Washington Redskins Coach Norv Turner apparently saved Mike Nolan's job yesterday, sources said, after several of owner Daniel M. Snyder's top advisers recommended he fire the defensive coordinator.
According to sources, Snyder left the decision on Nolan's future with the club to Turner, who expressed his support for Nolan during a meeting yesterday at Redskin Park with Snyder and Redskins director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato.
The day after the Redskins' 34-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills, team officials for the second week in a row discussed the possibility of releasing punter Matt Turk but decided against it, sources said.
Meantime, the Redskins have lost left guard Keith Sims for three weeks. Club officials said an MRI exam revealed yesterday Sims suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee during Sunday's game. The Redskins plan to start Brad Badger in Sims's place and likely will re-sign Rod Milstead as a backup.
Defensive end Marco Coleman was hospitalized because of an infection in his right knee, but Turner said he expects Coleman to play in Sunday's game at Philadelphia.
The Redskins (5-3) are tied for first place in the NFC East and will play the 2-7 Eagles twice in the next three weeks, but continue to search for ways to improve the league's last-ranked defense. Club officials seemed prepared to offer Nolan's job to Bill Arnsparger for the remainder of the season if they had fired Nolan. But Snyder, according to sources, has promised Turner the coach won't be forced to fire any members of his staff during the season, and the owner stuck to that pledge yesterday.
Snyder had told associates Sunday evening the team wouldn't fire Nolan, but apparently reconsidered the possibility yesterday after several top aides told him half a season was a sufficient period in which to judge Nolan's performance.
Turner told Snyder and Cerrato during their meeting early last night at Redskin Park, however, that firing Nolan now would be disruptive and wouldn't solve the team's defensive problems, sources said. Turner and Snyder declined to comment when asked about yesterday's meeting, but Turner said no changes would be made to his coaching staff.
During his weekly news conference at Redskin Park earlier in the day, Turner talked about the mistakes the Redskins made Sunday on offense, defense and special teams and said: "You can't make those kinds of errors and expect to beat a good football team, or be competitive with a good football team. . . . We're going to address them very specifically with the players involved. . . . To me, it starts obviously with coaching. . . . Every player and coach involved has to accept responsibility for those types of plays."
The Redskins' struggles have been perplexing because they have six first-round draft picks starting on defense. Nolan said: "When you pay guys a lot of money, you want to get a return on what you paid for. But you have to play together. That's my responsibility and the responsibility of the other coaches on defense, to get them to play together. That's where we're falling short. . . . There's responsibility. That goes for all of us. We have responsibility as coaches. They have responsibility as players."
Snyder was the catalyst for the deliberations that led the Redskins to hire Arnsparger last month to assist Nolan. The defense has played well in two of the four games since Arnsparger's arrival--wins over the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears. But it also has struggled in losses to the Dallas Cowboys and the Bills. Buffalo quarterback Doug Flutie dominated Sunday's game with his running and throwing, as the Bills amassed 413 yards, converted nine of their 15 third-down opportunities and controlled the ball for 41 of the game's 60 minutes.
For the season, the Redskins' defense is surrendering 27.8 points and 402.3 yards per game. Only one other NFL team, the expansion Cleveland Browns, is yielding more than 353 yards per game.
Arnsparger said yesterday: "I think this defense has improved against the run, [but] you have to be consistent. If you play it good twice and break down the third time, you have to look at why you broke down the third time."
Arnsparger has stressed a return to the basics since his arrival, and he said that won't change.
"There are certain things you have to do," said Arnsparger, who has the title of defensive specialist and sits in the press box during games, connected to Nolan on the sideline via a headset. "You have to get the defensive call. You have to get lined up right. You have to be ready to take care of your responsibility in the best manner you can. . . . It's the basics that sometimes can be overlooked, and you have to continue to stress it and continue to go over it."
Badger, the team's starting left tackle at the outset of last season, took over for Sims after Sims hurt his knee in the third quarter Sunday. Sims, who called his injury a partial tear of the MCL that won't require surgery, said he hopes to miss only two weeks.
Coleman was at Arlington Hospital receiving intravenous antibiotics after a minor wound on his knee suffered Sunday became infected. Redskins officials hope that Coleman will be released from the hospital Wednesday and be able to practice on Thursday. Anthony Cook likely would start in Coleman's place against the Eagles if Coleman is unable to play.