10 New Coaches to Fix the Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins need an overhaul at the coaching level just as much as they need to upgrade playing personnel. The purge should include Mike Shanahan and all of his senior assistants.
That means changes at both offensive and defensive coordinator. It also wouldn't hurt to find somebody new to run the special teams.
With that in mind, here are 10 top candidates to fill these posts. There are four candidates for head coach and three for defensive coordinator, since that side of the ball needs most of the work.
That leaves two top coaches to succeed Kyle Shanahan and run a Robert Griffin III-led offense. Finally, there is an intriguing choice to replace Keith Burns, who has been a disaster running the special teams.
All statistics via Pro-Football-Reference and NFL.com.
Touted Names Who Don't Make the List
Several touted names won't appear on the final list. The most obvious exclusion is Lovie Smith.
The ex-Chicago Bears head coach's reputation has been inflated since he was let go after a 10-6 season in 2012. While it is tough on any coach to get the boot after a winning campaign, that record shouldn't obscure many of Smith's failures in The Windy City.
For instance, he made the playoffs just three times in nine seasons. He let key areas of the team age and fall into decline, specifically the offensive line.
Smith also took far too long to acquire a credible quarterback to complement his stingy defenses. Most concerning was how he kept failing assistants like Mike Tice around for too long.
Washington fans know better than most how a coach's stubborn faith in below-par assistants can cost a team.
While there is no room for Smith, there is also no place for ESPN analyst Jon Gruden. He is currently linked with the Texas Longhorns coaching vacancy.
He also seems tough to lure from the announcing booth back to a pro sideline. Fans should also be wary about how Gruden's spiky, combative demeanour would mesh with Griffin.
Speaking of Griffin, the links with his college coach, Baylor's Art Briles, are a little too convenient and potentially dangerous. The Redskins shouldn't pursue a head coach purely based on his suitability for Griffin.
Despite Briles' ability, that is the message his hiring would send to the rest of the team. It is a message that could lead to trouble.
Bleacher Reports' Mike Freeman recently reported that some within the franchise are "concerned" about Griffin's "closeness" to owner Dan Snyder.
It's easy to envisage similar concerns about Griffin working alongside the man who coached him in college.
Of course, Briles is not the only collegiate boss the Redskins might covet. But the best option from those ranks is Stanford's David Shaw, and he seems intent on staying at Palo Alto, according to USA Today Sports, citing the Associated Press.
Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin is another promising college prospect, but his new contract, complete with a hefty buyout clause, rules him out.
Redskins Must Strike the Right Balance Between Experience and Fresh Ideas
The coaches on this list have been selected with a view for striking a balance between experience and fresh ideas. The current staff doesn't have enough of either quality.
Some are too inexperienced, as Yahoo Sports' Anwar S. Richardson, citing CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, pointed out:
La Canfora noted quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur worked with Kyle Shanahan in Houston and had only two years of experience as an “offensive assistant” with the Texans prior to becoming the Washington quarterback coach. In addition, receivers coach Mike McDaniel was a lower-level assistant on the Texans staff before coming to Washington, while tight ends coach Sean McVay's only prior NFL experience to joining Washington came in 2008 as an offensive assistant in Tampa.
Others are veterans whose systems have become tired and predictable, such as defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Owner Dan Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen have to find people who will give the staff and the players true balance.
This list probably leans a little more toward experience. But the coaches on it are also chosen for the schematic flexibility they embody and how they adapt to what their players do best.
That latter point is crucial after four seasons under an autocrat like Shanahan and his rigid systems.
Defensive Coordinator: Steve Spagnuolo
He bombed out as head coach of the St. Louis Rams, winning 10 games in three seasons from 2009-11. In 2012, he ran the New Orleans Saints defense during one of the worst statistical seasons in NFL history.
But despite those pitfalls, Spagnuolo should be given another chance. He remains the kind of creative defensive wizard the Redskins need to rebuild their pitiful unit.
In particular, Spagnuolo is a true artist when it comes to designing fire-zone-blitz pressures. He loves to move his personnel around to challenge protection schemes and confuse quarterbacks.
Those are qualities the Washington defense and pass-rushers like Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan need at the coaching level. Spagnuolo would provide them with that and has already begun the process of rebuilding his reputation as a senior defensive assistant with the Baltimore Ravens.
His influence on the defense in Baltimore is obvious this season. The Ravens are using more zone blitzes and moving players around to form unorthodox pressure fronts.
That kind of flexibility is what Washington hoped it was getting when it switched to a 3-4 in 2010. Spagnuolo, usually a 4-3 coach, now has 3-4 experience with the Ravens and would craft a defense in Washington built on sophisticated pressure schemes.
He could rebuild his reputation by doing the same for the Washington defense.
Defensive Coordinator: Wade Phillips
If the Houston Texans don't appoint Wade Phillips head coach on a permanent basis, the Redskins should pounce. Owner Dan Snyder would be smart to flash the cash and hire a master of the 3-4 to run the Washington defense.
Phillips calls a different style of 3-4 to the traditional two-gap scheme favored by Haslett. Instead, Phillips believes in a 1-gap front that resembles more of a 5-2 than a classic 3-4.
It is not uncommon for both outside linebackers in the Phillips' 3-4 to blitz on almost every snap. That should surely appeal to a team with edge-rushers as talented as Orakpo and Kerrigan.
Phillips' shifted three-man lines have also made stars out of players like Jay, now Jeremiah, Ratliff and J.J. Watt. He could easily do the same for Barry Cofield and Jarvis Jenkins.
As much as Phillips loves to bring pressure, he also excels at giving his players a simple blueprint to follow. The consistent framework of his schemes allows defenders to play with aggression and swarm to the ball.
That has usually meant a quick defensive turnaround wherever Phillips has been. When he joined the Buffalo Bills in 1995, he inherited a unit that had ranked 22nd in points and 17th in yards the previous season.
In his first year calling the defense, the Bills jumped to 12th in points and 13th in yards. Their sack figures went from 25 to 49.
When Phillips joined the Texans in 2011, his impact was even more dramatic. The 2010 defense ranked 29th in points and 30th in yards.
By the end of the 2011 season, Phillips' defense had allowed the fourth-fewest points and second-fewest yards in the league. The unit inspired the Texans to their first AFC South title, playoff appearance and postseason victory.
That's a record of defensive excellence the Redskins would find tough to turn down. They may not have to if the Texans choose another candidate to be their next head coach.
Hiring Phillips to run the Washington defense would ensure a quick turnaround and salvage the decision to switch to a 3-4.
Defensive Coordinator: Rex Ryan
Rex Ryan may be merely counting the days until he receives his walking papers from the New York Jets. That's fortunate for the Redskins, who should move quickly to snare one of the brightest defensive minds in the game.
The idea of Ryan as head coach in Washington has already been floated by CSN Washington's Rich Tandler. But although Ryan is not as bad a head coach as he has been portrayed, he fits better for the Redskins as defensive coordinator.
His Jets teams may have struggled, but Ryan's expertise on that side of the ball can never be doubted. Like Spagnuolo, his system is tough to pin down to specifics, except to say multiple pressure is its foundation.
Ryan is a proud practitioner of the 46 defense devised by his father Buddy. But he is also willing to modify his defense to favor coverage over all-out blitz.
Ryan's chameleon-like fronts and schemes are tough for opponents to decipher, and that's what makes him so effective. After a rough time in the Big Apple, Ryan could be ready to return to his roots and focus on running a defense again.
Turning the unit over to an expert like Ryan would allow the Redskins to trust an offensive-minded head coach.
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Cavanaugh
Kyle Shanahan's decision to walk away at the end of the season creates the opportunity for a new direction on offense. That direction must be decided by a quarterback-friendly coordinator, given the huge investment in Griffin.
Matt Cavanaugh perfectly fits the bill. A former NFL backup, Cavanaugh has coached all-time greats like Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers as well as raw youngsters like Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets.
This season Cavanaugh has helped both Jay Cutler and backup Josh McCown lead an explosive Chicago Bears offense. Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have both topped 1,100 yards, catching passes from Cavanaugh's quarterbacks.
Cavanaugh is an experienced coach with a plethora of knowledge of the quarterback-friendly West Coast offense. He could be a stabilizing force for Griffin after the young quarterback's tumultuous second season.
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Clements
The Redskins may not find it easy to tempt Tom Clements away from the Green Bay Packers and working with Aaron Rodgers. But if they could, they would be getting a smart coach who calls a varied offense that helps quarterbacks succeed.
Consult the Packers' second-half performance against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15 for an example of Clements' creative play-calling.
His ideas have helped both Rodgers and Matt Flynn thrive in the Green Bay scheme. He should be able to craft a system to make Griffin a more consistent passer.
As he shares some of the responsibility for plays with head coach Mike McCarthy, Clements could welcome the chance to have sole charge of his own unit.
Many will note that neither of these offensive coordinator candidates have a background in the pistol or read-option attacks. Despite Griffin's skill in these schemes, that shouldn't be a priority in his next coordinator.
Griffin already knows how to run; he just needs to get back to full health to pose a stronger dual threat. Instead, refining his game as a passer should be the main focus for Griffin's next play-caller.
Special Teams: Jerry Rosburg
The best way to avoid a repeat of 2013's nightmare on special teams is to hire an established coordinator to run the unit. There is none better than Baltimore Ravens veteran Jerry Rosburg.
He has run one of the best special teams units in the league since 2008. In that time, he has worked closely with head coach John Harbaugh, who made his name as a special teams guru.
Under Rosburg, the Ravens have had dangerous return men like Chris Carr and Jacoby Jones. They have also featured strong kickers like Justin Tucker.
Rosburg's group often helps Baltimore win the field-position battle on both sides of the ball. He also calls his share of unexpected gadget plays to create huge gains against surprised opponents.
It would be fair to say that special teams follies have cost Washington more than one game this season. Hiring an experienced coordinator like Rosburg would restore some credibility in this area.
Head Coach: Ray Horton
Ray Horton is a rising defensive coordinator who merits attention as a head coach candidate. In 2012, he inspired a significant improvement in the Arizona Cardinals defense.
Under Horton the group ranked 12th in yards allowed. Despite being hamstrung by a woeful offense, Horton's unit stifled its share of marquee quarterbacks. The most notable was Tom Brady, who was sacked five times in a huge upset in New England in Week 2.
After missing out on becoming the Cardinals head coach, Horton bolted to Cleveland to run the Browns defense. He has overseen a return to a 3-4 scheme, and his unit currently ranks ninth against the pass, eighth against the run and ninth in total yards.
Unfortunately, Horton has found himself in a similar situation to the one he faced in the desert. A pitiful offense has put added strain on his defense.
Consequently, the Browns rank 22nd in points, after the Cardinals were 17th in that category in 2012. But the support of a competent offense would change all that.
He would also install greater discipline and tenacity team-wide. That would be a good thing for a group of players who have appeared to be going through the motions at times this season.
If the Redskins could stomach having a player who won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys in 1992 running things, Horton would be a risk worth taking.
Head Coach: Adam Gase
Many will immediately point to Adam Gase's young age and lack of experience as reasons to quickly dismiss him as head-coaching material.
No fan of Washington's NFL franchise wants to see Jim Zorn mark two. But Gase is far from that.
In fact, the 35-year-old offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos is a coach who tailors his schemes to what his players do best. He did it as quarterbacks coach for the Broncos in 2011, when he helped Tim Tebow take an NFL team to the playoffs.
He then went from Tebow to coaching Peyton Manning. You couldn't dream up two more polar opposites at the quarterback position.
But guess what? Manning is having the best year of a Hall of Fame career with Gase as his offensive coordinator. The young play-caller has shifted from the run-first, option-based attack that protected Tebow to the multiple spread sets that Manning knows best.
How does this apply to Washington? Well imagine what Gates could do with Griffin. Imagine what his emphasis on what works best for individual players could do when applied to the whole team.
Those who are put off by his age should remember names like Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Mike Tomlin. All three were younger than Gates by one year when they were hired as head coaches. All three also went on to win a Super Bowl.
Snyder has been burned looking for bright young things before. But if Gates was surrounded by an experienced staff, specifically a defensive guru he could trust to run that unit, he could be the right young coach in Washington.
Head Coach: Ken Whisenhunt
Ken Whisenhunt has earned a second crack at a top job with a fine first season running the San Diego Chargers offense. In particular, Whisenhunt has helped temperamental quarterback Philip Rivers enjoy a brilliant campaign.
Under Whisenhunt's influence, a quarterback who has usually been a turnover machine has become a model of efficiency. Rivers has thrown only nine interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 106.9.
One of the keys to that success is how Whisenhunt has had Rivers spread the ball around. He has used every weapon, a slogan that should be bolted to the door of Mike Shanahan's office.
Griffin could certainly benefit from that kind of coaching. But he is not the only player who would prosper thanks to Whisenhunt's methods.
Running back Ryan Mathews and rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen have both had breakout years in his system. The likes of Morris, Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed would be even greater threats in his offense as would fringe players like underused running back Roy Helu Jr.
Of course, head-coaching experience also helps recommend Whisenhunt. He took the Arizona Cardinals to a pair of NFC West titles and even went to a Super Bowl in 2008.
During his time with the Cardinals, Whisenhunt only suffered two losing seasons out of six and engineered four wins in six playoff games.
He would give the Redskins a coach with experience of improving a losing program and one who knows how to get the best out of quarterbacks.
Head Coach: Todd Bowles
If the powers that be at Redskins Park decide the offense can take care of itself, the team will be looking for a defensive-minded head coach.
In that case, there are few better candidates than Todd Bowles. The former Redskins safety has done some exceptional work with the Arizona Cardinals defense this season.
Bowles has been running a hybrid 3-4 front and has made a solid unit even better. His defense is the toughest in the league to run on.
The unit has also surrendered the eighth-fewest points and seventh-fewest total yards. Bowles has made creative use of players like veteran pass-rusher John Abraham and rookie defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.
The Cardinals are 9-5 because of his versatile defense. He is quickly fostering a reputation as a shrewd judge of talent and an innovative strategist.
Those qualities should be welcomed by a franchise in desperate need of fresh tactics. Redskins fans can also be encouraged by Bowles' experience, albeit brief, as a head coach.
In 2011, he was the interim head coach for the Miami Dolphins. He took charge for three games and went 2-1. He has also benefited from the knowledge gained working alongside coaching greats like Bill Parcells and Andy Reid.
If Shanahan does indeed receive the boot once the 2013 season is banished to forgettable history, Bowles should be one of the first names on Snyder's list.
What do you think about the coaches on this list? Are they worthy candidates, and which combination do you think would fit best in Washington for the 2014 NFL season?