- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Washington Redskins officials emerged from a day of huddling yesterday with three top names in their search for a new coach: Jim Fassel, Dennis Green and Ray Rhodes.

Connecting the three, in no small coincidence, was their track records as NFL head coaches. Disappointed by the just-completed two seasons of Steve Spurrier, who abruptly resigned yesterday, the Redskins are turning away from the college and coordinator ranks, at least for the moment, and targeting the most experienced candidates.

Vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato said the candidates were listed “in no particular order” and that interviews would be set up and conducted over the next two weeks or so. Rhodes’ schedule is particularly uncertain because the Seattle Seahawks, for whom he is defensive coordinator, play Sunday at Green Bay.

Fassel and Green, meanwhile, are unencumbered by current employers but highly sought in a market that opened Monday. Fassel is scheduled to interview Saturday with the Arizona Cardinals and already is considered by some NFL executives as the odds-on choice for the Buffalo Bills. Green will interview today in Arizona and is believed to be making a strong push for that opening.

All three candidates have enough experience to likely avoid the pitfalls that did in Spurrier — an unfamiliarity with the league that led to a vacillating approach on offense and as a leader, and the inability to overcome the office politics and circus atmosphere that are prevalent in Washington.

“We like their head-coaching experience,” Cerrato replied when asked if the experience link was the reason Washington was so interested in the trio.

Fassel and Green both have backgrounds coaching successful offenses, while Rhodes is one of the NFL’s most respected defensive minds. Rhodes spent one season in Washington, guiding the Redskins’ defense to the NFL’s No.4 ranking in 2000.

Fassel is viewed by some in the league as Washington’s top choice, given his success in the NFC East during seven seasons with the New York Giants. Despite slumping to 4-12 this season — losing his last eight games — Fassel finished with a 58-53-1 record in New York, including two division titles and a Super Bowl berth following the 2000 season.

Green has been out of the NFL the past two seasons after being fired by the Minnesota Vikings. He went 97-62 in 10 seasons in Minnesota, making the playoffs eight times, winning the defunct NFC Central four times and advancing to the conference title game twice.

Following in the Redskins’ desire for a high-scoring offense that led to the hiring of Spurrier, Green’s 1998 Vikings set the NFL record for scoring at 556 points (34.8 a game).

One obstacle to Green’s hiring by the Redskins could be his past demands for control over personnel. In Washington, owner Dan Snyder and Cerrato govern personnel. The incoming coach probably would have to accept equal power with Cerrato and leave tie-breaking to Snyder, the setup Snyder employed with Spurrier.

Even before Washington revealed its list of candidates, Rhodes was viewed by one official with another organization as the best fit for the club. His background with Cerrato would allow him to bridge a divide that was an apparent factor in Spurrier’s departure and is seen by a number of NFL executives as an obstacle in Washington’s current search.

In essence, the Redskins’ management structure — with Snyder’s heavy involvement and Cerrato as his right-hand man — is viewed with some skepticism around the league. Several league executives questioned whether a coach with other options would agree to coach Washington under the present circumstances, or whether the Redskins would have to overpay to land such a candidate.

Cerrato and Rhodes spent 1991 and 1994 together in the San Francisco 49ers organization, then reunited in 2000. Rhodes’ head-coaching experience came with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1995 to 1998, where he was 37-42-1, though 10-6 in his first season, when he received NFL Coach of the Year honors.

Among Washington’s initial group are two black candidates, Green and Rhodes. The Redskins made it a priority to comply with the NFL’s new diversity guidelines, and would do so by interviewing either Green or Rhodes.

If the Redskins strike out on their top three candidates, they probably would look to the coordinator ranks. The hot candidates there this offseason include New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith and Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.

All four, however, have interviewed, are scheduled to interview or are expected to interview this week during the NFL’s loophole period to meet with assistants from teams with first-round playoff byes. Expect at least one of the names to be gone — perhaps Smith to the Atlanta Falcons — if Washington’s search makes it that far.

The Redskins are not expected to look as hard at the college ranks, given Spurrier’s failings. If they do, they could seek out Texas’ Mack Brown and Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez (two associates of Cerrato), as well as LSU’s Nick Saban and Iowa’s Kirk Ferenz (two college coaches with NFL backgrounds).

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