- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2006

Joe Gibbs wasted little time trying to upgrade a Washington Redskins offense that sputtered in two playoff games, luring longtime NFL coach Al Saunders from the Kansas City Chiefs with a reported three-year, $6 million contract.

Saunders, the Chiefs offensive coordinator the last five seasons, was a finalist for the Oakland head coaching job, but removed himself from consideration after Gibbs flew to Kansas City on Wednesday.

“He was Oakland’s No. 1 guy — it was going to happen and then at the last second, this happened,” a source in the Chiefs front office said. “Joe Gibbs out-recruited Al Davis.”

Details of the contract were being finalized last night, but the Redskins confirmed the hiring in a release.

New Kansas City Chiefs coach Herm Edwards told reporters earlier yesterday that Saunders, 58, was leaving for the Redskins.

“He’s getting into a good situation,” Edwards said, “and he’ll do well there.”

Saunders, who is expected to be the Redskins’ primary play-caller, was unavailable for comment and his agent, Bob LaMonte, did not return a phone message.

The Redskins did announce their entire coaching staff had signed new agreements to return — with the same job titles — in 2006. It’s unclear what Saunders’ title will be considering that Joe Bugel is assistant head coach-offense and Don Breaux is offensive coordinator.

What is clear: Saunders will be expected to improve a Redskins offense that was limited to two touchdowns in two playoff games.

“They’re really lucky to get him because a lot of teams were after him,” the source said. “The teams with head coaching openings had their guys in mind, but when those jobs started to fill up, Al was going to be very sought after.”

Saunders directed a prolific offense with the Chiefs from 2001 to 2005. Kansas City ranked in the top five in yards every year and the top six in points the last four seasons.

Last season and this season, the Chiefs led the NFL in yards (418.4 and 399.8 a game, respectively) and led the league in points scored in 2002 (29.2 a game) and 2003 (30.2).

“His M.O. is attack,” the source said. “That’s what he does. The one game he didn’t do that this year was at Buffalo when they thought they could hand the ball off all day and it cost them. He’s about going vertical up and down the field, screen passes and lots of movement to make it difficult on a defense to adjust.”

Saunders had interviewed for head coaching jobs in Kansas City, Minnesota, Detroit, Houston and Oakland. He was 17-22 as San Diego’s head coach from mid-1986 to the 1988. He spent the next 10 seasons on Marty Schottenheimer’s staff in Kansas City as receivers coach before joining Dick Vermeil in St. Louis (1999-2000) and with the Chiefs.

Gibbs and Saunders were on the same coaching staff in 1970 at USC and both coached under Don Coryell with the San Diego Chargers.

The Redskins offense ended the season ranked 11th in yards, up from 30th last season. But the passing game got steadily more impotent as the season wore on. Through six games, the Redskins ranked eighth in passing — Mark Brunell had two 300-yard games and Santana Moss had four 100-yard contests.

But as Moss began to attract double teams, the running game picked up and Brunell started to slow down, the passing game plummeted to 21st in the league. In the final 10 games of the regular season, Brunell had only two 200-yard games and Moss had one 100-yard game.

Things bottomed out in the playoffs — 41 passing yards for Brunell against Tampa Bay and 89 yards through three quarters of the loss last week at Seattle.

It’s unclear how much the Redskins’ playbook will change with the arrival of Saunders.

“It won’t happen overnight because it’s a very complicated offense,” the source said. “But when it does come together, it’s going to be awesome. Redskins fans are going to love this guy. They’re going to love this offense.”

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