Redskins begin search for next head coach

ASHBURN, Va. -- Every time Dan Snyder has needed a coach, he's pursued some of the top names in the business.

Marty Schottenheimer. Steve Spurrier. Joe Gibbs.

If form held true, Bill Cowher would be the next coach of the Washington Redskins.

Perhaps. Perhaps not. Cowher has said repeatedly said he's unavailable. Besides, Snyder's approach is expected to be different this time, taking into account the lessons he's learned over the years.

No longer the brash NFL novice he was when he bought the Redskins in 1999 at the age of 34, Snyder this week listed "incredible patience" as one of the virtues he's learned from Gibbs over the last four years and even needled himself by saying the Redskins had become "unstable" before he hired Gibbs in 2004.

Snyder's search for a new coach began in earnest Wednesday as he and his advisers began to assemble a list of potential candidates to succeed Gibbs, who resigned Tuesday after four seasons. A person familiar with the selection plan, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to compromise the process, said it would not be surprising if the list includes lower-profile assistant coaches from other teams.

Of course, if Cowher were to show any interest, the dynamic could change. He is the biggest prize out there and an obvious candidate, having won the Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers two years ago, and he could name his asking price with the big-spending Snyder.

But Cowher resigned from the Steelers a year ago to spend more time with his family in North Carolina and said he had no plans to coach again. Even if he did, he said he would wait until his youngest daughter, Lindsay, graduates from high school in 2009.

"I'm not going to walk out of her life," Cowher said in September.

The top in-house candidate is assistant coach Gregg Williams, who has run the Redskins defense since 2004. Many players have voiced support for Williams, but he was a polarizing failure in his previous stint as a head coach, going 17-31 during three tense seasons with the Buffalo Bills from 2001-03. Williams has said he's learned lessons in people management from watching Gibbs over the last four years, but he retains an abrasive style and will have to persuade Snyder that he's head coach material.

"Gregg has a lot of support from a lot of players and a lot of people on the coaching staff as well," running backs coach Earnest Byner said Wednesday. "Gregg is one of those guys who has a real good understanding of the team. Whatever Dan decides will be for the best and Dan has said he wants to keep continuity. And Gregg is one of those guys who definitely has an understanding about what's needed to be a coach."

Farther down on the list is assistant coach Al Saunders, who was hired to run the offense two years ago but has kept a lower profile because he wasn't given the same autonomy as Williams. Other names that have been circulated -- former NFL head coaches Brian Billick and Schottenheimer and Arizona assistant Russ Grimm -- would be long-shot candidates, according to the person familiar with the process. Snyder will also have to interview at least one minority candidate to satisfy the league's "Rooney Rule."

Anyone looking for a hints about the new coach during Gibbs' retirement news conference on Tuesday didn't get much satisfaction. Gibbs, who will remain an adviser to Snyder, said the decision would be in the hands of the owner. Snyder said he liked the current front office structure, an indication that the new coach, like Gibbs, would also serve as team president and have authority over personnel decisions.

Snyder said continuity was "very important," which could be interpreted as a sign in favor of Williams, yet Snyder refused to acknowledge that Williams would even be granted an interview.

With little to go on, all the other assistants can do is wait in limbo.

"The powers that be are going to make that decision," cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray said. "You have to live by it. If they make a coaching change from the inside I think it's good, and if they make a change from the outside then you have to adjust and go on."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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