Redskins hire Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator

Jim Haslett, formerly the head coach of the Saints and Rams, earned a reputation as a defensive guru with the Steelers in the 1990s.
Jim Haslett, formerly the head coach of the Saints and Rams, earned a reputation as a defensive guru with the Steelers in the 1990s. (Jed Jacobsohn/getty Images)
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By Mark Maske and Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jim Haslett, who led a revival of the New Orleans Saints a decade ago and built a defensive reputation as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1990s, has reached an agreement to be Mike Shanahan's defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins, Haslett's agent said Tuesday night, meaning Shanahan has both of his coordinators in place less than a week after he accepted the job.

Haslett interviewed with Redskins officials on Monday, and his agent, Peter Schaffer, said the partnership with Shanahan is a "recipe for success." The deal with the Redskins heads off the interest of the NFC East-rival New York Giants, who were reportedly prepared to interview Haslett for their vacant defensive coordinator job on Wednesday. He'll join Shanahan's son Kyle, who will serve as the Redskins' offensive coordinator, as Shanahan's top two assistants.

"It's a situation where I think that Jim and Mike Shanahan have developed both a great respect over many years, as well as a friendship," Schaffer said by phone Tuesday. "I think they have a lot of similar philosophies, and there's definitely been a lot of communication."

The hiring of Haslett, 54, swiftly concludes Shanahan's pursuit of a defensive leader, and also ends -- as expected -- the two-year reign of Greg Blache as Washington's defensive coordinator. Blache, who is expected to retire, coached units that ranked fourth and 10th in total defense in 2008 and '09, respectively, but some players -- namely, star defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth -- criticized his 4-3 system as too conservative, failing to take advantage of the talents of specific players.

Haslett's installation comes just five days after Shanahan was introduced as the replacement for Jim Zorn, who was fired Jan. 4. It could also mean a shift in defensive philosophy for the Redskins. Shanahan has explored using a 3-4 alignment, a scheme with which Haslett has familiarity from his days in Pittsburgh from 1997 to '99. Haslett, who has a reputation of being unafraid to blitz, later used a 4-3 alignment with some of his later teams in New Orleans, where he served as head coach from 2000 to '05, amassing a 45-51 record. In 2008, he served as the interim head coach of the St. Louis Rams, when he went 2-10.

Shanahan's presumed choice for the job had been Mike Zimmer, the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati who revamped the Bengals' defense in his two-year tenure there. Zimmer, though, agreed to a new contract Tuesday with the Bengals, who had an advantage because they held exclusive rights to negotiate with him for the week immediately following Cincinnati's season.

Jerry Gray, who served as the secondary coach under both Zorn and former coach Joe Gibbs, had also been a candidate for the defensive coordinator job as well. Gray, who had previously interviewed for Washington's head coaching job when Zorn still held it -- apparently to satisfy the NFL's "Rooney Rule," which requires teams to consider at least one minority for such a position -- was a favorite among some Redskins players. reported that Gray interviewed for the position Tuesday.

Former Cleveland head coach Romeo Crennel, who made his reputation as the defensive coordinator in New England, had an "inquiry phone call" with the Redskins, his agent said Tuesday night, but talks never developed. Crennel is likely to go to Kansas City.

Haslett, a former linebacker with the Buffalo Bills, built a stellar defensive reputation over his years as an NFL assistant, particularly with the Steelers, and then as the head coach of the Saints. Though his last few defenses weren't statistically solid -- as the interim head coach of the Rams in 2008, his unit ranked 29th in total defense, and his defenses in six years as the Saints' head coach averaged a ranking of 19th -- he retains a reputation as a creative defensive mind.

Haslett most recently served as the head coach of the Florida franchise in the fledgling United Football League, and he reached the league championship game. But he said immediately following the season that he wanted to return to the NFL, and his name was instantly mentioned for several jobs this offseason.

Shanahan is also working on putting together the rest of his staff. Longtime assistant Bob Slowik -- who served as Shanahan's defensive coordinator in Denver in 2008 and as a defensive assistant with the Broncos from 2005 to '07 -- is expected to have a position on the staff, according to an NFL source. Slowik was previously a defensive coordinator in Green Bay (2004), Cleveland (1999) and Chicago (1998) and has coached defensive backs throughout his career.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have allowed wide receivers coach Richard Mann to speak to other teams, according to the St. Petersburg Times, and Mann could be a contender to coach in Washington. Former Broncos receiver Steve Watson served as an assistant head coach and receivers coach under Shanahan in Denver and has previously declined comment on his potential involvement in Washington.

Former Buffalo assistant Bobby April has been reported to be scheduled to interview with the Redskins for a job coaching special teams, but an NFL source said Tuesday that no interview is scheduled. April has interviewed with two teams and has more discussions scheduled, the source said.

The Redskins also reportedly offered a position to longtime Denver running backs coach Bobby Turner on Monday, but it is believed that Turner has not yet accepted. Turner was on Shanahan's staff in Denver during his entire 14-year stint.

Staff writers Rick Maese and Jason Reid contributed to this report.

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