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Like father, like son on Redskins’ sideline
Bill Khayat lived in Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore and Detroit again before he turned 9. Bob Saunders was 12 when he had to endure the pain of everyone at school knowing that his father had been fired. And yet, Khayat and Saunders both decided to follow their fathers into the grueling and precarious business that is coaching in the NFL.
In fact, both Khayat, who succeeded coach Joe Gibbs‘ son, Coy, as the Redskins' quality control coach/offense this year, and Saunders, who followed his father to Washington in 2006 as the Redskins' assistant/special projects, plan to be NFL lifers like their fathers.
Khayat’s father, Eddie, Philadelphia’s coach from 1971 to 1972, has coached 25 years in the NFL after nine years as a player. Saunders‘ father, Al, now the Redskins' associate head coach-offense, was San Diego’s coach from 1986 to 1988 and is in his 25th year in the league.
“My mom [Karen] about passed out when I told her I was going to be a coach,” said Bob Saunders, 30. “She didn’t want me to do it. She knew how hard my dad worked and how many hours he put in. In order to do this, you have to love it or you won’t get anything accomplished.”
“Coaching brought my husband and our family a great amount of joy,” she said. “Eddie has always been so positive. It’s never been ‘Oh, woe is me [after losing a job].’ We’ve always just gone on to the next thing instead of looking back. The experience of having a father who was a coach made coaching something Bill gravitated to naturally when he was no longer playing. I just wanted him to be happy.”
While Saunders‘ playing career was waylaid by a serious knee injury in high school — he walked on for a year at Southern Methodist — Khayat was a standout tight end at Duke. But despite having grown up as the sons of NFL coaches, neither gave the profession much thought.
“Like a lot of kids, in your early 20s you think you’ll play forever,” said the 34-year-old Khayat, who was headed for medical school until the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys offered him a rookie free agent contract. “I had never thought about getting into coaching while I was playing. When I decided to stop playing in 1999, I needed to figure out with my life. I was with six teams [and one in NFL Europe] in 3½ years and I never played in a regular-season game. I got tired of living out of a suitcase.”
Saunders had interned in marketing for the Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer and thought that’s how he would stay in sports until he started helping his father diagram plays on the Chiefs’ computers the month after he graduated from Missouri-Kansas City in 2001. Coach Dick Vermeil was so impressed with Saunders‘ work that he asked him to stay on for the season before making him a paid assistant the next year.
“I had mixed emotions when Bob told me that he wanted to be a coach,” Al Saunders said. “It’s such a demanding profession, emotionally and physically. You wonder if the quality of life is the same for your family as it is for you. I think of all the things I missed in my three children’s lives.
“And Bob’s so bright that there were a lot of other avenues he could have chosen. But I was elated that he wanted to make a commitment to this vocation, knowing everything that was involved. I’ve seen more of Bob during the six years that we’ve worked together than I probably did the previous 24 years of his life. It’s very rewarding to see him grow as a teacher and as a man.”
While Al Saunders emigrated from England, as a child knowing nothing about American sports, football has long been a way of life for the Khayats. Eddie and his brother Bob played together on the Redskins in 1962-63 and their father had coached high school ball in Mississippi.
“When my boys were very young, I told them that they would be required to play a sport because of the lessons you learn being part of a team, but I didn’t push them towards any particular sport,” said Eddie Khayat, who spent more than six decades in locker rooms and still coaches part-time at 71, two years after his last Arena League season. “I always figured that I would coach after I was done playing. If you love what you’re doing, it’s not work.”
Although their NFL careers never overlapped, there still are plenty of people in the league who know the senior Khayat as well as his son, who spent the past three years with the Arizona Cardinals after four years at Tennessee State.
“My dad and I do talk general philosophies about coaching, but he has never told me that I need to do things a certain way,” Bill Khayat said. “It’s nice to have someone who understands what you do and has been through a lot of the same things.”
Gibbs, who tried to talk his son out of going into coaching, said that he likes working with coaches’ sons because “they probably have a pretty good work ethic” and because they understand better than former players the downsides of the business before they get into it.
Olivadotti admits he was sensitive about being known as his father’s son when he reached the NFL as the Redskins' quality control/defense coach in 2000 and his father — who’s now out of the league — was working for the NFC East rival New York Giants.
Bob Saunders, who still calls his father “Dad” at work, can relate to that. He believes that more is expected from coaches’ sons than run of the mill assistants.
“When I got my foot in the door, I knew that I had to work my butt off constantly so people saw that I deserved to be there and that I knew what I was doing,” Saunders said. “Because I’m a coach’s son, I think maybe I have to work harder in order to prove to people outside of the organization who just see you as a name.”
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