Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Jan 2006

Redskins Hire Assistant Al Saunders

The Daniel Snyder money train rolls along as Al Saunders, the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator who had been thought of as a front-runner to become head coach of the Raiders, has instead accepted a position as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. Saunders and Joe Gibbs both learned from the passing guru Don Coryell, so they should work well together.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 19 Jan 2006

30 comments, Last at 20 Jan 2006, 8:52pm by vincent garbonzo


by BillWallace (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 7:27pm

Wow. This is great. I don't feel bad about this at all.

by NF (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:06pm

What happened to Washington's offensive coordinator from this season?

by underthebus (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:08pm

Man! I wanted him to coach the Raiders! I bet this will be one of the reasons they start capping coaches salaries. The all-star coaching staff in Washington is pretty crazy. Why would Saunders do this?

by JonL (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:17pm

you may have wanted Saunders to coach the Raiders, but would you want to coach the Raiders?

The Post article on speculates that either Don Breaux or Joe Bugel will become an "offensive assistant," similar to what Jack Burns did when the team hired Bill Musgrave.

by Sean (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:23pm

It's a great move for the Redskins, but it represents a potential problem for the league. Despite the salary cap, there are big market teams with new stadiums that have a huge advantage in revenue that they can use to gain a competitive advantage in various ways, and paying top dollar for all the best position coaches and coordinators is one of them.

Again, I'm not saying that Washington shouldn't do everything in their power to improve their team, but I think it's probably going to get to a point where the league will feel the need to incorporate coaches salaries into the salary cap to head this sort of thing off.

by Gregg (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:27pm

Why wouldn't Saunders do it? He'll make more money in Washington working with a former and obviously respected colleague (Gibbs) than he would sharing the head coaching duties with Al Davis. People have given Dan Snyder a lot of crap over the years for good reason, but the Saunders and Williams deals this offseason seem smart. I've never understood why owners don't spend more on coaches. If Anthony Henry and Ken Lucas are considered solid values while getting signing bonuses from $10-13 million, how is not worth it to pay an extra million or two for proven coaches? Miami and Washington seem to be ahead of the curve on paying assistants.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:41pm

What happened with Bill Musgrave anyway? Is he out of there? Are they happy with his performance?

by Carlos (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:54pm

Now if Snyder would spend some cash on getting a real GM, this team might actually go somewhere!

Gibbs might be a decent coach of the year candidate having taken this talent-light team to the 2d round of the playoffs... unfortunately the Danny (and most DC fans) are probably convinced that they're just "one good WR away from a Super Bowl team" or some such nonsense.

by BillWallace (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:54pm

re: 6
I agree. There's always been something off about the scale of coaches salaries to players' and their relative importance. Considering the size of the budget of an NFL team, even one not owned by Snyder, the size of coaches salaries just doesn't make sense to me.

I think Snyder is just ahead of the curve in terms of reacting to what the market should be, not what it is or always has been. Even the "small" market teams could surely find another couple million to pay one of the top few most important employees of their organization.

by SJM (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 9:37pm

Yes, I'm tired of all the discussion of a cap for coaches' salaries. This isn't about how some teams can't afford to pay coaches. This is a case where some owners are not willing to spend enough money to maintain a competitive staff. (Most people don't even realize how much money teams waste by firing a coach with years left on his contract. That money still gets paid out. Maybe teams who cry poor should be more judicious with their coaching decisions.)

For those of you panicking that bad teams will never be able to attract coordinators, remember that most assistants openly want a head-coaching job. It's not the salary, it's the title and the authority.

Oh and #6, Musgrave is still the Skins QB coach. They retained each of their assistants from this year, although the speculation about Breaux or Bugel being given less responsibility (most likely Breaux) could be true.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 9:40pm

I'd rather have Joe Gibbs as my boss than Al Davis, even if Gibbs has to deal with Danny-boy.

The Redskins are closer to having sustained success as well. Going to coach the Raiders means immediately becoming Randy Moss' babysitter, and finding a quarterback who can co-exist with him. Coaching a team where the highest paid player, or second-highest paid player, has the playing habits of Moss is a nightmare, in that everyone else sees those habits as well.

Snyder's ultimate goal may be to have a 250-person coaching staff, thus depriving everyone else of coaching.

by vincent garbonzo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 9:43pm

re: 8

It's amazing that the Skins have hired the "top of the field" at every coaching position, while every player is scrutinized to no end ("no #2 WR, bring in Reggie Wayne!") yet Vinny Cerrato is allowed to skate by with his horrific draft record. In addition for taking credit for the success of the Skins last two FA classes (which consisted almost entirely of guys that the coaches had coached) I'll bet that guy has compromising pictures of Snyder.

I hope he gets whacked soon.

by SJM (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 10:01pm

Re: 12

I wish the Skins would hire a real GM, but Vinnie is not as bad as you think. Consider that the Skins have discovered many undrafted players such as Lemar Marshall, Ryan Clark, Tim Hasselbeck (and Antonio Pierce maybe?) who all were brought in under his watch. He's also not as bad at drafting as you claim, having found Dockery and Cooley both in the third round. The Skins have also been successful in free agency, getting Griffin, Salave'a, Springs, and Washington, and trading for Moss and Portis. All while somehow staying under the cap.

Wow, I can't believe I just made an argument that Vinnie is good at his job. For my next trick I will debate the merits of Isiah Thomas with Bill Simmons.

by Eric in LA (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 10:21pm

As an Eagles fan, I can't help but be impressed by this move. Kudos to the Redskins for spending the money to improve their competitiveness.

As for Saunders...yeah, makes sense. He'll get as much for this gig as he'd get as a HC elsewhere, and it didn't seem like any organizations were giving him much respect (genuflect) or a chance to succeed.

by Steven Cummings (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 11:08pm

As a Chiefs fan, I can't help but put my head in my hands and sob. It's bad enough that Peterson didn't reach out to him to convince him to stay, but another team convinced him to take a coordinator position.

And am I going to far and saying that the combo of Saunders and Williams makes the skins a safe bet to go deep in the playoffs in '06? If they can "navigate" the cap trouble they've grown for themselves, they can really build something. And coaches don't have caps.

by Kal (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 12:21am

Coaching wise, the Redskins are great. Gibbs has shown the ability to coach a team after a lot of doubters last year. Their 6-game winning streak at the end of the season was impressive, and no other team in the playoffs had a tougher schedule.

That being said, they're still without a second good WR, and they're still very shaky at QB. I'm glad that Musgrave was able to shake things up a bit and I attribute to him a lot of the Redskins' uncharacteristic long passing game that proved so successful this year - but Brunell is wildly inconsistent and Portis can't be the sole answer to this team.

They're great at defense and should be one of the top defenses next season; I don't believe they are in danger of any free agency losses of note. What I think would work very well for them is to trade Ramsay to get either a second good RB or a second good WR.

by someone (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 12:51am

What's the deal with the shoulder problems of Clinton Portis? Some form of nerve damage to the shoulder - sounds like it could be dealt with, career-threatening or anything in between?

by Carlos (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 3:21am

re: 17

Before you go giving all the credit to Musgrave for the skins throwing the deep ball this year, two things.

1. Joe Gibbs v 1.0 LOVED the long ball, at least when he had quarterbacks who could throw it... Schroeder came in on the play after Theismann had his leg snapped in half, and threw a bomb! And Rypien had one of the best bomb throwing seasons ever under Gibbs.

2. The skins still didn't throw deep often enough this year. Heck, against the cowboys in the opener, they threw 2 long throws all night. They happened to be in the last 2 minutes for touchdowns to Moss.

by Kal (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 4:22am

That might be, Carlos, but it certainly wasn't characteristic of Gibbs 2.0. Last season they had abysmal passing, and not a whole lot of long passing plays. This season Brunell/Ramsay to Moss was a staple of their game. I don't know if that's Musgrave's influence, but I do know that's what he was brought on to do.

by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 9:42am

On the surface, this looks like a smart hire. I don't know much about Saunders, but the Chiefs have run a terrific offense over the last few years. However, one of the keys to how successful he will be is how effective Saunders is in developing Jason Campbell.

Brunell, though effective when healthy, is injury-prone and not the long-term answer, so the 'Skins need to get Campbell ready to play. Does Al Saunders have a good history with young QBs?

by Falco (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 10:57am

Good for Al. As a KC fan, I am upset that he did not get a closer look for head coach. Peterson wanted his boy, and there was always talk that he wasn't Peterson's guy. Whenever I heard Al talking on the local weekly radio interview, I was impressed. I am just glad he didn't go to the Raiders, as I would have been conflicted, now, I can still hate the Raiders unabashedly.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 12:51pm

SJM, that's assuming that Simmons survives this weekend.

Regarding the Skins QB situation, has Gibbs given up on Ramsey, and if so, why didn't he trade him this season when there were (according to rumor) offers?

by Bruce (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 1:09pm

On Gibbs 2.1, let's not forget Gibbs had horrific wideouts who could not get open deep (Gardner & an injured Coles) and QBs (Ramsey & an injured Brunell) who couldn't throw deep. Gibbs 2.2 though had different players. Moss was phenomenal (esp. since he had no #2 help) How bad did the Jets blow this deal? At Gibbs last press conference he said it was time for Campbell to take off the baseball cap. On Ramsey, he said he and Ramsey were having discussions. Translation: he's traded or released. Aaron is right. The over/under on Campbell playing is week 8.

by Smeghead (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 3:33pm

Because clearly, the thing holding down the Washington offense is a paucity of old guys with clipboards. Does this make two offensive coordinators and an "assistant head coach -- offense" to go with an exalted QB coach who used to be an offensive coordinator?

This calls to mind the Prospectus' write-up on the Indigenous Persons' assistant coaching maze: "Patrick Ramsey may miss the open receiver, but he always remembers to staple a cover sheet to his TPS reports."

by vincent garbonzo (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 4:13pm

Interesting. The more I learn about Saunders, the more apparent it bocomes that while he and Gibbs are both Coryell offspring, their systems are quite different.

Saunders attacks downfield, using the pass to set up the run. He prefers a large volume of plays executed with an upbeat tempo.

The current Gibbs offense is predicated on running a small number of plays well, using the run to set up the downfield pass with a general attitude of "don't fumble away our chance to punt" rather than "attack".

As someone who was consistently frustrated by the predictable, deliberate, conservative Gibbs offense, Al appears to be just what the doctor ordered.

Also re #13

The undrafted players you cite were good finds, but Dockery and Cooley are about it in terms of late round talent that VC has discovered. Even if you consider the UDFAs discovered by the Skins they still have an absurdly low number of home grown players. On both offense and defense, only 5/11 starters were home grown (drafted or UDFA)... I challenge anyone to find a team with a lower ratio of home grown talent.

In terms of their FA record, I attribute much of their recent success to allowing the coaching staff to bring in guys they have experience with.

by Leeroy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 4:29pm

Re Cerrato: You can add Rock Cartwright as a good late round pick up. Its hard to have success drafting when you bring in different systems every year. You can't get much different in philosophies going from Schottenhiemer to Spurrier to Gibbs.

by BillWallace (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 6:13pm

Gibbs just isn't as conservative as people make him out to be. Monk, Clark, and Sanders all having 1000 yards in the same season attest to that. Who else has done that? The only other team I can remember is one of the Falcon's run and shoot teams.

I think Gibbs is the ultimate adapter. When he had Riggins they ran more, when they had the top receivers and only a decent RB they passed more. With Injured Brunell and Portis and Taylor "white on rice" Jacobs, they ran more again.

by Carlos (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 7:21pm

#27 said it well.

I've been incredibly frustrated (and bored!) by Gibb's offense, but I suspect it's been a lack of talent that's driven the play-calling, not some philosophical aversion to opening up the offense.

I'm disappointed Gibbs didn't ever give Ramsey a chance in the regular season, but I'm will to consider (however grudgingly) that Gibbs probably knows more than I do and has better judgment. ;-)

That aside, it's hard to quibble with Gibbs' implicit assessment of his offensive talent: there hasn't much of it, so let's first and foremost try to minimize turnovers.

I'm hopeful that Gibbs will open things up with Campbell next season... and if you all are setting the over/under for his starting at 8 games, I'd definitely take the under.

by anuj (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 7:45pm

The redskins have more home grown talent than you may realize. And outside of Michael Barrow (injury) and maybe Warrick Holdman, all of their free agent acquistions from the last two years (most of whom hadn't played for one of the current coaches) played very well last year.

On offense, they drafted Jon Jansen, Derrick Dockery, and Chris Sameuls--all starters on their line and Jim Molinaro who is a backup tackle. Among their tight ends and h-backs, they drafted starters Chris Cooley, Robert Royal, and I think they signed the undrafted Mike Sellers in 1999. He left and played with Cleveland for one year and then played in the CFL for a few years before Gibbs brought him back to Washington. Among running backs, they drafted Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright, and Nemo Broughton (who was on IR this year). Add in Taylor Jakobs, Patrick Ramsey and Jason Cambell and that's thirteen (twelve who were active this year) guys on offense with five starters that were drafted by Washington.
They also brought in Casey Rabach, Clinton Portis, Mark Brunell, Santana Moss, and David Patten none of whom had played for a current coach to my knowledge. And all but Patten had a good if not great year in 2005.

On defense, they drafted Lavar Arrington, Sean Taylor, and Carlos Rogers. They also gave (and developed) Lemar Marshall, Ryan Clark, Nic Clemons, Ryan Boschetti, and Chris Clemons their first serious shot at playing in the NFL. In the last two years, the coaches have also brought in Shawn Springs, Cornelious Griffin, Michael Barrow, Demetric Evans, Khary Campbell, and Marcus Washington that I don't think any of the coaches had coached. Michael Barrow was the only one that disappointed and that was due to injury.

Walt Harris, Omar Stoutmire, Joe Salavea, Philip Daniels, Warrick Holdman and Pierson Prioleau were brought and had played for their coaches in the past.

by vincent garbonzo (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 8:52pm

re 29:

You named every back-up player on the skins, but that does nothing to change the fact that only 5/11 starters on both offense and defense are home-grown -- this points to an abysmal record in the draft. Who cares if Taylor Jacobs was the fourth receiver on a team with only two healthy wide receivers? He's still a home grown back up and a bust.

You can point to Sellers, but Cerrato had no role in signing him initially if we're making that argument.

Also, Dewayne Walker, the Skins secondary coach worked w/ Griffin in NY, and Williams coached Barrow for years in Tennesee.

On the offensive side of the ball, I'd argue that from a value perspective Portis and Brunell are a bit shaky. Remember that in a year or two, the Skins will need to eat a 5+mm cap hit to cut him.