Redskins dismiss Williams, Saunders; promote Blache to lead defense

Updated: January 27, 2008, 1:43 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Redskins seem to have a whole lot of their coaching staff in place for next season -- except for the head coach.

[+] EnlargeGreg Williams
Paul Jasienski/Getty ImagesA few days ago Gregg Williams was considered a favorite to be the Redskin head coach. On Saturday, he lost his job as an assistant.

And that head coach won't be Gregg Williams. Or Al Saunders.

As for the rest of the candidates, they'll have to wait until the Super Bowl is done.

On a busy Saturday at Redskins Park, the team fired assistants Williams and Saunders, promoted Greg Blache to lead the team's defense and formally announced the hiring of Jim Zorn to head the offense.

There was more. A person familiar with the coaching selection process told The Associated Press that linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti has agreed to a new contract. Running backs coach Earnest Byner, the only other assistant whose deal was about to expire, has been in talks with Tampa Bay about a job but would be welcome to return as well.

The person said Al Saunders' son, offensive assistant Bob Saunders, will not return next season. Less certain was the future of quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor. After initially deciding that Lazor will not be back next season, the Redskins instead will leave his fate to the new head coach.

Elias Says

The Redskins' defense ranked 25th in 2003, the year before Gregg Williams arrived in Washington, then 3rd, 9th, 31st and 8th in his four seasons. The Buccaneers are the only other NFL team to rank in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed in three of the last four seasons.
• Read more Elias Says.

The person also said that most of the rest of the coaching staff was expected to remain with the team, which would lend credence to owner Dan Snyder's stated desire to maintain a degree of continuity following the resignation of head coach Joe Gibbs on Jan. 8.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject.

As for the search for a head coach, the next interviews aren't expected to take place until Feb. 4, the day after the New York Giants and New England Patriots play for the NFL championship, so that Snyder can talk to assistants from the two teams involved.

"The process of selecting a new head coach continues, although no hire is planned until after the Super Bowl so as not to distract from the championship game as well as to keep open all our options," Snyder said in a statement, his first public comments on a coaching search that began more than two weeks ago.

Williams' dismissal removes one of the early favorites to succeed Gibbs. Williams had been in charge of the Redskins defense for all four seasons under Gibbs and was popular among fans and many players, but his confrontational style and poor track record at his previous head coaching stint with the Buffalo Bills did little to help his chances for the top job.

Williams often said that he had learned under Gibbs how better to deal with people, but his short fuse remained on full display for players and reporters all four years in Washington. He committed a major breach of protocol -- and created an embarrassing moment for Gibbs -- when he failed to tell the head coach that he was going to send only 10 men onto the field on the first play of the first game following the death of Sean Taylor in November.

Williams met four times with Snyder to discuss the head coaching job, but it quickly became clear that the owner was more focused on other candidates, including former Giants head coach Jim Fassel, current Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Snyder also has interviewed Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

The Redskins will conduct a second interview with Meeks on Tuesday in Indianapolis.

The person familiar with the selection process said the Redskins have granted the St. Louis Rams permission to interview both Williams and Saunders for coordinator positions. The person said the Rams had to seek permission because, even though Williams and Saunders were told they were being dismissed, the team hasn't formally terminated their contracts.

The person also said Saunders, who ran the offense the past two seasons, was never a candidate for the head coaching position and was told several days ago that he was not in the team's plans. Saunders, like Williams, was considered a possible heir-apparent to Gibbs when he arrived in Washington, but he was never able to generate the type of consistent, high-yardage attack he had during his long stint as an offensive coordinator in Kansas City.

Saunders' fate was sealed when Zorn, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback coach since 2001, agreed to a three-year deal Friday. Zorn also is expected to coach the quarterbacks, which would seem to make Lazor's job redundant.

Snyder lived up to his goal of keeping staff turnover as a reasonable level by promoting Blache, who has coached the defensive line and has held the title of defensive coordinator -- in name only, because the job was actually Williams' -- since 2004. Blache was previously the defensive coordinator for five seasons for the Chicago Bears.

The moves mean that the new head coach -- whoever he is -- will find his staff essentially in place when he takes over. In his statement, Snyder expressed confidence in making the moves now because Zorn, Blache and the other Redskins assistants were highly regarded by the candidates he has interviewed.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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