Regarded as one of the most accomplished and innovative offensive minds in all of football with experience as both a head coach and offensive coordinator, Al Saunders is in his second season directing the Washington Redskins offense.
In just his first season at the helm the Redskins offense managed the type of impressive numbers in many categories that has been commonplace for a Saunders' led offensive unit.
The team finished fourth in the League in rushing, averaging 138.5 yards a game and with a League leading 41 carries of 10 yards or more. And while the ground attack was grinding out the yards, the offensive line was protecting the quarterback allowing just 19 sacks on the season (third fewest in NFL) and protecting the football with just 17 total giveaways on the year (second fewest in NFL and second fewest in team history).
In fact, the Redskins offense ranked in the top 10 of several categories in 2006, including five-minute touchdown drives (3rd), plus-ten yard runs (3rd), plus-four yard rushing (4th) rushing first downs per game (4th), plus-40 yard pass plays (5th), 10-play touchdown drives (5th), average yards on first down (7th), yards per rush (8th), and yards per play (10th) to name just a few.
Prior to joining the Redskins, Saunders finished his 15th season coaching with the Kansas City Chiefs, which included five years as Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator under Head Coach Dick Vermeil. He also coached with Vermeil in St. Louis, leading their offense to a Super Bowl title in 2000.
He previously served a 10-year stint with the Chiefs as Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receivers Coach under then head coach Marty Schottenheimer from 1989-98. During that 10-year span, he was part of a Chiefs' coaching staff which helped guide Kansas City to three AFC West titles and seven playoff berths.
In total, Saunders has been associated with 11 postseason appearances, five division crowns and a World Championship during his NFL tenure. Saunders was named USA Today's NFL Offensive Coach of the Year in 2005.
In the five seasons with the Chiefs prior to joining the Redskins, Saunders presided over the NFL's most prolific scoring offense. During that span, no NFL team registered more points than the 2,157 accumulated by the Chiefs. In 2004, Kansas City scored 30+ points in five consecutive games, a first in team history.
The Chiefs led the NFL in scoring in both 2002 and 2003, becoming the first AFC team to lead the league in scoring in back-to-back seasons since San Diego in 1981-82. During the 2003 season alone, the Chiefs piled up a franchise-record 484 points after registering a league-high 467 points in 2002.
Dating back to 2001 when Saunders took over as offensive coordinator, the Chiefs ranked first in the NFL with 30,470 net yards of total offense (379.3 ypg). The Chiefs oppulent numbers during that 80-game span from 2001-05 are also the league's best in the following seven categories: offensive TDs (262), rushing TDs (131), total first downs (1,760), Red Zone TD percentage (64.1%), runs of 10+ yards (312), passing yards per attempt (7.83) and passing yards per completion (12.61).
In 2005, Saunders led the Kansas City Chiefs offense to a number one overall ranking in the NFL for the second consecutive season. The most explosive offense in the NFL led the League with 70 total plays over 20 yards including an NFL-high 15 touchdowns. Kansas City also led the league in yards per play (5.85) and topped the NFL in eight other offensive categories.
In 2004, the Chiefs led the NFL in total offense for the first time in franchise history, accumulating a franchise-record 6,695 yards or an average of 418.4 yards per game. In the process, Kansas City established an NFL record with 398 first downs, breaking the previous mark of 387 set by the ?84 Dolphins.
The Chiefs also led the NFL in 24 different offensive categories, while tying or breaking 18 different single-season team records, including marks for offensive TDs (58), third-down conversion percentage (47.2 percent), most games with 400 or more yards of total offense (nine) and most consecutive 400-yard games (five).
Under Saunders, the Chiefs received unprecedented production in the running game. Kansas City tied a 42-year-old NFL record by registering 63 rushing TDs over the 2003-04 seasons, a two-season mark originally established by the 1961-'62 Packers. The 2004 Chiefs owned the distinction of becoming the first team in League history to have three different running backs produce a 150-yard rushing game in a season and were the only NFL squad ever to rush for eight TDs in a League contest.
While the Chiefs ground exploits are well-documented, Kansas City has also developed a prolific passing attack under Saunders' direction. In 2004, Trent Green boasted a franchise-high eight 300-yard passing games as Kansas City rolled up franchise records with 370 completions and 4,406 net passing yards. Kansas City also established team records with 228 passing first downs and an overall 65.95 completion percentage.
Meanwhile, Tony Gonzalez shattered the NFL single-season receiving record for tight ends with 102 catches. Green finished the 2005 season with a QB rating above 90 for the fourth consecutive year, joining Brett Favre and Steve Young as the only three quarterbacks in NFL history to do so.
Record-breaking numbers were the norm for Kansas City's offense under Saunders. In 2003, the Chiefs led the league in 18 different offensive categories, including virtually every Red Zone category. That season, Kansas City owned NFL-high marks in Red Zone points (324), Red Zone TDs (42), Red Zone scoring percentage (98.1) and Red Zone TD percentage (77.8).
In 2002, Kansas City broke or tied 22 single-season team offensive records. Most notably, Kansas City turned the ball over a franchise-low 15 times (non-strike season) and broke two long-standing NFL records by fumbling just seven times and losing only two of those fumbles. The Chiefs averaged 148.6 rushing yards per game to rank third in the NFL as Priest Holmes finished the year with 2,287 yards from scrimmage, 1,615 ground yards and nine 100-yard rushing games, all figures which established team single-season records.
Prior to rejoining the Chiefs, Saunders spent two seasons with St. Louis where he coached wide receivers and also served as associate head coach in 2000. During that two-year span, Saunders helped revitalize a Rams offense as the club steamrolled its way to a 13-3 regular season record in ?99 and a triumph over Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV.
The Rams paced the NFL that season with 6,412 yards of total offense, good for a remarkable 400.8 yards-per-game average. St. Louis also led the league in passing offense with 272.1 yards per game and topped the NFL in scoring by averaging 32.9 points per contest. The 526 total points amassed by the ?99 squad ranked as the fourth-highest tally in NFL annals.
In 2000, Saunders was part of a St. Louis coaching staff which helped the Rams score 540 points (33.8 ppg), the third-highest single-season total in NFL history. The club also led the league with an NFL-record 442.2 yards of total offense per game and paced the NFL in passing offense (327.0 ypg) for the second straight season, setting another league record in the process. St. Louis amassed 7,075 yards of total offense and 5,232 passing yards, breaking the previous marks established by the 1984 Miami Dolphins.
Before initially joining the Chiefs in 1989, Saunders served as San Diego's head coach from the midpoint of the 1986 season through the 1988 campaign. In his first full season as head coach in 1987 he guided the Chargers to an 8-7 record, a four-game improvement from the club's 4-12 finish the previous year. That 8-7 record represented San Diego's first winning season in five years and included a perfect 3-0 record in replacement games, a feat matched only by Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs that season.
Under Saunders' direction in 1987, the Chargers also won eight straight games, the club's longest winning streak in 26 seasons. He joined San Diego in 1983 as receivers coach in what was one of the most exiting and prolific pass offenses in NFL history. Behind Hall of Fame QB Dan Fouts and the Chargers electrifying receiving corps coached by Saunders, San Diego led the league in passing and total offense in both 1983 and 1985.
Saunders began his career as a graduate assistant under John McKay at Southern California (1970-71). He then coached receivers at Missouri (1972) before heading the offensive backfield at Utah State (1973-75). He was an assistant head coach, quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at California from 1976-81, leading an offense that set 32 national, conference and school records. In 1982, he served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Johnny Majors at the University of Tennessee.
Born in London, England, he became one of only four foreign-born head coaches in NFL history after becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1960. A three-year starter, team captain and Academic All-America pick as a defensive back at San Jose State (1966-68), Saunders also played wide receiver for the Spartans and is enshrined in the school's Hall of Fame. As a recipient of California's State Graduate Fellowship for Academic Excellence, he earned a Master's degree in education from Stanford and was a doctoral candidate in athletic administration and sports management at USC.
Saunders has been recognized in Who's Who in America and was awarded California's prestigious Golden State Award for community leadership and service in 1989.
A former All-America swimmer and national record holder, Saunders is also an accomplished distance runner. In 1996, he competed in the Kansas City and Los Angeles Marathons, as well as the 100th running of the Boston Marathon and was also crowned the Road Runners Club of America's (R.R.C.A.) Masters 5K National Champion.
He is married to Karen and they have two sons, Bob and Joe, and one daughter, Kori.