- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2000

Washington Redskins coach Norv Turner is leaning toward retaining defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and five assistant coaches after strong late-season play earned a division title and a first-round playoff victory, team sources said.

Turner will meet with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel in coming days to decide their future along with four defensive assistants. No decision has been made, but winning six of the final nine games has team officials reconsidering the once-certain dismissals.

"There's a lot of questions about that that are going to be looked at over the next week," Turner said. "I'm going to visit with each of them this week and do some evaluations and see where they are."

While the Redskins (11-7) won the NFC East championship and a first-round playoff game over the Detroit Lions on Jan. 8, the assistants remain wary. After all, owner Dan Snyder twice wanted to fire Nolan after poor early season play, while McDaniel was regularly criticized for inconsistent special teams coverage.

After the season-ending, 14-13 loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday, both Nolan and McDaniel conceded they don't know what to expect today when meeting with players for the final time.

"I don't worry any more now than during the season," Nolan said. "I don't know what's going to happen. I can't even guess what's going to happen. I'll just have to react to what happens."

Said McDaniel: "Whatever happens, happens. I can't worry about it. It's out of my control. I'll wait and see what Snyder and Norv want to do."

Dismissing the six assistants would cost Snyder little. Defensive line co-coach Earl Leggett, Nolan and McDaniel won't be under contract after Feb. 1 when their three-year deals expire. Secondary coach Tom Hayes and defensive line co-coach Rubin Carter both have one year remaining, while defensive assistant Jeff FitzGerald's contract status is unknown.

Turner has revamped the defensive staff and replaced his special teams coach before. He dismissed defensive coordinator Ron Lynn and two assistants in 1996 and replaced special teams coach Pete Rodriguez in 1998 when the latter became Seattle's special teams coordinator.

Turner twice talked Snyder out of dismissing Nolan in the opening weeks after poor defensive efforts, reminding the first-year owner of his preseason pledge to keep the staff intact.

Team sources said Turner believed a widespread staff change would undermine the team's chances of making the postseason. Instead, five-time Super Bowl defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger was hired Oct. 7 to assist Nolan in the game-planning and play calling.

Snyder could not be reached for comment, but team sources said several NFL assistants were reviewed in recent weeks as possible replacements for Nolan. Snyder has denied the assistants were in jeopardy, while Turner would only say he was "disappointed" in speculation entering the playoffs.

Certainly, the defensive statistics haven't been good during Nolan's three-year tenure. The run defense was among the NFL's three worst for five straight years, including Nolan's first two. The defense progressed, slightly, to 27th this year. The defense finished 30th overall and 26th against the pass.

"The stats are more misleading than any other group I've been around," Nolan said. "They got the ball back at crucial times and kept points to a minimum."

Indeed, the defense improved markedly over the last two months. The Redskins allowed more than 21 points just once in their last seven regular-season games and only 20 points in two playoff games.

"We really came together at the end of the season," linebacker Derek Smith said. "It was starting to jell. We went through a lot of growing pains at the beginning of the season."

Said Nolan: "Over the last two months, the [San Francisco] 49ers' game was the only debacle against the run. The guys played good to very good the whole time."

Special teams were inconsistent all season. The Redskins won two games on late field goals, but they lost the opener and the finale on botched field goal attempts. Brian Mitchell's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Bucs was an NFL record and the second by the Redskins this season. However, the Redskins permitted two punt returns and a kickoff return for touchdowns. Team officials said the NFL later ruled touchdowns by Detroit's Desmond Howard and Dallas' Deion Sanders should have been negated by clipping penalties.

"Over the last eight games, we played pretty well," McDaniel said. "I'm sure some people may not like my style, but I used what I had."

It seemed appropriate for the season to end on a special teams snafu when center Dan Turk's bad snap prevented the potential winning 52-yard field goal against Tampa Bay.

"[Brett Conway] would have made the field goal," McDaniel said. "I could have dealt with anything but what happened. The guys played too hard to get to that point for the ball to dribble back."

Many players noticed the uncertainty over the coaching staff's future. That fact made the close loss even more agonizing for some.

"Some changes are going to be made in the organization," defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said. "Who knows who's going to be back? What the future holds for some guys in the locker room? It's not going to just eat at us but at those guys as well that don't return because they won't have that sense of coming back and redeem themselves."

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