The Washington Redskins’ coaching staff should become a more cohesive group this year after a tumultuous 2008.
With the coaching search going into overtime and Jim Zorn getting his quick promotion from offensive coordinator to head coach in February, he had to scramble to assemble a staff.
The NFL didn’t stop and wait for them to get their act together and all of a sudden free agency, the draft, minicamps and OTA’s were on top of them and they barely knew each other’s names.
They’re now on their second cycle through the league year and things are starting to gel for the core 13 coaches.
Fortunately, this was not a typical offseason of churn and upheaval at Redskins Park. The only new member of the staff is Scott Wachenheim, who came from Liberty University to coach the tight ends.
The two holdovers from Joe Gibbs’ most recent tenure as head coach on the offensive side are line coach Joe Bugel and wide receivers coach Stan Hixon.
Bugel, of course, is a legend, the man who molded and named the Hogs, the O-line that cleared the path to the Redskins’ glory days. He has considerable input into virtually all aspects, including personnel, play design, and game planning.
Hixon is well respected but he will be under a microscope this year. There were many reasons that the Redskins got little out of rookie receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly last year.
This year it seems that both will be healthy and both of them seem to understand the game better. It will be on Hixon to make sure that they are prepared to contribute in 2009.
The titles of the three other coaches on the offensive side are somewhat misleading. Sherman Smith nominally is the Offensive Coordinator but, in reality, Zorn is the OC and Smith helps him out.
One would think that Assistant Head Coach Stump Mitchell would be able to pull rank on Smith but, in reality, Mitchell is just the running backs coach.
Smith played with Zorn in Seattle and Mitchell coached with him there so they both have his ear in all matters concerning the offense.
Another coach in whom Zorn seems to have a lot of faith carries the bland title of Offensive Assistant. Chris Meidt came to the Redskins from the football factory called St. Olaf College in Minnesota.
But don’t let the label and NCAA Division III background fool you—Meidt is a key member of the staff. He’s Zorn’s jack of all trades, the guy who makes it possible for Zorn to wear the three hats of head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Zorn completely delegates the defense to coordinator Greg Blache and his group is composed mostly of Gregg Williams-era holdovers.
Blache is decidedly old school with the Marine-barracks language on the practice field and the gruff, one-sentence answers to media questions.
His style is less gambling than Williams’ was and this came out in the numbers. While the team was fourth in yardage allowed, they were near the bottom in takeaways and sacks.
The one post-Williams addition is defensive line coach John Palmero. His unit will be carrying great expectations with the additions of mega-free agent Albert Haynesworth and first-round draft selection Brian Orakpo.
In the secondary, cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray and safeties coach Steve Jackson both know what Blache wants and they give it to him.
The secondary has been the strength of the defense the last couple of years and Blache is smart enough not to mess with what’s working.
Linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti has the longest continuous tenure with the team. He started in 2000 as a quality control coach and he has stayed on the staff through Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Gibbs, and now Zorn.
Special teams coach Danny Smith had considerable juice in the personnel area under Gibbs and it’s presumed that he maintains that with Zorn.
Whenever Coach Joe was posed a question about which kicker or punter was winning a training camp competition, he’d always say, “You’ll have to ask Danny.”
It also was rumored that Smith would be allowed to protect a few special teams studs from the final roster cut.