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Pro And Con On Jim Haslett, The Bill Belichick Of The UFL

Posted by Matt Terl on January 15, 2010 – 4:20 pm

The Redskins named Jim Haslett their defensive coordinator today, confirming a move that’s been rumored for a few days now, and filling a position that opened when Greg Blache retired.

Haslett coached the UFL’s Florida Tuskers to an undefeated season and a loss in the championship game last year, which pretty much makes him the Bill Belichick of the UFL. (It also means that he fills an interesting parenthetical niche as the second guy the Redskins have signed who was involved with that UFL Championship game — mid-season replacement kicker Graham Gano kicked the gamewinning field goal to beat Haslett’s Tuskers.)

And he has NFL cred as well. He was the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints in 1996, the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1997-99, and the St. Louis Rams in 2006, 2007 and for the first four games of 2008 before being named interim head coach in St. Louis. (And beating the Redskins the following Sunday, in fact.)

He played in the NFL as well, as linebacker for the Buffalo Bills, where he won defensive rookie of the year in 1979 and went to the Pro Bowl in 1980. The picture above — Haslett stopping Tony Dorsett for a short gain — is really all the backstory I need to embrace the guy as a Redskins coach. But not everyone agrees with me on that.
On his Redskins blog The Om Field, the eponymous Om is less than enthused by the hiring.

Not really sure why, but I have never much cared for Haslett. Something about the guy has just always rubbed me the wrong way.

So … trying to rise above such pettiness, I dug into his record as a defensive coordinator in the NFL real quick, to be sure I wasn’t cutting off my nose to spite my face (whatever the hell that old saw means). Can’t be letting vague personal get in the way of potential for success after all.

The defensive numbers are … less-than-optimal, let’s say. Haslett’s defenses in Pittsburgh slipped noticeably in the rankings from the time he took over, from 2nd before he got there to 6th and then to 12th in the league. And that’s certainly less-than-ideal. (This would be the “con” perspective, in case you hadn’t guessed.)

But here’s the thing: the defense in Washington has been ranked well numerically the last couple of years, but that ranking never seemed to be fully reflected on the field. If you’re being honest with yourself, what do you picture when you picture the 2009 Redskins pass defense, for example?

Do you think of it as the 8th ranked pass defense in the NFL (which it was), or do you think of the defensive secondary playing ten yards off the line of scrimmage on a third-and-8? Or of Tony Romo passing the Cowboys down the field to the game winning touchdown? Based on my emails and what I see on Twitter, I suspect that most of you think of something more like those second things.

So rankings are meaningless. Fine. But does that actually address the concerns Om expresses about Haslett?

Yes, actually, according to ESPN.com’s Matt Mosley:

Haslett, a former NFL linebacker, has an outstanding reputation as a defensive coordinator in the league and you can guarantee that he’ll field a more aggressive unit than Greg Blache featured the past two seasons. Redskins fans clung to stats that showed they were a top-10 defense on Blache’s watch, but this unit didn’t cause enough turnovers and never really took over games.

(That’s the “pro” perspective.)

Honestly, I’d rather see a more aggressive defense — one that gets takeaways and (even more) sacks and tried to assert its will on an opponent — even if it means giving up the occasional big play. Because, really, the defense seemed to be doing that anyhow last year, without the aggressive part.

The best thing I’ve heard about Haslett, though, has just been the general gossip on the guy, which goes something like this: he’s not rigid, he’s not attached to a particular system, and he’s very good at putting his players in position to take advantage of their natural abilities. If that’s accurate, it could help any number of players on the defense — and make at least one grouchy defensive tackle much happier.

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