Columnist Jeff Gordon
(E-mail a "Letter to Gordo")
The Redskins were paying associate head coach/offense Al Saunders
head-coaching dollars. They were doing the same for defensive boss Gregg Williams.
One of them figured to succeed Joe Gibbs
as head coach in Washington, once the legendary Gibbs retired for a second time.
But it didn’t play out that way. When Gibbs bowed out somewhat unexpectedly -– citing family reasons -– Redskins owner Dan Snyder
went a different direction.
Williams interviewed for the head-coaching job but didn’t get it. And Saunders got the axe.
What went wrong for Al? He developed a huge playbook for the Redskins, but didn’t get to use much of it. His quarterbacks had limitations (too old, too young, not good enough) and Gibbs is famously conservative.
Back in his earlier days in Washington, Joe was content to run the “counter-trey” play over and over again for John Riggins
and George Rogers
. And when the offense sputtered under Saunders, Gibbs decided to return to those roots. http://a248.e.akamai.net/7/800/1129/...ault/empty.gif
of the Washington Post summed up what went wrong for Al: “He'd been walking on thin ice ever since the day a team employee asked how the players were grasping the offense and Saunders replied, ‘The players aren't the problem.’ Regardless of whether he believed his hands were tied by Gibbs's grind-it-out ways, Saunders' steadfast thinking that the personnel had to adapt to him -- not Al to them -- was clearly part of his undoing.”
Saunders’ availability was good news for the beleaguered Rams organization, which immediately made a play on him. Was it John Shaw’s
idea to go after him? Jay Zygmunt’s
idea? Scott Linehan’s
That part doesn’t matter. What matters is getting Saunders in here and turning him loose on the moribund offense.
If the Rams are able to bring him back -– and all signs were still positive Tuesday -– this changes everything.
Saunders comes from the Don Coryell
Coaching Tree. He has head coaching experience, with the Chargers. Dick Vermeil
brought him to the Rams. He worked hand-in-hand with offensive guru Mike Martz.
He would have instant credibility with the Rams’ skilled players. Saunders helped construct the full-tilt offense known as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Torry Holt
would love to have him back. Isaac Bruce
might be willing to rework his deal to play for Saunders again.
As we all know, the Rams lost hope in 2007. While stumbling to a 3-13 finish, the team became resigned to failure. Injuries triggered this collapse, but in the Final Days the season got ugly.
Quarterback Marc Bulger
rolled his eyes at head coach Linehan. Running back Steven Jackson
screamed at him. Rams players didn’t full-scale mutiny, but the unrest was boiling over.
Linehan has been given the final year of his contract to turn this around. Nothing about his ’07 coaching performance generates optimism for 2008, so significant change is needed.
Saunders would bring hope. Like defensive coordinator Jim Haslett,
he possesses strong leadership ability -– a quality this football operation badly needs.
He can adapt to his personnel. He ran a power running game in Kansas City and Washington, so he would know how to maximize Jackson. He could reinvigorate the Rams offense without making Linehan totally uncomfortable.
We assume he would get plenty of freedom to reconfigure the offense. If he didn’t, why would he come here? He can definitely afford to wait for a great opportunity.
And he doesn’t want to repeat the problems he had in Washington, where he believed -– incorrectly, as it turned out -– that he had complete freedom to remake the Redskins offense.
This offseason is enormous for Linehan and the current front office. With Chip Rosenbloom
taking control of the franchise, long-term change is inevitable.
The folks still working at Rams Park have to make big things happen quickly. Hiring Saunders could be a great start.