The Washington Redskins announced yesterday they would not renew defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's contract, and team sources said last night the team was leaning strongly toward hiring Ray Rhodes as Nolan's replacement.
Redskins officials interviewed recently fired NFL head coaches Rhodes and Pete Carroll yesterday and likely will hire Rhodes, sources said, if a planned face-to-face meeting between Rhodes and Coach Norv Turner goes well. The Redskins also interviewed Foge Fazio, whose contract as the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator is expiring, and intend to hire him as an assistant defensive coach, sources said.
The club fired defensive backs coach Tom Hayes yesterday and announced the retirement of defensive line coach Earl Leggett. Turner said that Bill Arnsparger, the longtime NFL defensive expert who was hired by the Redskins in October to assist Nolan, will not return to the team next season.
According to sources, Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder and director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato met with Rhodes, the former head coach of the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, yesterday in Mobile, Ala., the site of the Senior Bowl.
The Redskins prefer Rhodes to Carroll, who apparently was interviewed by phone, because they found Rhodes to be more eager to make a quick return to coaching. The Redskins also believe there could be some problems hiring Carroll because of contractual ties with the New England Patriots, who fired Carroll as their head coach following the season. If Turner and Rhodes mesh, Rhodes could be hired by next week.
Turner confirmed earlier yesterday Rhodes and Carroll would be candidates for the job, saying: "There are some guys that have been very successful that are available. . . . We want to do it as quickly as possible."
Fired by the Packers one season after being fired by the Philadelphia Eagles, Rhodes is a former defensive coordinator for the Packers and San Francisco 49ers. Carroll, who also has been the New York Jets head coach, has served as the defensive coordinator of the Jets and 49ers.
Fazio apparently will be hired to serve as a position coach on the defensive staff.
The Redskins had the league's 30th-ranked defense during the regular season, and Nolan's contract was expiring. The team apparently gave Nolan the chance to keep his job under certain conditions, including the departures of Hayes and Leggett. Nolan and Turner talked Monday and Tuesday, and they said yesterday they made a mutual decision Nolan would not return for a fourth season.
"As we went through the process over a couple days, I felt it was in everyone's best interests that we would go in a different direction," Turner said. ". . . There's part of you that would like to see what you started off trying to get done work. Part of me would love to have Mike back. But part of me understands there are things that make it hard to do."
Said Nolan: "You want to be wanted wherever you are. . . . It's a two-way street. I don't look at this as pounding my chest and saying, 'It was on my own terms,' because it's not. It was a mutual agreement between Norv and myself. . . . It just wasn't going to work the way it was."
Nolan said he was not comfortable with the conditions under which he could have kept his job.
"If I was just to go in there saying, 'Please give me a job and I'll do anything to stay,' you could probably hang on," he said. "That's not me. And I don't think anybody really wants somebody like that, because all you do is you get a puppet. I'm not a glutton for punishment. This was a difficult year for a lot of people, and it was difficult for myself."
Nolan had been under intense scrutiny since the Redskins squandered a three-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter to lose their season opener, 41-35, to the Dallas Cowboys in overtime. Snyder was the catalyst behind the deliberations that led to Arnsparger's hiring following a 38-36 victory over the Carolina Panthers Oct. 3. Some of Snyder's advisers recommended at one point during the season Nolan be fired. Snyder left the decision to Turner, who opted to retain Nolan.
The Redskins' defense did improve. 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 19.4 points, 310.9 yards and 119.3 rushing yards per outing in the final eight regular season contests. The defense yielded only 27 points and 444 yards over two games during the playoffs.
Turner said he plans to make a determination soon about the status of special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel. He said the fate of the team's two other defensive coaches, line coach Rubin Carter and defensive assistant Jeff FitzGerald, will be determined later. Hayes was fired after five seasons with the team to enable the new defensive coordinator to choose his own staff, Turner said.
Said Hayes: "You're never totally sure how things are going to go. It's part of the game. It's part of life as an NFL coach."
Redskins Notes: Wide receiver Michael Westbrook may undergo surgery on the broken bone in his wrist, trainer Bubba Tyer said. Westbrook played with the injury late in the season but, according to Tyer, it has not healed properly and doctors have recommended that he undergo surgery or have his wrist placed in a cast to heal. Westbrook has not made his decision yet, Tyer said.
Wide receiver Albert Connell underwent surgery on his right pinkie yesterday, and linebacker Greg Jones is scheduled to undergo hernia surgery on Friday. Defensive end Marco Coleman will undergo knee surgery and defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson will have shoulder surgery, Tyer said.
The Measure of Defense
Mike Nolan, right, spent three seasons as the Redskins' defensive coordinator, joining the team in 1997 after spending four seasons in a similar capacity with the New York Giants. A comparison of Redskins defenses with and without Nolan:
3 seasons before Nolan was hired (1994-96)
Opponents' Avg. Total Offense 348.6 pg
Opponents' Avg. Rushing Yards 132.9 pg
Opponents' Avg. Passing Yards 215.6 pg
3 seasons since Nolan was hired (1997-99)
Opponents' Avg. Total Offense 335.2 pg
Opponents' Avg. Rushing Yards 138.1 pg
Opponents' Avg. Passing Yards 197.3 pg
Year TDs Avg. Pts.
1994 46 25.8
1995 38 22.4
1996 40 19.5
1997 29 18.1
1998 45 26.3
1999 39 23.6