- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

It isn't just players who come and go in the NFL, it's coaches, too. Which brings me to a conversation I had with Norv Turner in the spring of '98. The Redskins had just lost their special teams coach, Pete Rodriguez, after losing their offensive line coach, Jim Hanifan, the offseason before. And I had just written a column saying the team would miss them, perhaps a lot.
Turner to my great surprise didn't share my view. He had great confidence in Russ Grimm, he said, to carry on as Hanny had. And as for the special teams, he added, "We'll continue to do well in that area because I'm committed to doing well in that area."
That was a pretty strong statement, coming from Norv. It suggested that the success of the special teams had at least as much to do with Turner who has the final say on all roster decisions as it did with Rodriguez. "As long as I place an emphasis on special teams play and make room for special teams players on my squad," he seemed to be saying, "we'll be fine."
Well, Norv the Prognosticator is batting .500 which is great in baseball but less than great as far as assembling a football staff goes. The offensive line has done just fine under Grimm, but the special teams continue to struggle under LeCharls McDaniel, who may soon be sharing office space with a Bill Arnsparger-type if he doesn't get things turned around soon.
Sunday's win over Carolina showed once again what an asset Grimm has become as a coach. The Redskins had to start two backups in the game Mark Fischer at center and Jay Leeuwenberg at right guard because of Cory Raymer's injury and Tre Johnson's suspension. They also had a rookie, Chris Samuels, starting at the left tackle spot, which is only the most important position on the line.
It could have been a very long afternoon for the patched-together unit. After all, it was going up against a defensive line that included Reggie White, Eric Swann, Sean Gilbert and Chuck Smith. But Grimm's Half-Dozen (counting the tight end) didn't allow a sack and cleared the way for Stephen Davis to rush for 133 yards, 98 of them in the second half. Can't ask for much more than that.
"Russ is an outstanding football coach," Turner said yesterday. "He's done a better job every year. It's a big transition going from playing to coaching and going from coaching tight ends to coaching the line, but he's handled it well. He did a great job the last three weeks of getting them ready for this football game. I don't know how noticeable it was, but Mark [Fischer] and Jay [Leeuwenberg] both had a tough time early. But things got better in the second quarter, and they played extremely well for the rest of the game."
In the Gibbs years the Joe Bugel/Jim Hanifan years the Redskins were renowned for that kind of performance. They would lose an offensive lineman, plug in another guy and off they would go. Maybe it would be Ken Huff who would come to the rescue or Mark Adickes or, before they were starters, Raleigh McKenzie or Mark Schlereth. Heck, late in his career, when his knees were shot, Grimm used to pinch-hit where needed. So did Joe Jacoby.
It was amazing how smoothly the line would function, even though it was missing a part or two. That's coaching. And that's what Grimm is doing now, coaching his buns off (as Coach Joe would say). Will he accomplish everything Hanifan has accomplished? Will he coach a Super Bowl-winning line at the age of 66 as Hanny did with the Rams last year? We'll have to see. But he has definitely moved up from Junior Partner to Senior Partner on Turner's staff.
Would that the same were true of McDaniel because he's a good guy and obviously bright. But his special teams just aren't getting the job done. They had another kick returned for a touchdown against them Sunday the sixth since LeCharls took over (four kickoffs, two punts) and nearly gave up second long return late in the game (an official's flag voided it).
Rodriguez, meanwhile, has done swimmingly in Seattle. His units last season were first in the league in punt return average (14 yards), eighth in kickoff return average (22.8) and fourth in kickoff return defense (18.5). Which raises the question: Was it really Turner's commitment to special teams that made Rodriguez successful here, or might Pete's coaching have had something to do with it?
Here's what I think: I think the Redskins have never really replaced Rodriguez, and I think they're starting to miss Brian Mitchell now, too. You remember him, don't you? Squatty little guy, a real spark plug. Used to do a little bit of everything for the Redskins run the ball, catch passes, return kicks, play special teams.
Mitchell, omnipresent and intense, was a player the Redskins could rally around especially the kick coverage units. But the team decided it didn't need him after last season, so he reluctantly signed with the Eagles. Naturally, I had to ask McDaniel: Do you wish you still had Brian Mitchell?
"That's an unfair question," he replied.
And it is, of course. But, let's face it, some of the best questions are unfair questions.
"I'm not going to answer that," he said. "I don't want to get in any more trouble than I already am."
I rest my case.

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