- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 1999

While Washington Redskins coach Norv Turner will return next season, half his staff still expects to be fired in the coming weeks.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, his four assistants and special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel can only hope a postseason run that reaches the NFC Championship will save their jobs. If that doesn't happen, it's a long shot for the six to remain despite the Redskins' first playoff appearance since 1992.

Owner Dan Snyder twice has sought Nolan's dismissal after poor early-season performances only to have Turner remind the first-year boss of his preseason promise to keep the staff intact. McDaniel's special teams also have been erratic, especially on kickoff and punt coverage.

Nolan and McDaniel have remained focused in recent weeks, though. Like workers who know their business will close in coming weeks, the coaches continue the daily grind, knowing they're still out the door come January.

"I can only focus on Miami," McDaniel said about Sunday's regular-season finale. "I can't worry about anything else."

Said Nolan: "You can't look ahead. There will come a time later when Mr. Snyder and I sit down and discuss things. Right now, I'm getting ready for Miami and the playoffs."

It sounds cliched. A politically correct response. However, the truth is the coaches have concentrated solely on the coming game for weeks because you can't skimp on pregame preparation. Coaching in the NFL is so time-consuming that family life is considered a luxury and watching TV nearly impossible. Nolan probably doesn't know who shot J.R. Ewing.

Turner will remain, so there will be some hard-line discussions on which assistants will be retained. Turner fired defensive coordinator Ron Lynn and several assistants after the 1996 season, so he's not above making changes. Indeed, only running game coordinator Bobby Jackson, passing game coordinator Terry Robiskie and Grimm remain from Turner's original 1994 staff.

Nolan's fate, though, seems to be sealed. Snyder insisted on the midseason hiring of defensive guru Bill Arnsparger to oversee Nolan. And team sources said Petitbon was called twice about returning as soon as next year. Petitbon seems happy in retirement, but there are always prospective defensive coordinators. It's a remote possibility that Nolan will return.

Certainly, Snyder has reason to seek Nolan's dismissal. The defense, after three seasons and 10 new starters, is ranked 28th overall and against the run and 26th vs. the pass. Barring a big effort against Miami, Washington will finish 28th or worse against the run for the fourth straight year despite a defensive line with four first-round picks. San Francisco rushed for 250 yards against Washington, which seemed to blitz regularly on the wrong side. However, two late turnovers allowed the Redskins to overcome a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 26-20 in overtime.

McDaniel's problem is that he has been unable to get regular special teams players. He has shuffled in reserves who break lanes and allow long returns. Instead of getting more starters, McDaniel works with the end of the roster. He even lost some playmakers to injuries. And this trying season for McDaniel has been compounded by three-time Pro Bowl punter Matt Turk's worst season and a muffed field goal hold that cost Washington the season-opener to Dallas. The coverage unit has improved greatly in the final weeks, and that could save McDaniel's job, but it's still improbable.

Final impressions will be the lasting ones at season's end. No one will remember the 24-10 or 28-3 victories over Arizona or the 50-21 and 23-13 wins over the New York Giants if the team loses its first postseason game. Then again, no one will be surprised by offseason coaching changes on a playoff team.

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