- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 26, 2009

The leading candidate to become the University of Memphis’ next coach had his mind squarely on all things Washington Redskins on Wednesday.

Secondary coach Jerry Gray interviewed for the Tigers’ vacancy on Monday and Tuesday before returning to continue preparations for Sunday’s game at Philadelphia. Reports in Tennessee say a hiring is imminent and could be announced early next week.

Gray wouldn’t comment specifically about the Memphis opening after practice. Because his ultimate goal is to become an NFL coach, however, this would be a detour.

A 13-year NFL assistant, Gray’s lone college experience was as an assistant at SMU in 1995. But the former Pro Bowl cornerback believes his work with the Titans, Bills and Redskins would translate.

“The thing you have to do is look around and say, ‘Nine years playing, 13 years coaching,’ and all those things add up,” Gray said. “You take your experience and apply it someplace else.”

Without delving into specifics, Gray is confident his pursuit of the Memphis opening will not affect his or the players’ work.

“Our guys are grown enough to understand that the distractions will be there, but the thing you have to do is focus harder,” he said. “It’s good in my case because the distractions are out there and I know I have to keep myself more focused on Philadelphia and not look around.”

Gray, who has been with the Redskins since 2006, emerged as a candidate in Memphis because of his relationship with FedEx founder and Redskins part owner Fred Smith. Smith is a prominent booster, and his son Cannon could start at quarterback next year. Another of Smith’s sons, Arthur, is a former Redskins defensive assistant.

The Tigers (4-7), who wrap up the season Saturday at Tulsa, fired coach Tommy West earlier this month. The other top choice is LSU assistant head coach Larry Porter, a Memphis alum and one of the SEC’s top recruiters.

“I know [Gray’s] wanted to be a head coach,” Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers said. “You have a guy that’s more than a coach.”

Said safeties coach Steve Jackson: ” He’s a great leader, very knowledgeable about the game, and he can relate to everyone. He brings a passion to the game. The only thing he doesn’t have is that he’s never been a head coach, but he’s called plays, he’s led great defenses and he’s been a leader of men.”

Coach Jim Zorn would not comment on who would coach the Redskins cornerbacks if Gray were to leave.

“I wouldn’t go into all of the Memphis stuff, because I don’t know all the details,” Zorn said.

Lots of noise

The Redskins have four voices involved in the playcalling - Zorn, consultant Sherm Lewis, offensive assistant Chris Meidt and offensive coordinator Sherman Smith - but quarterback Jason Campbell claims the transition has been smooth, although he did offer a laugh when asked whether the setup is less weird than he anticipated.

“My main focus is on the field, always,” he said. “When we’re in the huddle, to us, it doesn’t matter what’s going on as far as the playcalling. It’s our job to execute the plays, and once it gets to the huddle, we get in and get it going. With us going to the wristband, things have gone a lot quicker getting out of the huddle.”

Zorn disagreed with the notion that it’s tougher for Campbell to get on the same page with more than one play caller.

“It’s our game plan - nobody is pulling the plays out of the air,” Zorn said. “It’s the plan we’ve worked on during the week, and as the QB prepares, he has to be ready for all those plays whenever they’re called and at any particular time. It shouldn’t surprise [Campbell] at all.”

Zorn said on his radio show Tuesday that he called eight plays against the Cowboys on Sunday.

Elaborating after Wednesday’s practice, he said: “Two-minute situations, maybe a short yardage and as we got into a specific situation, that’s where I jump in. … As a play caller myself, you need silence so you can concentrate. I’m not chiming in that way. I’ve never come in and said, ‘No! We’re not running that way.’ ”

Extra points

The Redskins signed quarterback Richard Bartel from Jacksonville’s practice squad, giving them three passers on the 53-man roster for the first time this year. Quarterback Andre Woodson was released from the practice squad to make room for fullback Jonathan Evans. …

Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (ankle) and cornerback DeAngelo Hall (knee) did not practice. Zorn said both players likely will be questionable.

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