Redskins Interview Williams for Job

Many Think Defensive Boss Is Favorite

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Several general managers said they believed Al Saunders's days of leading the Redskins' offense could be numbered.
Several general managers said they believed Al Saunders's days of leading the Redskins' offense could be numbered. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
Gregg Williams, shown in September with London Fletcher, has led the Redskins' defense to three top 10 finishes in his four seasons with the team.
Gregg Williams, shown in September with London Fletcher, has led the Redskins' defense to three top 10 finishes in his four seasons with the team. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 13, 2008; Page D01

Gregg Williams was interviewed for the Washington Redskins' head coaching vacancy yesterday, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, while numerous NFL executives and agents continue to say they believe he is the favorite to get the position. Williams, Washington's assistant head coach-defense, spent the past four years on Joe Gibbs's staff and has strong support from players and coaches at Redskins Park.

Gibbs and owner Daniel Snyder have stressed the importance of continuity as they search for a leader for the organization -- and Snyder's sixth coach since buying the team in 1999 -- and hiring Williams is seen by many as best ensuring they retain stability from this season's playoff finish. Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, the team's vice president of football operations, have been conducting the meetings at Snyder's home. Williams served as head coach in Buffalo from 2001 to 2003, was a successful defensive coordinator with Tennessee before that and his defenses in Washington have finished ranked in the top 10 in three of the past four seasons.

Snyder is known for being meticulous when it comes to interviewing coaches since beginning a failed experiment with Steve Spurrier six years ago, with sessions often lasting 10 hours or more. With the team at a crossroads after Gibbs's sudden retirement, there is much to go over. Several general managers contacted said they believed the job of Al Saunders, the Redskins' associate head coach whose offense has under-performed in two years in Washington, could be in jeopardy, and some turnover on the offensive coaching staff may be inevitable.

Snyder soured on the lack of offensive progress since Gibbs handed off play-calling duties to Saunders, according to several league sources who spoke with members of Washington's management through the season, and many braced for a change even had Gibbs stayed. Saunders, who earns more than $2 million per season, has not been considered as a candidate for the coaching vacancy at this point.

Saunders and Williams are not close, according to team sources, and though they could likely work together, there would have to be much greater interaction between them if Williams were head coach, and they have differing philosophies on many football matters. There will certainly be consideration given to how Saunders's presence relates to the development of young quarterback Jason Campbell, who has been through eight systems in the past nine years, as well.

Several high-ranking personnel executives said it is also inevitable that that the topic of the front office will be discussed as well, given that Gibbs was also the team president, leaving just Snyder and Cerrato in decision-making roles with no general manager.

Snyder has been adamant that the club's system of player procurement is working and that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." But, as one NFL personnel executive said, "They're talking a lot about stability, but if you're not set up the right way, things can become unstable real quick." There would also be a matter of extensions for the existing assistants to finalize in meetings with Williams, as most of those coaches are in the final year of the contracts.

The Redskins began the interviewing process Thursday by meeting with Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, a Baltimore native and Georgetown graduate, and interviewed another assistant coach Friday. That coach's identity has not been disclosed but it was not former Redskins player and coach Russ Grimm, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation.

The Redskins would like to interview two coaches still involved in the playoffs -- Indianapolis's Jim Caldwell (offense) and Ron Meeks (defense), according to a source with knowledge of the situation -- and will ask for permission to contact both. But they are not eligible to interview until the Colts' season ends, or, should Indianapolis reach the Feb. 3 Super Bowl, until the bye week before that game.

Caldwell and Meeks would meet the requirements of the Rooney Rule -- the NFL's rule that clubs interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching vacancies -- and it is possible the Redskins may have already interviewed a coach who meets that requirement. A source close to Schwartz said he would be surprised if the Redskins waited until next month to hire a coach, considering Meeks and Caldwell could be off-limits until then. Schwartz, the Titans' assistant, "got the sense that they were moving fast on this," the source said.

The source who spoke to Schwartz said his sense was that the team was not leaning towards hiring an executive in the mold of a general manager at this time, and believes that Williams is clearly the front-runner. The source also believed that the four offensive coaches who were with Gibbs from his first stint in Washington -- Joe Bugel, Don Breaux, Rennie Simmons and Jack Burns -- would remain a part of the staff, and they have expressed their desire to continue coaching.

Staff writer Mike Wise contributed to this report.

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