Redskins replace coordinators Williams, Saunders

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Redskins fired assistants Gregg Williams and Al Saunders on Saturday, promoted Greg Blache to lead the team's defense and announced that a head coach would likely not be in place for at least another week.

The Redskins also formally announced the hiring of Jim Zorn, who agreed to a three-year deal Friday to lead the offense.

Quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor and Al Saunders' son, offensive assistant Bob Saunders, also will not return next season, a person familiar with the coaching selection process told The Associated Press. The person also said that most, if not all, of the rest of the coaching staff was expected to remain with the team, lending 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 said 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 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 Super Bowl, 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.

"We are on track with our interviews," Snyder added. "But in the interim we also are filling our coaching positions and re-signing several existing staff members."

Williams' dismissal removes one of the early favorites to succeed Gibbs. Williams had been in charge of the Redskins defense 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 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 New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel, current Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Williams and Snyder met Saturday morning and parted ways in an amicable manner, the person familiar with the selection process said.

The person 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 that Saunders, who ran the offense for 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 terms Friday. Zorn will also coach the quarterback, making Lazor's job redundant.

Snyder lived up to his goal of keeping staff turnover at 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 virtually 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.

Five known candidates remain in contention for the head coaching job, although two - Spagnuolo and McDaniels - have yet to meet with Snyder. Fassel has interviewed with the owner on three occasions, and Snyder has also spoken to Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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