Washington Redskins officials have reassessed the status of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, with Nolan having the opportunity to retain his job if the team's defense performs well in the playoffs, sources close to the situation said yesterday.
With the Redskins having won the NFC East after compiling a 10-6 record, team officials are leaning toward keeping Coach Norv Turner's coaching staff intact for next season, if that is what Turner wants, sources said.
Turner, who resisted making changes to his staff during the season, said yesterday he would like all of his assistants back next season.
"It was disappointing when there was speculation a few weeks ago that I was going to quit," Turner said. "It wasn't true. It's disappointing there's been speculation about the staff when we're trying to get ready for a big football game."
Nolan, whose unit has been ranked near the bottom of the NFL all season, said yesterday he stopped worrying about his job security long ago.
"I've tried not to worry about it," he said. "It's still not about me. All season, I've tried to keep the focus off me. I want the players to focus on what's important. It's part of the job. Somebody's got to take the responsibility, and I'm willing to take it. But that's not on my mind right now. I'm just glad we've been able to play better and contribute to some wins. I hope our season is not that close to being over yet."
Owner Daniel M. Snyder declined to comment yesterday. Last week, Snyder and Turner jointly announced that the head coach, whose contract runs through 2001, would be back next season.
The Redskins finished the regular season with the NFL's 30th-ranked defense, ahead of only the expansion Cleveland Browns. But the defense's improved play in the second half of the season and the Redskins' first NFC East title in eight years have increased Nolan's chances of returning. As recently as a few weeks ago, club officials seemed prepared to fire Nolan and special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel after the season.
Turner persuaded Snyder not to dismiss anyone from the coaching staff during the season, even though veteran defensive coach Bill Arnsparger was added to the staff Oct. 3 as a special assistant coach.
The Redskins' defense made a second-half improvement this season. After yielding 27.8 points, 402.3 yards and 127.4 rushing yards per game in the first eight games of the season, the Redskins surrendered an average of 19.4 points, 310.9 yards and 119.3 rushing yards in the final eight contests.
"Our guys have a better understanding of our defense," Turner said. "They handled their run responsibilities a lot better and cut down on the number of big plays."
The Redskins permitted 389 yards in Sunday's 21-10 win over the Miami Dolphins at FedEx Field in the regular season finale. But Miami had only three points until just over three minutes were left in the game, and the Redskins believe their defense is on an upswing entering Saturday's first-round playoff matchup with the Detroit Lions.
"I'm not saying there's not still a lot of room for improvement, but we're playing better," said Nolan, who is completing his third season as the team's defensive coordinator. "We're playing our best football going into the playoffs. With all the negativism our guys had to deal with earlier in the season, it's nice for them to have some positive things to build on."
If a defensive coordinator spot was open, Snyder and Turner would have a number of qualified applicants to choose from, including Pete Carroll, who was fired as the New England Patriots' head coach yesterday, and Ray Rhodes, who was fired by the Green Bay Packers Sunday.
Carroll was the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers. Rhodes was the defensive coordinator in Green Bay and San Francisco before his head coaching stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and Packers.
Said Redskins defensive end Marco Coleman: "You can talk all day about offensive stats or defensive stats. But the main thing is, did the Redskins win? And we did 10 times out of 16."