The Washington Redskins' coaching staff for next season is nearly complete. The Redskins hired Ray Rhodes as their defensive coordinator and Foge Fazio as their linebackers coach yesterday, and sources said club officials have all but decided to retain special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel.
Also, sources said the Redskins plan to complete a deal to hire defensive backs coach Ron Meeks from the Atlanta Falcons today. Meeks probably will be replaced in Atlanta by ousted Redskins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, league sources said yesterday.
On a busy day at Redskin Park, Rhodes and Fazio met with Coach Norv Turner and signed two-year contracts. Vowing to turn around a defense that ranked 30th among the 31 NFL teams this season, Rhodes said he intends to have the unit in the league's top 10 next season.
"The game is played with urgency," said the former head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers. "If your house is on fire and you're four blocks away, are you going to walk? No, you're going to run. . . . I'm going to get back in that top 10. We have to find a way to get back and have a defense where we're a force to be reckoned with. We're going to work our butts off to improve."
Turner said: "From an organizational standpoint, I don't think we could do more in one day to help our football team than hire Ray Rhodes and Foge Fazio for our staff."
Meantime, the Redskins opened contract negotiations with running back Stephen Davis yesterday and, according to sources, offered Davis a five-year deal. Team officials believed progress was made during a Redskin Park meeting with agent Steve Weinberg, sources said, but the Redskins remained wary they will have to name Davis their franchise player Feb. 10 to keep him off the free agent market.
The Redskins moved quickly in their pursuit of Rhodes after announcing Wednesday they would not renew Nolan's contract. Director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato and owner Daniel M. Snyder met with Rhodes in Mobile, Ala., that day, and Turner spoke with Rhodes by telephone. The Redskins also spoke to recently fired New England Patriots head coach Pete Carroll, but chose Rhodes. Rhodes arrived in town late Sunday and spent yesterday with Turner, and the Redskins made the hiring official with a late afternoon news conference.
"Things happened fast [yesterday] when we had a chance to sit down and talk," Turner said. ". . . This profession is wild. It can make partners out of some different guys. Ray and I are used to competing with each other."
Rhodes, 49, has been a defensive coordinator with the Packers and San Francisco 49ers. He said he wasn't bothered by becoming an assistant coach again after being fired as a head coach in consecutive seasons.
"I wanted to get a more hands-on approach," Rhodes said.
Rhodes said he believes the Redskins can upgrade their defense enough next season for it to complement an offense that was ranked second in the NFL this season.
"I want the bar raised high," said Rhodes, whose NFL coaching resume includes 13 playoff visits and five Super Bowl victories in 19 seasons. "Let's don't be content with what's happening. The offense is rated what, second? The defense is rated what, 30th? That doesn't work. . . . Let's do what we need to do to get this thing right. It's no fun when you have an offense rated up there in the top of the league and we're at the bottom of the league. We need to close that gap."
Rhodes vowed to have an attacking, aggressive defense. He called cornerback Champ Bailey a superstar in the making. The Redskins hope to add Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington on draft day, and it will be up to Rhodes to get more out of tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson.
"You're looking at two guys where you know it's there," Rhodes said. "We have to find it and get it out."
Said Stubblefield, who played for Rhodes in San Francisco: "He's one of the coaches that took me to the Super Bowl as a defensive coordinator. So there's no doubt I believe in his scheme, and there's no doubt I will play for him. And I think everybody else will love to play for him too."
Fazio, 60, left the Minnesota Vikings after four seasons as that team's defensive coordinator. He said he wanted to be closer to his 91-year-old mother, who lives in Pittsburgh. He inherits a set of young linebackers that frustrated the Redskins coaches at times this season.
"We're going to do what these guys can do," Fazio said.
Meeks visited Redskin Park yesterday and probably will be added to the staff today to replace fired defensive backs coach Tom Hayes. Meeks, 45, spent the 1991 season on the same Dallas Cowboys staff with Turner. Nolan apparently is set to replace Meeks as the Falcons' secondary coach.
Redskins defensive line coach Rubin Carter will be retained, sources said, and the club will decide whether to hire a second defensive line coach. Defensive assistant and linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald will not be retained, sources said.
Redskins director of player development Joe Mendes met with Weinberg to begin negotiations on a multiyear contract for Davis, the NFC rushing champion who had a $934,000 salary this season. Cerrato has said if a long-term deal cannot be completed, the Redskins will make Davis their franchise player the day before the NFL free agent signing period begins Feb. 11. The talks are not scheduled to resume until after the Super Bowl, sources said.
Redskins Note: The 49ers have asked the Redskins for a third-round pick, in addition to two first-round selections, in a prospective trade for the third overall choice in April's college draft, sources said. The Redskins would like to send the 12th and 24th picks to the 49ers for the third selection and choose Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown as well as Arrington.