Redskins hire Saunders as offensive coordinator

Updated: January 19, 2006, 1:31 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Redskins coach Joe Gibbs upgraded his offense Thursday by adding one of the brightest offensive minds to his sidelines.

Gibbs hired Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, convincing him to sign a three-year contract worth more than $2 million a year. Saunders was considered the leading candidate for the Raiders head coaching job after their first set of three interviews but he had not been offered the job.

With only two head coaching opportunities left -- Oakland and Buffalo -- Saunders was fielding a lot of phone calls by teams and coaches who wanted him as their offensive coordinator. The biggest surprise was the arrival of Gibbs in Kansas City on Wednesday.

Gibbs made Saunders an offer he couldn't refuse, a deal that trumped a chance to be a head coach. After the season, Gibbs talked defensive coordinator Gregg Williams into staying instead of taking a head coaching job on an other team. Williams received a three-year, $7.8 million deal. His deal, the most lucrative ever for an assistant coach, includes a $1 million bonus if he is not named the Washington head coach when Gibbs retires.

The Redskins offense finished 11th in the league but faded toward the end of the season and during the playoffs because of a knee injury that slowed down quarterback Mark Brunell and injuries to receivers on the other side of wide receiver Santana Moss.

Saunders was a natural fit because he learned the system of Gibbs and Don Coryell in San Diego as an assistant coach from 1983 through 1985. Saunders became the Chargers head coach from 1986 through 1988, where he compiled a 17-22 record.

Since joining the Chiefs in 2001, Saunders has been running one of the NFL's hottest offenses. The Chiefs finished first in the league averaging 387 yards a game in 2005. They averaged 25.2 points a game. Under his stewardship, the unit never ranked lower than No. 5 in the NFL in total offense, and was No. 1 each of the last two seasons.

His new assignment is to spice up a Redskins offense that averaged 22.4 points a game.

The Washington offense statistically ranked 11th in 2005, a big jump over its No. 30 finish in 2004, but still was inconsistent down the stretch and especially in the playoffs.

ESPN.com senior writer Len Pasquarelli contributed to this report.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer