By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Eleven months ago, Greg Blache was poised to retire from football, walking away from the long hours and stress and taking up a life of hunting and relaxation.
Since Redskins owner Daniel Snyder talked Blache into returning to the team as defensive coordinator, the coach has repeatedly talked about how much he has enjoyed himself. Yesterday, he called this the easiest season of his coaching career and said he was ready to return for a second year running the team's defense.
"And honestly, to be quite candid, this time of year is never a good time of year to make a decision, when you're tired," Blache said. "And that's what I did last year, I made a decision when I was tired. It's better for me to wait until I'm not, but right now, yeah, I'm up for it. I mean, it's been fun. Quite candidly, it's been fun. If I have this same quality of people to work with, it's easy to come to work every day."
While Blache's future with the team wasn't considered to be in doubt, his comments added another dose of stability to a week in which Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' executive vice president for football operations, said Coach Jim Zorn would return in 2009.
"I've always planned on being back," Zorn said yesterday. "I know [of] no vote of confidence that I needed to feel like I was gonna be back."
Blache, meantime, said he was grateful that he hadn't followed through on his early retirement plans, saying he has thanked Snyder "because he saved me from something I didn't really want to do." The 59-year-old coach has directed the NFL's fourth-ranked defense, and the Redskins will finish among the NFL's top 10 defenses for the fourth time in Blache's five seasons with the team. During Blache's five years running the Chicago Bears' defense, he produced a top-10 unit just once.
"I've had so much fun with this group, it's really been a blessing for me, and so it's been a great year," Blache said yesterday. "I mean, there's some down times. There's some Sunday mornings when I'm thinking, 'Why am I doing this?' And there's been some Monday mornings where I thought, 'You know, I don't have to do this.'
"But all in all, the most consistent feeling has been a lot of pride to be associated with some class young men and a class organization. There's no utopias in our business. But the position that I'm in with the staff that I have to work with, the ownership, the leadership, I can't envision having a better job than what I have right now."
Blache has simplified the scheme used by former defensive boss Gregg Williams, but has retained many of the same concepts, personnel and assistant coaches. Players said Blache has told them several times how much he has enjoyed this season, and some said they've seen a different man.
"Obviously last year he was looking like, 'Man, you know, I'm ready to go hunting and enjoy my cabin' and stuff like that," linebacker London Fletcher said. Marcus Washington described Blache as "full of energy."
Blache, in his third decade of NFL coaching, said the difference has been his ability to delegate, passing on responsibilities to secondary coach Jerry Gray, safeties coach Steve Jackson and linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti.
"I just kind of sit on the bus and ride the bus," he said. "I don't even drive the bus. I just kind of ride along. These guys are the guys that power the bus. So for me, this has been the easiest year, this has been my easiest year coaching I ever remember having."
Zorn said Blache has also made his job easier; the two men attempt to have at least a short consultation every day, and Zorn said the defensive coordinator would be heavily involved in offseason schematic and personnel issues. Blache's defense is likely to lose at least a few significant pieces, but he deflected such questions yesterday, repeatedly saying that he would leave personnel and salary cap decisions to others.
"I know very little about personnel," Blache said. "I know nothing about money. It's a lack of experience: The little bit that I get, it goes out before I get my hands on it. Honestly, like I said, I'll coach 'em, and whoever's here, we're gonna coach 'em the best we can and roll from there."
The roster, though, is starting to bear his stamp. Midseason acquisition DeAngelo Hall, who has supplanted Carlos Rogers as the team's top cornerback, said part of the reason he signed with the Redskins was because of their coordinator. And Blache emphasized that his happiness this fall was because of the players at his disposal, and that a less appealing group may have chased him away from the game.
"In this day and age, where it becomes a 'Me! Me!' game, a 'Look at me! Look at me!' kind of deal, to have a group of guys that are unselfish and that can compete and look out for each other, it's refreshing for me," he said. "If I had a bunch of 'Look at me!' guys, I'd head for the hills in a heartbeat, because I'm too old for that. I'm a dinosaur. I'm from a different age. A lot of the stuff that happens in this game right now is not to my liking, but if I have a group like I do, it makes it so easy and so much more fun to come to work every day."