You want to know something that would have been disruptive? The sight of Buddy Ryan getting off a plane at Dulles Airport. Forget disruptive, that would have been cataclysmic. It would have taken Buddy about half of his very first practice session to pull aside a young, impressionable defender and say, "Kid, you want to impress me? Go rip Brad Johnson's head off and let me handle the consequences." Bringing in a "consultant" who might take out a bounty on an opposing player or punch an assistant in the head on the sideline during a game, now that would have been disruptive.
Bill Arnsparger's resume reflects no such tendency toward upheaval. I doubt seriously--contrary to some of the hullabaloo--that Arnsparger is here to seize control of the Redskins' defense. Now, there's no question that owner Daniel Snyder is unhappy with the defense, which has been dreadful. And Snyder isn't one to sit idly by if he perceives a problem. By bringing in a consultant, he's telling defensive coordinator Mike Nolan he will not be very tolerant. And Snyder is telling Norv Turner the same thing, that he'll be the bad cop if Turner won't. Every staffer is on notice. This is not going to be a hands-off operation. Although it's a fine line between being proactive and being Peter Angelos.
Anyway, at 72 years old, four years retired from full-time work in the NFL, Arnsparger isn't about to stage a coup. He's no threat whatsoever to Turner. And he can help Nolan, no matter how uncomfortable this must feel. Arnsparger isn't looking for a job. In the best of all worlds, the Redskins will get radically better on defense, make a run deep into the playoffs, then try to persuade Arnsparger he needs to work a few more months next season.
The idea to bring in Arnsparger is a good one. There are three faces on the modern-day Mount Rushmore of defense and they belong to Ryan, Arnsparger and Richie Petitbon. Any one of those men can come in today, turn on the film projector, and by 6 p.m. likely figure how to help your team get better without even knowing the names of the starters. I love Ryan but he's a powder keg. He causes havoc wherever he goes. Petitbon, even though his mini-run as head coach was a mess, is still revered as a defensive genius. And he was. But Petitbon's presence would be disruptive because he's immensely popular and because he is so symbolic of the Joe Gibbs Redskins.
So Arnsparger is the right answer. He sure as heck can't hurt. As I look at the league stats, I see the Redskins are 31st in pass defense, 29th in rushing defense, 31st in total yards per game, 31st in yards per play, 30th in points per game, and 31st in total defense. There are 31 teams in the NFL, including expansion Cleveland, which began play 30 minutes ago. Even if he was a disruptive influence, how could it hurt the team? It is statistically impossible for the Redskins to get any worse. Disrupt what, exactly?
It would be one thing if Arnsparger had no relationship with Nolan, the person into whose ear he'll be whispering. It would be even worse if Arnsparger and Nolan had some history of antagonism. But it's just the opposite. When he was head coach at Louisiana State, Arnsparger hired Nolan in 1986. Nolan is his pupil. Okay, Nolan has to swallow some pride, but at least it's only a little swallow. He could be looking for a job now. And there are other assistant coaches all over the building, most notably Terry Robiskie and Earl Leggett, of whom Arnsparger is fond and vice-versa.
The Redskins of the past five years would have needed to fire Nolan just to shake things up. But when you think you're pretty good, you're not trying to shake it up, you're trying to get better. As disastrous as the defensive stats are, nothing needs to be blown up. Things need fixing, and management has called in a Mr. Goodwrench. The defense will almost certainly get better.
This is the time to start the fixing, too. There's no great team in the NFL, and there's not even a prohibitive favorite in the NFC. With just an average defense, the Redskins can do some damage this season. But there's a long way to go for this unit to reach average.
It's naive to think there is some fundamental problem if Nolan wants to blitz and Arnsparger wants to lay back in coverage on a specific play, because there's always disagreement. There are suggestions flying back and forth from the assistants in the press box to the head coach and other assistants on the sideline all the time during a game. Almost on every play. Turner is the head coach, but don't think for a minute that Robiskie isn't screaming in his ear, "Hey, power looks good here," or "Albert Connell can get open on that guy with a double-move; ditch the short pass to the tight end!"
Nolan and Arnsparger are going to disagree, if the Redskins' defense is lucky.
You don't bring in a consultant to give out pats on the back. This unit needs major tightening, some new ideas, some different schemes and tactics, a fresh set of eyes. The personnel is too good to be 31st. Okay, the Redskins could use a pass rusher, and their young linebackers need to grow up faster than is reasonable. But, all in all, most scouts will tell you they would take the Redskins' defensive personnel over that of most teams.
Arnsparger on Tuesday talked about the simple things a defense, any defense, can do to get better. "Knowing assignments," he said, "where they belong, what their responsibility is . . . taking fundamental coverages and alignments and knowing where they need to be, where they need to fit."
It sounds so simple, the basic things he talks about. Then again, the great teachers always make it sound simple. Arnsparger said something else that stuck. He had the No. 1 or No. 2 defense in the NFL in nine of his 11 full seasons in Miami, yet said "All of us have been in this predicament at one time or another." With that, he had made himself just another coach, like his pupil Mike Nolan who is in this predicament now. Difficult as this might be for Nolan, if you coach defense in the NFL and you are in over your head, Bill Arnsparger is one of the few people qualified to throw you a lifeline.