Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's "crazy" NFL odyssey

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 25, 2010; 11:40 PM

There is an easy way to describe Jim Haslett - "Crazy," defensive end Phillip Daniels said - and he is hardly one to debate the matter. "You're going to think I'm weird, but . . ." Haslett said one day, shortly before his first season as the Redskins' defensive coordinator began.

Weird? He was a skinny quarterback in high school, went to college to play basketball, and somehow bulked up enough to become an all-American defensive end. He entered the NFL as a second-round pick from little Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where, as former teammate Fred Smerlas said, "He must have horrified people."

He got in fights his first three days of training camp with the Buffalo Bills, and immediately started hazing the veterans, stealing their cars, messing with their heads. He ended up as the NFL's defensive rookie of the year.

What's weird about that?

"We had fun," Haslett said.

"You'd probably get arrested for a lot of the stuff we did now," said Smerlas, his frequent accomplice.

Haslett once bought a 65-acre farm - not for the horses and cows that resided there, but so his beloved dog, a blue Queensland heeler, could chase those horses and cows around. He once stepped on the head of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw - after Bradshaw's helmet had been jarred off. There were times when he would do or say anything.

"He says what he says," said former Pittsburgh linebacker Levon Kirkland, who played under Haslett from 1997-99. "He's going to tell you the truth - really, a lot of times, even in spite of himself."

Haslett returns Sunday to St. Louis, where the Redskins face the Rams. In 2006, Haslett served as the Rams' defensive coordinator, a job he says now he "probably shouldn't have ever took, because it was a baaaaaad football team." Four games into the 2008 season, Scott Linehan was fired, and Haslett became the Rams' head coach. His thoughts on that position: "I should've never took the head coaching job because it was a baaaaaad football team."

In so many ways, Haslett - 54-year-old father of three, dog lover, sports fan - is an ordinary football coach. His stint in Washington is the ninth of a typically itinerant coaching career. But he is far from typical, both by his nature and now by his experience. Of all his stops, from Sacramento to St. Louis, none touched Haslett's life like his time in New Orleans. The Saints have received credit for helping stitch together a city torn apart by Hurricane Katrina. But Sean Payton was not the coach then, and Drew Brees was not the quarterback.

From 2000, when he was the NFL's coach of the year - and the Saints won the first playoff game in franchise history - through 2005, Haslett was the head coach of the Saints. And thus, when disaster struck, he was the one who tried to hold his team together.

So you want a typical response on the Saints and New Orleans and inspiration and Katrina? Look to someone other than Jim Haslett.

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