wife may have some concerns about moving to the East Coast, and noted that Mariucci may have to work through some questions about Washington's front-office structure, but did not believe they would preclude him from taking the job.
Several league sources said that Mariucci has contacted former assistants recently to inquire about their job status -- the Redskins could have a position or two to allocate on their offensive staff -- and is mulling over possibilities should he reenter coaching.
One NFL general manager, after studying the consecutive hires of Zorn and Blache, said: "It all points to Mariucci. It's like you're starting a Washington branch of the West Coast family. Look at the coordinators. Then you've got Vinny, who could put it together. That's viable. That's something I think you could sell.
"He's a likable guy, he's had success, been to the playoffs, you can trace him back to [San Francisco's Hall of Fame coach] Bill Walsh. I think you could sell that package to the fans and everybody's comfortable. That's what I think he's trying to pull off."
Snyder is known for quietly pursuing coaches, and Mariucci's name was rarely mentioned as the Redskins interviewed other candidates over the past two weeks. His last two hires -- Gibbs and Steve Spurrier -- surprised the football world. Snyder could still offer the job to Fassel, who coached the Giants from 1997 to 2003 and reached a Super Bowl. Zorn and Blache were recommended by him and league sources said Fassel remains enthused by recent developments. Meeks was impressive in his talks as well, but sources who worked with both Mariucci and Snyder maintain that Mariucci's affability, charm and outgoing personality mesh with what Snyder looks for in a coach, with compatibility a key factor.
"I know [Snyder] would be very attracted to Steve," said a league source who has dealt with both. "Steve's got that big smile, he loves to [talk]. He's the kind of guy Snyder could put his arm around and buddy around with."
Both Mariucci and Fassel have developed young quarterbacks -- helping Jason Campbell grow is a priority -- and will be broadcasting during the Super Bowl. Fassel, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., works as a radio commentator. Mariucci worked previously with Blache for two years in Green Bay under Mike Holmgren, and tried to hire Blache in Detroit in 2004. Zorn also learned the West Coast offense under Holmgren in Seattle.
Meeks met with Snyder in Indianapolis, with the question-and-answer portion of the interview lasting about five hours. Meeks, who has no head coaching experience, helped revitalize the Colts' defense late in the 2006 season as the team went on to win the Super Bowl. He first interviewed with the Redskins shortly after Indianapolis was upset by San Diego in an AFC semifinal on Jan. 13.
"I felt good about everything after my first interview and I feel good about this one, too," Meeks said. "I've moved forward in this process because Mr. Snyder and Vinny wanted me to move forward, and I really appreciate that. All you can do is do your best and then just hope for the best."
Meeks, who coached Washington's defensive backs in the 2000 season, just completed his sixth season as the Colts' defensive coordinator. Indianapolis ranked third in the league in total defense this season and ranked second against the pass.
"We've had some success here," Meeks said. "I've enjoyed working with [Coach Tony Dungy] and watching this team grow and get to a point where we're competitive every year. The system we have is good. It's something that could be valuable to many organizations."
Redskins Notes: The St. Louis Rams hired Al Saunders as offensive coordinator yesterday, signing him to a three-year deal. His hiring makes it virtually certain that Saunders's son, Bob, a Redskins assistant, would join his father. Redskins quarterback coach Bill Lazor, whose responsibilities will be assumed by Zorn, could end up in St. Louis as well, while free agent backup quarterback Todd Collins, an expert in Saunders's system who shined after Campbell was hurt this season, would be prized by the Rams. The Redskins' switch to a new offense makes him less valuable here. . . .
Gregg Williams, former assistant head coach-defense, interviewed Tuesday in Jacksonville and has drawn interest from Tennessee, St. Louis and Dallas, with more interviews possible shortly, league sources said . . . .
Running backs coach Earnest Byner had a strong interview for a position with Tampa Bay on Tuesday, according to league sources, but the Buccaneers intend to interview one more candidate before making a decision. Byner's contract with the Redskins expires today, and he is the only coach not under contract for 2008. He is mulling a one-year offer from the Redskins.