- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

The Washington Redskins have discussed their vacant job with the biggest jewel among unemployed NFL coaches — former Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson.

The odds of a Johnson-Redskins union appear long, given Johnson’s stated satisfaction with retirement and the league-wide perception of Washington’s opening as anything but an optimal situation.

However, the fact that two NFL sources said Washington has sought out Johnson in recent days was a strong indication that the club has begun to assemble a Plan B in its coaching search.

One NFL source said the Redskins also had begun inquiring about the credentials of Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm, a former Hog whose connection to Washington’s glory years could energize an increasingly apathetic fan base.

New candidates notwithstanding, Washington should get a much better idea today of whether it will land one of its three initial targets: Jim Fassel, Ray Rhodes or Dennis Green. The club spent most of yesterday interviewing Rhodes, the last of the three to meet, and negotiations with Fassel and/or Rhodes are expected to intensify today.

The Redskins apparently remain in the running with Fassel, the former New York Giants coach who is believed to be their top candidate. Fassel completed an interview with the Buffalo Bills without an offer, NFL sources said, and made comments to at least one colleague that suggested he was keeping an open mind about the Redskins.

Circulating through league circles was word of a hefty offer the Redskins have made to Fassel, just short of $4.5million a year. However, both a Redskins source and agent Steve Rosner denied any sort of offer had been made.

“Obviously, Jim is still very interested in the head coaching position of the Washington Redskins,” Rosner said. “But as of the moment, we have not received an offer from them.”

Meanwhile, there were indications that Rhodes, the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator projected by many around the league as most likely to be hired by Washington, would be hard-pressed to accept the job.

Rhodes was very concerned about returning to the Redskins after witnessing the circus atmosphere in 2000, NFL sources said. And if he remains in Seattle, there was talk that coach Mike Holmgren would increase his pay significantly (from the $500,000 range to the $1million-a-year range Mike Zimmer got yesterday from the Dallas Cowboys) and increase Rhodes’ power on defensive hirings and firings.

Green, the former Minnesota Vikings coach, seems the most unlikely of Washington’s top three candidates to get the job. Besides having to settle a delicate issue of power with Redskins owner Dan Snyder and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, Green is being courted heavily by the Arizona Cardinals. The Oakland Raiders also have met with him.

Arizona apparently was traveling to San Diego for a second meeting with Green, and some reports indicated a deal could be near. However, one source said the Cardinals intend to make a similar road trip to New Jersey for a second meeting with Fassel. Around the league, Arizona is not viewed as a strong player to hire Fassel.

Fassel has been viewed as the most widely sought coach in this year’s hiring pool despite his at-times marginal record over seven seasons in New York. Although he won two NFC East titles and participated in the Super Bowl following the 2000 season, his overall record was 58-53-1. Green went 97-62 in 10 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings; Rhodes 37-42-1 in five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers.

Clearly the most coveted candidate would be Johnson, but his repeated comments about wanting to stay retired have left him, in the eyes of many around the league, off the market. It is believed the Redskins would need to make a massive offer to Johnson and sign over a significant amount of organizational power to land him.

Johnson won Super Bowls with the Cowboys following the 1992 and 1993 seasons and left a roster to Barry Switzer that captured another after the 1995 season. In nine seasons with the Cowboys and Dolphins, he went 80-64. He left Miami as coach and general manager after the 1999 season in a surprise retirement.

Johnson could not be reached for comment. Last month he told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that he had no intention of returning to coaching.

“Money’s not going to do it,” Johnson said. “Obviously, I wouldn’t consider anything unless it was extremely high dollars. But having said that, I cannot imagine any possible scenario that would make me consider going back to coaching.”

Grimm is a former Hog who helped Washington win its three Super Bowl titles as a player and served as an assistant coach on the Redskins’ only playoff team of the past decade.

It remains unclear how well suited Grimm would be for a head coaching position, given that he has yet to be even an offensive coordinator. But Grimm developed an extremely tight-knit unit during his tenure as offensive line coach in Washington, and he helped the Redskins reach the divisional round of the playoffs in 1999.

Rhodes was scheduled to return to Seattle following yesterday’s meeting. He is seen by a number of officials with other NFL teams as Washington’s best fit, given his background with Cerrato. But he is said to enjoy his lower profile situation with the Seahawks, and a generous offer from Holmgren to stay might outweigh the potential frustrations in Washington.

Other candidates who could get interviews if Washington’s top three choices fall through include Redskins offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

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