New Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan is weighing his options to fill out staff

By Barry Svrluga and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 8, 2010; D01

Mike Shanahan's tenure as head coach of the Washington Redskins began at 6 a.m. Thursday in his new offices at the team's Ashburn training facility. There, he began a series of meetings with the members of Jim Zorn's staff that started both the evaluation of the Redskins' roster and the interview process of the club's current coaches, some of whom hope to remain with the franchise.

Shanahan, who was introduced Wednesday as Zorn's replacement, has announced only one member of his coaching staff: his son, Kyle, the Houston Texans' offensive coordinator who is expected to accept a similar position with the Redskins. But members of Zorn's staff said Shanahan had not dismissed any of Zorn's coaches -- yet. The assembling of a staff, Shanahan said Wednesday, was his paramount task in the coming weeks.

"You've got to have the best from top to bottom," Shanahan said. "I'm going to go out and get the best coaches that I can find. . . . I want every assistant coach to know more about that position than me. That's what I'm going to look for."

That includes Kyle Shanahan, 30, who became the NFL's youngest coordinator when he was promoted to that post last January. The Texans, who just missed out on the AFC playoffs, ranked fourth in the NFL in total offense with 383.1 yards per game, and quarterback Matt Schaub led the NFL with 4,770 passing yards.

"When I got into coaching, I made it a point not to work with my dad," Kyle Shanahan said in an interview with Texans TV. "It's something I wanted to stay away from for a while until I at least had some success of my own. The way it went down for him in Denver, with him getting fired and everything, made me realize that I can't get too picky with it. I'm only going to have so many opportunities to coach with him before he's done."

With Kyle Shanahan running the offense, the main question becomes, Who will run the defense? Jerry Gray, the former all-pro cornerback who spent the past four seasons as the Redskins secondary coach, appears to be strongly in the running, members of the organization said Thursday.

Gray, 48, previously served as a defensive coordinator with the Buffalo Bills from 2001 to '05. The first three of those seasons were under Gregg Williams, the former Bills head coach who later served as the Redskins' assistant head coach-defense under Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs. Gray's best defenses were with the 2003 and 2004 Bills, when they ranked second in the NFL in yards allowed per game. But the Bills fell to 29th in the league in 2005, head coach Mike Mularkey resigned, and Gray was not retained.

"He has a very, very good past," Mike Shanahan said Wednesday. "I look forward to talking to him."

Gray is well-liked by his players, and indeed spent Tuesday night at an end-of-season dinner with nearly the entire defensive backfield. But he has also been a controversial figure within Redskins Park for much of the past month, since the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which oversees the NFL's diversity rules for hiring head coaches and top executives, said Gray interviewed for Zorn's job even though Zorn still held it.

Gray, who is African American, has been evasive about whether he did or did not interview. But John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said he had multiple conversations with Gray, and that the alliance believed the Redskins had satisfied the NFL's Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching and upper level front office positions.

Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is believed to be another strong candidate for the same position with the Redskins, but the Bengals face the New York Jets in an AFC playoff game Saturday in Cincinnati. The Bengals said Thursday they would have no comment on whether other teams had asked permission to talk to their coaches.

Another candidate could be Jim Haslett, who served as a head coach in New Orleans and St. Louis and was a defensive coordinator for both the Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Haslett most recently served as the head coach of the Florida franchise in the fledgling United Football League.

Formal interviews for any position on the Redskins staff likely won't take place until next week. Shanahan left the office Thursday afternoon and headed back to Denver, where he owns a steakhouse, Shanahan's, that hosted a private party Thursday night. He told the current Redskins coaches to take the weekend off and be prepared to return to work early Monday morning. Current staff members believe their interviews will be concluded by Tuesday evening, and that Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen could truly begin assembling their staff by Wednesday.

"He's doing a nice job," one current staff member said. "They're very detailed, and they're really being very professional about it. They're not promising anything, but they're giving everyone a fair hearing."

Among those still at work Thursday: longtime Redskins offensive line coach Joe Bugel, who is expected to retire after 32 seasons in the NFL. No announcement of Bugel's plans is scheduled yet, and the 69-year-old was helping Shanahan and Allen with the transition process Thursday.

Some other possibilities for Washington's new staff include longtime Denver assistants Bobby Turner (running backs) and Rick Dennison (offensive line). Both were with the Broncos during Shanahan's entire 14-year tenure in Denver, and both remained on the Broncos' staff after Shanahan was fired following the 2008 season and replaced by Josh McDaniels. Hiring from his former staff, though, could be difficult depending on the contract status of any potential candidate and McDaniels's willingness to let his coaches leave for similar positions elsewhere.

Former Denver wide receiver Steve Watson, Shanahan's associate head coach in 2007-08 and an assistant with the Broncos for six seasons prior to that, said Thursday that he could not comment on his potential candidacy in Washington.

Shanahan, though, said his year away from coaching gave him a feel for potential candidates throughout the league.

"I'm aware of everybody, every coach," Shanahan said Wednesday. "It's what I do. I study coaches. I study coordinators. I know what they've done. I know where they've been."

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