WASHINGTON — The Redskins made the decision to fire defensive coordinator Joe Barry on Thursday, but now face a new set of choices: Who to hire?
They can’t get this one wrong. Jay Gruden will be overseeing his third defensive coordinator in four years. This is probably his last chance to get that spot right. Here’s a look at potential candidates early in the process with more names sure to surface.
Passed over the last time Washington hired a defensive coordinator when Barry was the choice before the 2015 season. Phillips only went on to win a Super Bowl with Denver last season. It must be said: Phillips had an incredible wealth of talent there and the vast experience to take advantage of it. If management wants a more aggressive defense then this is your man. But do the Redskins have the talent yet to even play that high-risk, high-reward style? Gruden was also concerned about Phillips’ energy level even a few years ago. He’ll be 70 this coming season.
If things don’t work out where the defensive staff stays on in Denver – coach Gary Kubiak quit citing health reasons – then Washington makes sense as a landing spot. One more nugget: Phillips’ son, Wes, coaches the Redskins tight ends. That adds an element of intrigue here. Wes Phillips shook more hands at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last February than you’d believe and he beamed every time someone came up and said to pass on congratulations to his dad. There wads a lot of pride there. The two men would love to work together.
Brought on a year after Barry and the rest of the staff to coach the outside linebackers, Manusky was retained on Thursday while defensive backs coach Perry Fewell and defensive line coach Robb Akey were let go. That says something. Manusky has plenty of experience as a defensive coordinator with four seasons in Indianapolis, one in San Diego and four in San Francisco. That 49ers stint just happened to come while Redskins GM Scot McCloughan held that same position there. Always connect the dots.
Manusky possesses the energy Gruden wanted in the Barry hire. In fact, he’s a total maniac. Few position coaches are as fun to watch interact with his players. So consider him the in-house option if the Redskins want someone intimately familiar with his players’ strengths and weaknesses. Manusky also played three of his 12 years in the NFL with Washington. He hasn’t ever had top-tier defenses, but like Barry hasn’t had a ton of talent, either.
There is one notable connection here. Wilks is the coach Josh Norman credits with believing in him early in his career with the Carolina Panthers. Still the assistant head coach/secondary coach in Carolina, Wilks’ handiwork extends beyond Norman. We saw that first hand at FedEx Field on Dec. 19 when his two rookie cornerbacks held up well against Washington’s powerful receiving corps in a surprising win. You can’t hire a guy based on a relationship with one star player. That’s actually a recipe for disaster. But it doesn’t hurt that he and Norman have a bond. Wilks is so well regarded he’s interviewing for the head coaching job in Los Angeles.
The architect of the Seattle defenses that got the Seahawks to two Super Bowls and a title. Just fired by Jacksonville last month, but has ties to Jon and Jay Gruden, team president Bruce Allen and also Scot McCloughan. Bradley was the linebackers coach in Tampa Bay from 2006-2008 with the Gruden’s and Allen and he was in Seattle from 2009-2012 and overlapped with McCloughan during his time as an executive there. Some won’t give Bradley as much credit as you’d expect because the talent level he worked with was so high and Pete Carroll is a defensive genius.
Carroll liked Bradley enough he kept him on staff when he took over in 2010. He had young talent with the Jaguars and that group took a leap forward this year. But it wasn’t near enough to save Bradley’s job as head coach after four seasons and a 14-48 record. Still, he had two top 10 defenses in Seattle and a track record of developing young talent. It’s be a big-name hire.
The linebackers coach in Cincinnati when Jay Gruden worked there for three years as offensive coordinator. Guenther took over for Mike Zimmer when he left to take the Vikings job. But for now the Bengals staff remains in place. Hard to believe Marvin Lewis would let him take a lateral job. Now if Cincinnati fires its coaching staff all bets are off. Guenther and Gruden are close. This would be a natural fit. If you’re going to go down, do so with someone you trust. Gruden is on his third defensive coordinator in four years.
A lot has to happen for Guenther to be a realistic option. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has said he isn’t retiring. Cincinnati ranked 17th in yards allowed per game (350.8) in 2016, but just eighth in points per game (19.7). In 2015 that was 11th in yards per game (340.8) and second in points per game (17.4). But, again, the timing might not be right here. Root for the Bengals to blow up a staff that has been together a long time, but never won a playoff game.
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