- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

With the Washington Redskins scheduled to meet today with Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, speculation around the league grew that Rhodes is the most likely candidate to become the club’s next coach.

NFL sources cited fresh evidence of an impending deal between former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel, Washington’s apparent top choice, and the Buffalo Bills. Also, power issues concerning former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green apparently have Redskins officials a bit reluctant to make that hire.

That information, combined with the perception Rhodes is the best fit for Washington, fueled speculation the Redskins might hire Rhodes by the end of the week.

However, there remain questions about whether Rhodes wants to return to the head-coaching ranks and whether he wants to come back to the Redskins, who employed him as defensive coordinator in 2000. Washington might have some selling to do while it interviews Rhodes.

But sources close to Rhodes said he wouldn’t resist a big payday from Washington. Plus, the league probably would pressure Rhodes, who is black, to accept the job given all the heat that was placed on clubs to consider minority candidates.

League sources said the bulk of Rhodes’ interview was set for today, but possibly not in San Francisco, where Fassel and Green interviewed. Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren told reporters the meeting would occur in Washington, but the Redskins purposely have held meetings out of town to eliminate potential distractions.

Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson said he didn’t know where the meeting would take place but said it wouldn’t be at Redskin Park.

Meanwhile, the most interesting buzz was that Fassel and Buffalo could come to a quick deal following his meeting there today. The Bills have been quiet in their pursuit of Fassel, but several league executives have insisted for nearly a week that the union would happen. Yesterday more sources backed that thinking.

Agent Steve Rosner declined comment on the subject.

There have been indications Fassel has genuine interest in Washington, and, given their deep pockets, the Redskins still might have a chance at the highly sought coach. It remains unclear how much Washington, which paid former coach Steve Spurrier a record $5million a season, is willing to spend on its top three candidates.

Washington was the first to interview Fassel. Owner Dan Snyder and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato flew on a private jet to San Francisco Wednesday to jump ahead of the other clubs interested in him. Snyder and Cerrato met with Fassel Thursday evening and Friday morning, before turning their attention to Green.

Fassel, 58-53-1 in seven seasons with the Giants, interviewed with the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday. Arizona might give Fassel the most organizational power and has the benefit of having employed him as offensive coordinator in 1996. But there did not seem to be a strong sense around the league that the Cardinals were strong players to hire Fassel.

Green, 97-62 in 10 seasons with the Vikings, reportedly was set to interview with the Oakland Raiders but is considered by a number of league officials as the front-runner for the Cardinals job. He interviewed in Arizona early last week.

Cerrato’s background with Rhodes, 37-42-1 in five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers, leads many to view Rhodes as the best fit for Washington. The pair worked together with the San Francisco 49ers in 1991 and 1994, as well as in Washington in 2000.

Of the Redskins’ top three candidates, Rhodes appears most likely to mesh with Washington’s front office. Associates say Rhodes probably would accept the setup the Redskins used with Spurrier last season, in which Spurrier and Cerrato had equal say on cuts with Snyder the final arbiter.

One way or the other, the dominoes are expected to start falling soon in the seven coaching searches around the NFL. If Washington is able to snare one of its top candidates, the hire should be made by week’s end.

If not, the Redskins probably will start sifting through the ranks of current assistant coaches. The New England Patriots’ Romeo Crennel (defensive coordinator) and Charlie Weis (offensive coordinator), as well as St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith are considered the “hot” assistants.

Other intriguing options could include Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson (given his success in the division), Redskins offensive coordinator Hue Jackson (due to his familiarity with the players and motivational skills) and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm (a former Hog who could energize an increasingly frustrated fan base).

Notes — Swanson shot down a San Francisco Chronicle report that the team will meet with Raiders senior assistant Bruce Allen in coming days. Said Swanson: “Bruce Allen is not in our plans.” …

The Redskins began filling out their offseason roster. Among the nine players signed was former Washington fullback Mike Sellers, who left for the Cleveland Browns as a restricted free agent in 2001. The club also signed defensive end Nic Clemons, wide receiver Scott Cloman, wide receiver Sean Dillard, wide receiver Dwain Goynes, defensive tackle Cedric Killings, defensive tackle Reggie McGrew, center Ben Nowland and defensive end Greg White.

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