A week ago, Gregg Williams was the favorite to be the next coach of the Washington Redskins. Yesterday after falling out of favor with Redskins owner Dan Snyder and executive vice president Vinny Cerrato during the interview process, Williams was relieved of his duties as Washington's assistant head coach-defense.
Williams was replaced by defensive line coach Greg Blache, who as defensive coordinator will have the same responsibility as his former boss but not the same title. Blache's hiring followed that of offensive coordinator Jim Zorn by less than 24 hours. Zorn's predecessor, associate head coach Al Saunders, was also fired.
But 18 days after Joe Gibbs' retirement, the Redskins were still without a head coach and don't figure to have one for at least another 10 days. And whoever takes the job already will have his top lieutenants in place.
The favorites are former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel or defensive coordinators Ron Meeks of Indianapolis and Jim Schwartz of Tennessee, who already interviewed with Snyder and could have been familiar with the owner's thoughts on coordinators.
"It's a mess," one veteran Redskins player said yesterday before Blache's hiring was announced. "This thing has gone on too long. It's not fair to us or the [assistant] coaches. The new coach won't know what this team has been through and probably won't care."
The player was referring to the incredible adversity of this season: five straight down-to-the-wire games, the loss of five starters to season-ending injuries and the murder of Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor in November. The Redskins survived all of that to make the playoffs for the second time in three years but bowed out in the wild card round to the Seattle Seahawks.
Williams, who led the defense to three top-10 seasons in his four seasons with Washington, was the clear choice of the players and the rest of the staff to be Gibbs' heir apparent.
However, there was friction between Williams and Snyder during their three meetings. A source said Williams hurt his case by implying he could have done some things better than Gibbs during their four seasons together. That could have prompted Gibbs to not fight as hard as he could have for Williams.
"You had to see it coming a little, but it's still hard for me to believe Gregg won't be here," a veteran Redskins player said. "It's sad. He did a great job. A lot of guys are angry about Gregg not getting the job. A lot of guys want to move on. I feel better that Greg Blache will be here, but the biggest thing is who the head coach is going to be."
With Williams — who didn't return phone messages throughout the coaching search — out of the picture, Fassel is the front-runner since he had multiple sessions with Snyder. However, Snyder wants to interview Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and perhaps New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who aren't available until after their teams play in the Super Bowl next Sunday.
A source said Williams and Snyder had an amicable farewell yesterday morning. The Redskins will pay Williams, who is reportedly a candidate for the coordinator's vacancy in Jacksonville and the defensive backs coach position in St. Louis, and Saunders if they sit out the 2008 season.
"Greg Blache has done a great job for us these past four seasons and is an outstanding coach with the respect of the entire staff and players," Gibbs said in a statement. "He is certainly a key figure in keeping the continuity of the organization."
Blache, 58, was the Chicago Bears' coordinator from 1999 to 2003. His defenses forced 138 turnovers and scored 13 touchdowns. In 2001, the Bears allowed the fewest points while soaring from 5-11 to 13-3. Chicago was just 11-21 the next two years, and the staff was fired.
Blache's promotion was popular with the Redskins' players.
"That makes me feel better about the organization," a veteran player said. "At least they're trying to keep some things together. Coach Blache did a great job in Chicago. He's more laid-back than Gregg, more of a players' coach. He'll probably eliminate some of Gregg's packages, but the defense should be pretty much the same."
It's unclear whether cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray and safeties coach Steve Jackson, both longtime Williams associates, will return or who will coach the defensive line. However, linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, whose eight years are the longest continuous tenure on the staff but whose contract was about to expire, was given an extension.
Special teams coach Danny Smith worked for Williams in Buffalo from 2001 to 2003 and followed him to Washington. However, the Redskins quoted Smith, a former colleague of Zorn's in Detroit, in their press release yesterday and he has been told that he will return.
The fate of running backs coach Earnest Byner, whose contract is expiring, remains up in the air. The rest of the staff is signed through 2008. Saunders, who coached in St. Louis in 1999 and 2000, is a serious candidate for the Rams' vacant offensive coordinator's job.
As for Zorn, Seattle's quarterbacks coach the last seven seasons, one Redskins player said, "It's a great hire. I think he'll simplify the offense. He's a quarterbacks coach, so he should be good for [quarterback] Jason [Campbell]."