WASHINGTON (AP) -The Washington Redskins fired assistants Gregg Williams and Al Saunders on Saturday, promoted Greg Blache to lead the team's defense and announced that a head coach would likely not be in place for at least another week.
The Redskins also formally announced the hiring of Jim Zorn, who agreed to a three-year deal Friday to lead the offense.
``The process of selecting a new head coach continues, although no hire is planned until after the Super Bowl so as not to distract from the championship game as well as to keep open all our options,'' owner Dan Snyder said in a statement, his first public comments on a coaching search that began more than two weeks ago.
``We are on track with our interviews,'' Snyder added. ``But in the interim we also are filling our coaching positions and re-signing several existing staff members.''
Williams' dismissal removes one of the early favorites to succeed Joe Gibbs, who resigned Jan. 8. Williams had been in charge of the Redskins defense for all four seasons under Gibbs and was popular among fans, but his confrontational style and poor track record at his previous head coaching stint with the Buffalo Bills did little to help his chances for the top job.
Williams met four times with Snyder to discuss the position, but it quickly became clear that the owner was more focused on other candidates, including former New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel and current Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Williams told The Washington Post on Friday night that he was considering withdrawing his name from consideration. He and Snyder met Saturday morning to part ways.
A person familiar with the selection process told The Associated Press that the Redskins have granted the St. Louis Rams permission to interview both Williams and Saunders for coordinator positions. The person said the Rams had to seek permission because, even though Williams and Saunders were told they were being dismissed, the team hasn't formally terminated their contracts. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject.
The person also said that Saunders, who ran the offense for the past two seasons, was never a candidate for the head coaching position. Saunders, like Williams, was considered a possible heir-apparent to Gibbs when he arrived in Washington, but he was never able to generate the type of consistent, high-yardage attack he had during his long stint as an offensive coordinator in Kansas City.
Saunders' fate was sealed when Zorn, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback coach since 2001, agreed to terms Friday.
A bigger surprise is the promotion of Blache, who has coached the defensive line and has held the title of defensive coordinator - in name only, because the job was actually Williams' - since 2004. Blache was previously the actual defensive coordinator for five seasons for the Chicago Bears.
``Greg Blache is an outstanding coach with deep experience. Players respond to him, and his co-workers respect him. He has our full confidence,'' Snyder said. ``We're counting on Jim to continue Jason Campbell's growth, while moving our offense forward.''
The moves mean that the new head coach - whoever he is - will find his top two assistants already in place when he takes over. Snyder expressed confidence in making the moves because both Zorn and Blache were highly regarded by the candidates he has interviewed.
``During our interviews with prospective head coaches we heard time and again how highly respected some of our 2007 assistant coaches were and who they would select to fill out their staffs,'' Snyder said. ``That intelligence is helping guide our hiring decisions.''
One current assistant whose job seems secure is special teams coach Danny Smith, who praised Zorn in the statement released by the team.
``I'm thrilled to be able to work with him again,'' said Smith, who was a coach with Zorn on the Detroit Lions staff in 1999 and 2000.
Meanwhile, Snyder will have to wait until Feb. 4 - the day after the Super Bowl - for a first chance to interview Spagnuolo and any other assistants working in the championship game. New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is also on Snyder's list of head coach candidates.
In addition to Fassel, who has met with Snyder on three occasions, the owner has interviewed Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

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