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Williams is not such a safe pick

- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2008

The expression on Dan Snyder's face as Joe Gibbs announced his Final Retirement last week could have been interpreted any number of ways.

1. Boy, I really hate having to speak in public.

2. Guess this means I won't get to hang out anymore with the greatest coach in Redskins history.

3. The party's over. It's going to be open season on the owner again.

I'm kinda partial to No. 3. After all, Coach Joe has been Snyder's personal flak jacket ever since he returned to Washington. (This has allowed the lightning-rod owner to recede into the background — while Gibbs took the blame for anything that went wrong. Talk about a sweet deal for Dano.)

But now, the emperor has no Kevlar. He has to find a new coach who can continue what Joe started — no easy task — and if he blows it, it will be his fault. Nobody second-guessed the Gibbs hire except for a few party poopers who wondered whether the game had passed him by, but plenty of folks figure to nitpick this one. Unless, of course, Snyder can convince a Proven Commodity like Bill Cowher to come aboard.

That's why these are such scary times for Dan the Man. Choosing a coach is like choosing which players to draft. You just never know.

But you can improve the odds a little if you do your homework. You can notice, for instance, that three of the coaches in the NFL's Final Four — the Patriots' Bill Belichick, the Chargers' Norv Turner and the Giants' Tom Coughlin — got fired from their first head jobs. That might offer a clue.

When he was in Cleveland compiling a 36-44 record, Belichick didn't put anyone in mind of Vince Lombardi. Turner's back-story, meanwhile, is well known in these parts (especially by Snyder, his Terminator), and Coughlin went 19-29 in his last three seasons in Jacksonville.

But here they all are, 60 minutes from the Super Bowl. (Joined by the Packers' Mike McCarthy, previously the offensive coordinator in San Francisco.)

Another thing Snyder could do is what I just spent several hours doing — looking at every coaching hire made in the NFL in the last decade, crunching the numbers and seeing whether they reveal anything. My findings:

• From 1998 to 2007, 66 coaching vacancies were filled in the league (not counting interim guys like the Redskins' Terry Robiskie in 2000). The jobs went to 36 NFL assistants, 24 former NFL head coaches (most of whom were assistants at the time), five college head coaches (all of whom had some kind of pro coaching experience) and one college assistant (the Raiders' babe in the woods, Lane Kiffin).

• The former NFL head coaches have gotten the best results. A surprising — to me, anyway — 67.5 percent have taken their new teams to the playoffs (15 of 24), as opposed to 52.3 percent of the former assistants (19 of 36) and 16.7 percent of the former college coaches (one of six).

• As far as getting to the Super Bowl is concerned, the former NFL coaches (four of 24) and former assistants (six of 36) are dead even (16.7 percent). But ... three of those four ex-coaches won the Super Bowl (they're 5-1 in the Ultimate Game as a group), while only one of the six ex-assistants did (they're 1-5 collectively).

• Hiring a college coach makes the least sense, going by recent history. I won't bore you with specifics. I'll just say they've ... been ... horrible. (See Mike Riley, Steve Spurrier and — yikes! — Bobby "Bailout" Petrino.)

So this simplifies matters a little — that is, if you're an owner who likes to play the percentages. Former NFL coaches are clearly the least risky solution. Former assistants, on the other hand, are more of a gamble and college coaches are an accident waiting to happen.

Sounds easy, right? It also, I might add, sounds like a ringing endorsement of Gregg Williams, who's believed to be the front-runner for the Redskins post after four mostly fine seasons as the defensive honcho. His boss might want to think that one through, though. Why, you ask? Because of these not-so-insignificant details:

• Nearly all of ex-NFL coaches who were given another shot — 22 of 24 — had led a previous team to the playoffs. Williams hasn't. He was 0-for-3 with the Bills from 2001 to '03, never finishing higher than third.

• None of the retreads had a worse career winning percentage than .416 (Norv Turner, who was 58-83-1 when the Chargers rolled the dice with him). Williams' winning percentage with the Bills was .354 (17-31).

I'm not trying to cast aspersions on Williams. For all we know, he could turn out to be the next Belichick. I'm just giving Snyder as much information as I can on the subject — and suggesting that, if he promotes Gregg, he'll be crawling out on a rather long limb.