Eight days into their latest coaching search, the Redskins seem to be on the right track for a change.
Yesterday, Perry Fewell of the New York Giants became the fifth candidate to interview with Washington owner Dan Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen, following Baltimore’s Jim Caldwell, Dallas’ Rich Bisaccia, Carolina’s Sean McDermott and Seattle’s Darrell Bevell.
The Redskins have also reportedly asked to speak to Cincinnati’s Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer, whose Bengals lost a wild card game on Sunday. San Francisco’s Greg Roman and Vic Fangio as well as San Diego’s Ken Whisenhunt, whom Washington all reportedly wants to interview, are off-limits as long as their teams are still in the playoffs.
While Whisenhunt coached Arizona to the Super Bowl five seasons ago and Caldwell followed suit with Indianapolis the next year, they are currently coordinators as are the other eight men mentioned.
What’s more, Fewell’s defense throttled Mike and Kyle Shanahan’s offense twice in 2013 as did Fangio’s in November and McDermott’s in 2012. Bisaccia’s special teams embarrassed Washington’s in October. Bevell’s offense outscored the Redskins 24-0 over the final three quarters in the wild card matchup a year ago yesterday in Landover.
Current defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s unit kept Whisenhunt’s offense under control in Washington’s last victory back on Nov. 3 and did the same to Caldwell’s in a Redskins triumph in Week 14 of 2012, but Snyder and Allen are smart to consider qualified coordinators whose team generally had the upper hand on the burgundy and gold.
Meanwhile, such high-profile former coaches as Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden – who has worked before with Allen as has Bisaccia – have said that they haven’t been contacted by the Redskins (in contrast to the big name hires of Marty Schottenheimer in 2001, Joe Gibbs in 2004 and Mike Shanahan in 2010).
Nor have we seen such former Super Bowl coaches as Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren, Brian Billick or Jim Fassel (a Snyder favorite back during the 2008 hiring process) surface during this latest coaching search.
Snyder and Allen also haven’t met with any college coaches (a la 2002-03 Redskins disaster Steve Spurrier) although they apparently are interested in Vanderbilt’s James Franklin (formerly Maryland’s offensive coordinator). Nor has the owner hired coordinators first as was the case when Jim Zorn was promoted from new offensive coordinator to new coach in 2008.
Hiring a coordinator is the right move. Of the eight coaches who will compete in this weekend’s divisional playoffs, only San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh wasn’t previously a coordinator.
Carolina’s Ron Rivera and New Orleans’ Sean Payton reached postseason in four of their six years as coordinators. Seattle’s Pete Carroll and San Diego’s Mike McCoy were both three for six. New England’s Bill Belichick was six for 10. Indianapolis’ Chuck Pagano got there in his one year as a coordinator.
Only Denver’s John Fox failed to make the playoffs at least half the time as a coordinator, going two for seven. But Fox joined Rivera, Payton and Belichick in serving as a coordinator for a Super Bowl team. Possible Redskins hires Bisaccia, Fangio, Fewell, Roman and Whisenhunt have all done so, too.
The only other time that Snyder engaged in a long and varied coaching search, back in 2008, he talked to former head coaches Carroll, Cowher, Fassel, Steve Mariucci, Jim Mora and Gregg Williams while only considering three coordinators who had never run an NFL team, Ron Meeks, Jim Schwartz and Steve Spagnuolo. Incredibly, the final product of that process was Zorn, who had never been a coordinator except for the previous three offseason weeks.
Zorn produced the same 12-20 record as college whiz Spurrier, who had never even coached in the NFL. Two-time Super Bowl champion Shanahan (24-40 regular season) matched their woeful .375 winning percentages while consistent winner Schottenheimer (8-8) and Hall of Famer/three-time Super Bowl champion Gibbs (30-34 regular season) also failed to top .500.
In fairness, hiring a coordinator is far from a guarantee of success. Spagnuolo bombed in St. Louis, Schwartz failed in Detroit and Meeks has returned to being a position coach while Carroll, who opted to stay Southern Cal back in 2008, is winning in Seattle.
Gibbs, whose teams went 1-2 in the playoffs when he was the offensive coordinator for three years for Tampa Bay and San Diego, proved in Washington to be a cinch for a bust in Canton. However, Richie Petitbon, whom Gibbs gave the freedom to run the defense as the Redskins won those three Super Bowls and four NFC titles from 1981-92, was just a bust when he took over for his retiring boss in 1993.
The Redskins have plenty of problems, starting with the owner, but hiring a coordinator as their next coach and letting him do his thing would be a sensible step towards fixing them.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.