MOBILE, Ala. — The Washington Redskins ended their search for a defensive coordinator Tuesday by hiring Joe Barry after a failed attempt to lure San Francisco’s Vic Fangio to Washington.
Barry, who spent the past five seasons as a linebackers coach in San Diego, replaces Jim Haslett, with whom the team parted ways with Dec. 31 following a five-year stint capped by a 2014 campaign that was plagued by one blunder after another.
The Redskins opted for Barry when Fangio, who interviewed with Washington over the weekend, accepted the defensive coordinator position with the Chicago Bears. Roughly two hours later, Washington announced Barry as its pick.
Despite the interest in Fangio, Coach Jay Gruden insisted he was impressed with Barry, with whom he worked in Tampa Bay under his brother, Jon Gruden, from 2002 to 2006 before Barry departed for the defensive coordinator job in Detroit in 2007.
Gruden called Barry, 44, “the best fit” for the Redskins.
“He brings energy. Commitment to being great,” Gruden said after watching Senior Bowl practice at Ladd Peebles Stadium. “I like what he’s done in his career — how he’s progressed as a football coach… . Really have a great appreciation for what they’ve done in San Diego… . I know what kind of guy he is and what kind of energy he’s going to bring to the team.”
Barry has spent the past four seasons coaching the Chargers’ linebackers, and his only experience as a defensive coordinator came in 2007 and 2008 with the Lions.
Barry is described by fellow NFL coaches as an effective communicator and strong motivator. He doesn’t bring with him a strong track record as a defensive coordinator. His units in Detroit ranked last in the league both in yards and points allowed. Some league insiders say a talent-depleted roster had more to do with those poor rankings. Detroit went 0-16 in 2008.
The Lions cleaned house following that season, and Barry returned to Tampa Bay for one more season, working under Raheem Morris, who at the time served as head coach and defensive coordinator. Morris has coached the Redskins’ defensive backs since 2012.
But Gruden, whose defense bore its share of the blame for the Redskins’ 4-12 mark in 2014, said the lack of success in Detroit carried little weight.
“Different defense, different time,” Gruden said. “He was running a 4-3 over there and actually it was a great learning experience for him… . One thing we know is he can handle adversity. That’s important. He’s walking into a situation here where we’re going to have some adversity and I know he can handle it.”
Barry inherits a unit that surrendered 27.4 points a game (tied for 29th in the 32-team league) and allowed a 43 percent success rate on third downs (tied for 24th) and 8.2 yards per pass play (31st). The Redskins mustered only 19 takeaways (tied for 25th) and allowed an NFL-worst passer rating of 108.3.
Washington must replace both starting safeties, and has decisions to make about aging defensive linemen Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen, who along with Jason Hatcher all have high cap numbers for the coming year.
The Redskins have few long-term building blocks on defense, with linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Keenan Robinson and cornerback Bashaud Breeland standing out as the only consistent bright spots. Gruden believes Barry’s expertise will help further develop younger players like nose tackle Chris Baker and cornerback David Amerson, who have struggled with consistency.
Although impressed with Fangio, who led top-10 defenses in each of his four seasons at San Francisco, Gruden insisted the Redskins never offered him their job.
“We talked to Vic and we knew he had a lot of offers on the table,” Gruden said. “We just wanted to get him in and see what he was all about so he could see our situation, and he chose to go to Chicago.”
Gruden further elaborated: “We only offered, really, to Joe. Vic was kind of more of a meeting and see what kind of availability he had. He didn’t really say he was available. I think he had the decision made up in his mind. I thought it was important to get him down to D.C. and check it out see if there was a chance we would want him or if he would come here, and it didn’t work out.”
Gruden and Barry will spend the week evaluating talent at the Senior Bowl practices. When they return to Redskins Park next week, they will make decisions on the futures of the holdover defensive assistants, including Morris, linebackers coaches Brian Baker and Kirk Olivadotti and defensive line coach Jacob Burney.
On Tuesday, Barry received several congratulatory handshakes from acquaintances as he walked off the field following the South Team’s Senior Bowl practice. He declined to give an interview to a reporter as he rushed to the parking lot, but he acknowledged his excitement to join the Redskins.
“I’m fired up, man,” Barry said.