- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato will meet with former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel as soon as today as they jump-start the search to replace former coach Steve Spurrier.

Snyder and Cerrato last night traveled by private plane to an unspecified city, believed to be on the West Coast, where they hope to interview their three top candidates — Fassel, former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green and Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes — over the next five days.

The meeting with Fassel is scheduled first, according to one Redskins official. By the end of the weekend the club is expected to have met with Green, who interviewed yesterday with Arizona Cardinals officials in Tempe, Ariz. And if the Seahawks lose in the first round of the playoffs Sunday to the Green Bay Packers, the Redskins could interview the Seattle defensive coordinator as soon as Monday.

Washington requested and received permission from Seattle to interview Rhodes, but he communicated any meeting would have to wait until after the Seahawks are eliminated.

There were solid indications Fassel topped Washington’s wish list to replace Spurrier, who abruptly resigned Tuesday, but there is speculation around the league the Redskins will hire Rhodes, their defensive coordinator in 2000.

Club officials, however, emphasized they have open minds and are committed to a patient interview process. They plan to hold preliminary meetings with all three candidates, then select one or two for second interviews, perhaps next week, at Redskin Park.

At the very least, the NFL’s diversity guidelines would prevent the Redskins from reaching an immediate deal with Fassel. Washington must interview at least one minority candidate; a meeting with either Green or Rhodes would satisfy the league’s mandate.

Fassel appears to be the NFL’s most coveted coach at the moment. Besides the upcoming meeting with Washington, he is scheduled to interview Saturday with the Cardinals, has been contacted by the Chicago Bears and is considered by some league executives to be the favorite to land with the Buffalo Bills.

A good deal of Washington’s affinity for Fassel, according to sources, has to do with his track record of success in the NFC East. He won two division titles in seven seasons with the Giants, going 8-5-1 against the Redskins. He led the Giants to the Super Bowl after the 2000 season.

Underpinning the thinking of Redskins officials is that the team’s personnel is good enough to be an immediate playoff contender. Washington wants to focus on candidates who have won as NFL head coaches. Making Fassel especially attractive is that he won recently and in the same division.

Fassel spent yesterday in San Francisco in anticipation of last night’s San Francisco Bowl, in which his son, Mike, was playing for Boston College. He was scheduled to fly to the Phoenix area tomorrow evening for his meeting with the Cardinals.

But there remains some question around the league as to whether Fassel would pass up the Arizona, Chicago and Buffalo jobs to coach Washington. Some NFL executives stress every job has its downside, but the Redskins’ management structure — with Snyder heavily involved and Cerrato his right-hand man — is viewed with particular skepticism.

Money, as a number of executives acknowledged, could settle any debate. Considering Washington has Spurrier’s $5 million a year budgeted for the coach’s slot, the Redskins would have no problem outbidding other teams if they want Fassel.

Green is viewed as a long shot because of his history of having total control over personnel. Redskins officials kept an open mind about Green’s desires, but acknowledged power could be an obstacle in hiring him.

Washington is impressed with Green’s background of coaching successful offenses. His 1998 Vikings set the NFL record for points (556, nearly double Spurrier’s output of 287 this year). He also reached the playoffs eight times in 10 seasons in Minnesota. Such factors might make him the most marketable target — always a consideration in Washington.

Many officials around the league already were connecting Rhodes to the Redskins. A source close to Rhodes said he is “reluctant” to return to the organization and is “a little skeptical” about becoming a head coach again, but it is said he wouldn’t resist the payday of a third head-coaching stint.

Previously 37-42-1 in five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles (1995-98) and Green Bay Packers (1999), Rhodes was fed up with being a head coach by the time he arrived in Washington. He turned down the Redskins’ interim job when Norv Turner was fired that season, and he apparently grew wary of Snyder.

However, he remains close with Cerrato, with whom he worked in 1991 and 1994 with the San Francisco 49ers, and his antipathy toward a head coaching job apparently has waned. Sources close to Snyder said the owner has kept Rhodes in high regard since he left the organization.

• Staff writer Mark Zuckerman contributed to this report.

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