- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

Jim Fassel is the front-runner to become the Washington Redskins’ next coach. Again.

Seemingly on the cusp of being hired two weeks ago by owner Dan Snyder, Fassel re-emerged yesterday after New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s withdrawal from consideration to replace Joe Gibbs.

Spagnuolo’s decision capped a wild month that began Jan. 8 when the Redskins’ Hall of Fame coach resigned. Gregg Williams was the early favorite until he was fired as assistant head coach-defense. Seattle assistant Jim Mora briefly held “favorite” status until he opted to remain with the Seahawks.

All of that has Fassel, the former Giants coach who has met three times with Redskins owner Dan Snyder, as the front-runner, which he had been through most of this process.

Neither Fassel nor his agent, Steve Rosner, returned calls yesterday, nor have they throughout the process.

Fassel hasn’t been a head coach since the Giants fired him following the 2003 season. He reached the playoffs three times and the Super Bowl once in seven seasons in New York while posting a 60-56-1 record. The 58-year-old has been out of the NFL since his friend Brian Billick fired him from his post as Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator during the 2006 season. Fassel worked NFL games for Westwood One Radio this past season.

Spagnuolo’s departure from the competition less than a day after finishing his two-day interview with Snyder and executive vice president Vinny Cerrato left Fassel, former San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci and Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks as the remaining candidates.

“I appreciated Mr. Snyder giving me the opportunity to visit with him,” Spagnuolo said in a Giants press release. “I have a great deal of respect for him and the Washington Redskins’ organization. I was happy to have the opportunity to explore that situation, but I am equally happy to be staying in New York and look forward to continued success with the Giants.”

The 48-year-old had been considered the favorite for the job since his defense shut down the New England Patriots’ vaunted offense, helping lead the Giants to a 17-14 upset in Super Bowl XLII. That performance drew raves from Snyder.

Spagnuolo met with Snyder and Cerrato for roughly 20 hours from Tuesday night through Wednesday night before he headed home to New Jersey. After talking to his wife, Maria, Spagnuolo opted to withdraw his name from consideration, although a league source said the Redskins and Spagnuolo mutually concluded he’s a year or two away from being ready to be a head coach.

After just one year as a coordinator, Spagnuolo got a raise and a contract extension from the Giants that a source said would have him making an annual salary of about $2 million — second only to offensive coordinator Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys among NFL assistants.

“We have made the appropriate adjustments in our commitment to Steve in recognition of what he and the defensive coaches and players achieved this season,” Giants president John Mara said.

Mariucci, 52, has been out of the league since the Lions fired him during the 2005 season. He posted a 60-43 record in six seasons with the 49ers (the first two with Cerrato in the front office), 15-28 in two-plus years in Detroit. He had one interview with Snyder during the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

Meeks has had two interviews with Snyder but has never been a head coach. The 53-year-old has overseen the Colts’ defense for six years, including the 2006 Super Bowl-winning season. Washington’s defensive backs coach in 2000, Meeks is the only minority candidate.

A source with knowledge of the situation said Fassel endorsed the appointments of former Seahawks quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn as offensive coordinator and former Redskins defensive line coach Greg Blache as defensive coordinator during his three interviews with Snyder.

A Redskins source strongly denied two local media reports that Snyder had dispatched Redskins One to Arizona to pick up Fassel and bring him back to Redskin Park for a press conference today. The source said Snyder and Cerrato spent yesterday meeting at Snyder’s home in Potomac.

Most of the rest of Gibbs’ staff will return intact. Since Fassel and Zorn both began their careers as quarterbacks coaches, that position could be left vacant, leaving Fassel only needing to hire a defensive line coach and a running backs coach.

An NFL source said John Palermo, who coached at Notre Dame in 1988 and 1989 when Cerrato served as the program’s recruiting coordinator, will be hired for the former job. Palermo, now at the University of Miami, has coached in bowls in 17 of his 27 seasons. He coached Big Ten defensive players of the year Erasmus James and Wendell Bryant at Wisconsin and Lombardi Trophy winner Chris Zorich at Notre Dame. Palermo was coach at Austin Peay in 1990.

Earnest Byner, who coached Washington’s running backs the last four years, remains a candidate to return. Bill Lazor, Washington’s quarterbacks coach the last two years, has replaced Zorn in Seattle. Jack Burns, who held that job in 2004 before becoming an offensive assistant, won’t be back with Washington in 2008.

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