Coach Jay Gruden spent the better part of Thursday interviewing longtime coach Wade Phillips, who most recently served as the Houston Texans’ defensive coordinator in 2013 and interim head coach at the end of that season.
Phillips’s date with the Redskins followed those of San Diego Chargers linebackers coach Joe Barry on Tuesday and San Francisco 49ers secondary coach Ed Donatell on Wednesday. Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris is also under consideration for the position.
More names could be added to the list, and although the team hasn’t set a firm deadline for filling the position, officials hope to hire a new coordinator next week.
The Redskins are filling the position because Gruden and Jim Haslett mutually agreed the defense needed a change after five seasons. The 2014 season was marred by gaffes that cost the team games, an ineffective pass rush and far too few takeaways.
The Redskins’ new hire will inherit a defense that surrendered 27.4 points a game (tied for 29th in the 32-team league) and allowed a 43 percent success rate on third downs (tied for 24th) and 8.2 yards per pass play (31st). The Redskins mustered only 19 takeaways (tied for 25th) and allowed an NFL-worst passer rating of 108.3 .
Some league insiders view Phillips as the favorite to land the position because of his extensive résumé, track record of quick turnarounds, ties to people in the Redskins organization and use of the 3-4 defense, which Washington utilized the past five years .
The 67-year-old Phillips has directed top-10 defenses in 16 of his 33 years as a coordinator or head coach and in seven of his past eight seasons. He worked under Washington personnel executive A.J. Smith in San Diego from 2006 to 2008, and his son, Wes, is the Redskins’ tight ends coach. The elder Phillips, who was out of football last season, also attended five Redskins games in 2014 and has been an occasional guest at Redskins Park.
However, others familiar with the Redskins’ deliberations insist there is no odds-on favorite.
Smith has lobbied for Phillips, those people say. But team President Bruce Allen also thinks highly of Barry and Morris. Barry served as linebackers coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2001 to 2006 (Allen was the Bucs’ general manager from 2004 to 2008) and again in 2009. Morris was Tampa Bay’s defensive backs coach under Allen in 2007 and 2008 and was the Bucs’ head coach from 2009 to 2011. Gruden also was a member of those coaching staffs during Allen’s time running the Bucs.
Like Phillips, Barry and Donatell have experience coaching in 3-4 schemes. Both the Chargers and 49ers run versions of that defense.
However, Barry and Donatell also have backgrounds in 4-3 defenses. Donatell used 4-3 fronts while defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers (2000-03) and Atlanta Falcons (2004-06). Tampa Bay used a 4-3 defense during Barry’s time there. But Barry ran a 3-4 while defensive coordinator in Detroit in 2007 and 2008. A person familiar with the coach’s thinking said he likely would run a 3-4 defense if he got the Redskins job.
Because of their personnel, the Redskins seem better suited for the 3-4. And Gruden has said as an offensive coordinator he traditionally encountered more challenges going against a 3-4 defense. But the coach has not ruled out the possibility of switching schemes.
Although the 3-4 front was Washington’s base defense under Haslett, the team also used four-man fronts nearly half the time because of certain packages.
Morris has been more of a hybrid type of defensive coordinator, sporting multiple looks as did Haslett, but the 4-3 was his base defense in Tampa Bay.
The New York Giants requested permission from the Redskins late Wednesday to meet with Morris regarding their own vacant defensive coordinator position. The Redskins gave Morris the green light to interview with New York, and he is scheduled to interview with the Giants on Friday morning.
The Giants opted Wednesday not to bring Perry Fewell back following his sixth season as their defensive coordinator.
Morris, 38, just completed his third season with the Redskins. His unit in 2014 struggled while plagued by injuries and a bad mix of age and inexperience. Morris still is viewed as a bright defensive mind, however.