Window closing for Donatell to meet with Browns

Window closing for Donatell to meet with Browns

FLOWERY BRANCH - One day after hiring Phil Savage as general manager, the Cleveland Browns informally contacted the Falcons to possibly interview Atlanta defensive coordinator Ed Donatell for their head coaching vacancy.

Falcons president and general manager Rich McKay did not anticipate that the Browns would fax in a request to meet with Ed Donatell before today's deadline.

Beginning Sunday, NFL policy states that teams searching for a new head coach must wait for the season to end before they can interview assistants currently employed by the four teams that earned first-round playoff byes - Atlanta, Philadelphia, New England and Pittsburgh.

Only two clubs, Cleveland and San Francisco, have openings. The Browns interviewed Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress on Tuesday, but Cleveland owner Randy Lerner and president John Collins wanted to hire a GM first. With Savage on board, Lerner and Collins met Thursday with Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

Though Lerner, Collins and Savage planned to interview Pittsburgh offensive line coach Russ Grimm today, they also might ask to speak with Donatell, but McKay doubted that would happen.

"I'd love to see Ed get his name out there because I think he deserves it," McKay said. "But this late in the week, I just don't see it happening right now."

McKay likewise acknowledged that the 49ers had not requested an interview with Falcons offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who worked in San Francisco as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator the last nine years.

Donatell, whose defense improved dramatically in his first year with Atlanta, would like to be a head coach some day, but at 47 he likely will have another opportunity. A native of Akron, Ohio, Donatell played defensive back at Glenville (W.Va.) State before earning a master's degree in administration at Kent State and working as a gradate assistant there in 1979-80.

He made college stops at Washington, Pacific, Idaho and Cal-State Fullerton. Donatell's first NFL job came as secondary coach of the New York Jets (1990-94). After working in the same capacity for Denver as the Broncos won two Super Bowls from 1995-99, Donatell took his first job as a coordinator when Green Bay hired him in 2000.

Donatell stayed with the Packers through last season.

HARD HITS: Cornerback Jason Webster and linebacker Demorrio Williams laid two of the hardest hits in practice Friday. Donatell liked the intensity of the two-hour workout.

"(Head coach) Jim (Mora) put 'em in pads for the second straight day to send a message that we're serious about filling our gaps and rushing the passer, doing the fundamental things that are harder to do in sweats," Donatell said. "That's what we were looking for today."

HE'S BACK: Quarterback Michael Vick returned to practice after missing Thursday with stomach flu.

"He looked really, really sharp," position coach Mike Johnson said. "We couldn't be happier with his work today."

Vick, selected last month to his second Pro Bowl, skipped a game two weeks ago at New Orleans because of a bruised shoulder. He started last week at Seattle and directed two scoring drives in three possessions.

Atlanta had a 10-point lead late in the second quarter when Mora replaced Vick with rookie Matt Schaub. The Seahawks won 28-26.

The Falcons (11-5) are off until next Saturday night, when they will face Green Bay, St. Louis or Seattle in the second round of the NFC playoffs.

Vick led the NFL with 7.5 yards per carry and rushed for 902 overall, the third-best season for a quarterback.

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