Thursday, February 7, 2008

When Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder said Monday he wanted to dot every “i” and cross every “t” before deciding on a new coach, he wasn’t kidding.

Starting with seven to nine hours Tuesday night and continuing yesterday with an estimated 12-hour session, New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo became the seventh candidate to be interviewed by Snyder for the Redskins’ coaching opening.

Spagnuolo, for whom Snyder delayed the process to interview, arrived at Snyder’s Potomac home Tuesday night, met until at least 2:30 a.m. and was back in the hot seat starting at 8 a.m. according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

At Redskin Park last night, there was no sign of Spagnuolo, Snyder or executive vice president Vinny Cerrato despite an ESPN report that the interview had shifted from Potomac to Ashburn.

Today marks Day 30 since Joe Gibbs retired. Miami, Baltimore and Atlanta took 12, 20 and 24 days, respectively to hire Tony Sparano, John Harbaugh and Mike Smith as coaches. The Dolphins and Falcons benefited from Sparano and Smith losing in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The only team that has taken longer to finalize on a coach in the last three offseasons is Oakland, which needed 38 days to decide on Art Shell. Of the 10 openings after the 2005 season, five teams needed less than 10 days to fill the opening. Houston (25 days) had to wait for Denver’s season to end to hire Gary Kubiak.

After last season, the seven jobs were filled with 18 days of the opening.

As for the kind of contract Spagnuolo could expect, most first-time head coaches recently — including Harbaugh, Kubiak, Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt and the New York Jets’ Eric Mangini — have signed four- or five-year deals with an average salary of $2 million to $2.5 million.

A league source didn’t anticipate a tough negotiation between Spagnuolo and the Redskins.

“Those things are pretty simple,” the source said. “They don’t have a problem with money.”

The source added that Spagnuolo also had plenty of questions to ask Snyder and Cerrato, chiefly concerning the Redskins’ salary cap situation and their inability to hold second-half leads last season.

The Redskins are well over the 2008 salary cap, but the number should decrease greatly when Chris Cooley’s signing bonus is spread out, costly numbers that like Mark Brunell’s are reduced and players like Clinton Portis rework their contracts.

For all their failings in the front office, the Redskins have been adept at being a player in free agency every season, even when it appears they don’t have a lot of salary cap space.

The second-half debacles are an issue because the Redskins were inept at holding leads until the final month of the season. Washington squandered third-quarter advantages against Spagnuolo’s Giants (Week 3), Green Bay, Philadelphia, Dallas and Buffalo.

The Redskins were 7-5 after leading at halftime. New York was 7-2 in that category, losing only to Green Bay in Week 2 and New England in Week 17.

The Giants’ second-half defensive play in the playoffs drew rave reviews. The four opposing quarterbacks combined for five touchdowns, five interceptions and a 67.5 rating in the final two quarters.

“One of the qualities he has is that he’s willing to change if it’s not going the way it should be,” Giants safeties coach David Merritt said of Spagnuolo. “He’ll abort the game plan and one of the things is that his halftime adjustments have been phenomenal.”

The Giants allowed only 27 second-half points in the playoffs.

If Spagnuolo is the hire, the Redskins can expect a steady hand.

“He’s never too high or too low,” middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “He doesn’t praise you too much but doesn’t get on you too much. When you listen to him talk, there aren’t any secrets. He knows we’re all grown men here, and he’s honest right to our faces.”

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