Former Washington Redskins general manager Charley Casserly has emerged as the leading candidate to become director of football operations for the NFL expansion franchise in Houston that will begin play in 2002, sources said today.

Casserly has been in Houston since Thursday and had discussions Friday with Houston team owner Bob McNair and his top aide, Steve Patterson. Casserly also met with other team officials today in Houston, and McNair could announce his hiring sometime this week, according to a team source.

Casserly was accompanied to Houston by his wife Beverly and daughter Shannon, and reportedly also was looking around the city today, sizing up neighborhoods and schools, another indication that his hiring is imminent.

Reached tonight, Casserly said: "We had more meetings today, and it was a good day. We're going to keep talking. I'm talking to other people, too, but I think everything will be resolved this coming week. I will talk to Bob again on Monday. We've had consistent dialogue on everything. I really can't say any more than that."

The New Orleans Saints also want to speak with Casserly again about a vacancy created when team owner Tom Benson fired coach Mike Ditka and general manager Bill Kuharich. Casserly also is considered a strong candidate for that job, according to league sources, but appears to be leaning toward Houston.

McNair and Patterson were not available to comment today.

McNair told the Houston Chronicle in today's editions that he was "still hoping to have this thing wrapped up in the next two weeks, but it's an important and complicated process. This job has a lot of requirements. There's a lot involved in putting a team together. We're building from the ground floor."

McNair has received several strong endorsements of Casserly, including support from former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and New York Jets director of football operations Bill Parcells, who resigned as the Jets' coach two weeks ago.

"We're getting to know Charley better and better," McNair told the Chronicle. "I like him a lot, I really do. Our philosophies are similar."

Casserly is expected to have more conversations with the Saints' Benson, perhaps Sunday. Benson was a supporter of former Redskins team president John Kent Cooke's attempt to keep the team after Jack Kent Cooke died, and he developed a relationship with Casserly during the process that eventually led to the team being sold to Daniel M. Snyder.

McNair has interviewed only one other candidate for the Houston job, former Redskins personnel man Joe Mack, who helped get the Carolina and Cleveland expansion franchises off the ground. McNair also may want to interview former Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Tom Donohoe, who resigned Friday.

Donohoe, regarded as one of the NFL's most astute talent evaluators, decided to leave the Steelers organization after team owner Dan Rooney announced earlier in the week that Coach Bill Cowher will return next season. Donohoe and Cowher have had difficulty working together.

Donohoe also could emerge as a candidate in New Orleans, though he has not yet interviewed there. He has close ties to Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who held that job in Pittsburgh before becoming the Panthers' coach five years ago. Capers was fired after the 1998 season. No team can talk to Capers about a vacancy until the Jaguars' season is over.