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Adding Saunders to Staff a Real Coup


The most exciting of all Super Bowls was in January 2000, the one that pitted St. Louis and Tennessee in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. In that Super Bowl XXXIV, the Rams squeezed out a 23-16 win when St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones tackled Tennessee wide receiver Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line as time expired.

Coaching wide receivers that season for the Rams was Al Saunders.

Tennessee's defensive coordinator was Gregg Williams.

Saunders and Williams are on the same mission now, trying to help Joe Gibbs lift the Redskins even deeper into the playoffs. Saunders was introduced as the Redskins' associate head coach-offense on Monday afternoon.

The next step up the ladder for the Redskins, who are just off their first postseason appearance since 1999, would be to win the NFC East and garner a home-field playoff game.

The way things have shaped up in terms of off-season coaching coaches, they may have already taken key steps toward those goals.

So far, there have been three highly significant coaching changes in the division. Andy Reid and the Eagles and Bill Parcells and the Cowboys have lost key assistants while Joe Gibbs and the Redskins have come up with a real coup.

Earlier this month, Reid saw offensive coordinator Brad Childress move on to become head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. In the meantime, Parcells lost assistant head coach/passing game coordinator Sean Payton to the New Orleans Saints, where he's become head coach. Parcells also lost linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, who will become the Saints' defensive coordinator.

Of course, the Redskins will be keeping an eye on Childress, Payton and Gibbs, given that both Minnesota and New Orleans are on Washington's 2006 schedule.

The point is that while the Eagles and Cowboys have lost key members of their respective coaching staffs, the Redskins have added a celebrated coach to fill the team's most vital need.

With the addition of Al Saunders, Gibbs has brought in one of the NFL's sharpest offensive minds. Working alongside Gibbs, Saunders should be to the Redskins' offense of 2006 what Williams has been for the Redskins' defense the past two seasons.

It's quite evident, judging simply from their two 2005 playoff games, that the Redskins' need to invigorate their offense.

They struggled with just 120 yards of total offense in their 17-10 Wild Card win at Tampa Bay. In their season-ending 20-10 setback at Seattle, the Redskins lacked spark offensively, even after being provided with a golden opportunity when league MVP Shaun Alexander of the Seahawks was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with a concussion.

Into such a backdrop steps Saunders, who has been in the NFL for 23 years, the most recent five in Kansas City for Dick Vermeil. Saunders was assistant head coach and offensive coordinator for the NFL's most prolific offense, with front line players such as Tony Gonzalez, Trent Green, Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson and Willie Roaf.

Saunders, who was born in London and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1960, is an accomplished long distance swimmer and marathoner. He grew up in the Bay Area and went on to play defensive back and wide receiver at San Jose State.

After college coaching stints at Southern Cal, Missouri, Utah State, Cal and Tennessee, Saunders joined the NFL in 1983 as receivers coach for the San Diego Chargers. With Dan Fouts at quarterback and Kellen Winslow, Sr., Charlie Joyner and Wes Chandler among his options, San Diego led the league in passing and total offense in 1983 and 1985. Saunders replaced Don Coryell as Chargers head coach during the 1986 season and went 17-22 in two-plus seasons.

Subsequently, he's become widely recognized as one of the NFL's most innovative offensive minds during his two stops at Kansas City and one at St. Louis. He plans to keep that momentum going next season with the Redskins.

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