- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

Joe Gibbs is no longer in charge of the offense he created and directed to three Super Bowl titles.

Gibbs formally handed over the keys to the Washington Redskins offense yesterday to one of the only man he could entrust with it. Al Saunders, widely regarded as one of the NFL’s best offensive minds, is now the Redskins’ associate head coach-offense.

Saunders will have full control of the offense, including play-calling duties, while Gibbs shifts his focus to the bigger picture, including making personnel decisions.

“He will oversee and direct the offense,” Gibbs said. “It will free me up to do some other things. I plan on keeping abreast of what’s going on, but it will allow me to have more flexibility here.

“This was a chance for us to add someone who we felt like was real talented and who can help the Washington Redskins fulfill a dream: to try to win a championship,” Gibbs added.

Gibbs believes the addition of Saunders, who for the last five seasons directed one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses in Kansas City, can help the Redskins achieve that goal. Their offense sputtered badly during two playoff games this month.

Saunders, who turns 59 on Feb. 1, shares offensive philosophies with Gibbs. The two came up through the ranks together as college assistants at Southern California in the 1970s, and both were schooled by legendary offensive guru Don Coryell.

In Washington, Saunders will take the Gibbs system already in place and “tweak” it in an effort to improve an offense that ranked 11th in the league this season but struggled down the stretch.

“One of the things I hope I can help this football team do is take some of the things we have done … and maybe tweak some things and add some things that will make us a more productive point-potential offense,” he said.

Saunders will be well compensated for his work. The Redskins signed him to a three-year contract believed to be worth $6 million, making him one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in NFL history (along with the Redskins’ assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, who just signed a three-year, $8 million extension).

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue expressed concern over the weekend about Dan Snyder’s recent spending spree on assistant coaches, but Gibbs yesterday praised the Washington owner for doing whatever it takes to build a winning organization.

“A lot of credit goes to Dan,” Gibbs said. “In most cases, when you propose something like that to an owner, it would fall on deaf ears. It wouldn’t really get very far.”

Gibbs said he first began thinking about adding another offensive coach late in the season. He called then-Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, a close friend, and Saunders’ name came up. With Saunders a candidate for at least three head coaching vacancies, Gibbs swooped in and convinced him to come to Washington as an assistant.

“I never wanted to take a head job just to be a head coach,” Saunders said. “The title of head coach was not as important as the people in the organization you work for. … I’m an offensive football coach, and that’s what I want to do.”

Saunders said he’ll spend the next two weeks familiarizing himself with the Redskins’ roster, but he was already heaping praise yesterday upon running back Clinton Portis, wide receiver Santana Moss and H-back Chris Cooley. He noted that quarterback Mark Brunell was as productive as he had been in years and mentioned rookie quarterback Jason Campbell (though not backup Patrick Ramsey).

“There’s a lot of things there to work with,” Saunders said.

Including plenty of coaches. The addition of Saunders gives the Redskins 11 staff assistants devoted specifically to offense, including assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel and offensive coordinator Don Breaux.

Both Gibbs and Saunders, though, insist there won’t be too many cooks in the kitchen.

“It’s not about titles,” Saunders said. “It’s about production. We’re going to work together as a staff and share the responsibilities. Everybody on that offensive staff will have tremendous value.”

Gibbs insisted Saunders’ hire should not be viewed as a sign he plans to lighten his legendary workload nor that he’s begun thinking about retirement just two years after returning to the Redskins.

“I am committed here,” Gibbs said. “I made a substantial commitment. The contract I signed wasn’t for three years. It wasn’t for four years. It was five years. … I’ll be here every bit as much. I’ll just refocus on some things now. I’ll be freed up to work on some other things.”

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