Redskins Hire Zorn As Offensive Chief

By Jason Reid Jason La Canfora
Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Washington Redskins hired Seattle Seahawks assistant Jim Zorn as offensive coordinator, league sources said, making a major addition to their coaching staff before deciding on a replacement for former head coach Joe Gibbs.

Zorn, who coached Seattle's quarterbacks, agreed to a three-year deal. Zorn could not be reached for comment but sources said he took the job with the expectation that former Giants coach Jim Fassel, Washington assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams or Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo would become head coach.

Williams said he was considering withdrawing from consideration for the team's head coaching position late last night amid published and radio reports citing team sources that he was no longer a candidate. As of 11:30 last night, owner Daniel Snyder and executive vice president Vinny Cerrato had not contacted Williams to notify him of any change in his status, and Williams has had no contact with them since his last interview 10 days ago.

When asked if he would withdraw from consideration given the drawn-out process and recent developments, Williams said: "I really haven't even had time to think about it, but it's something I will consider. I want to discuss it with my players and coaching staff, and at this point I haven't had a chance to contact anyone yet."

Williams, who has one year left on his contract, said reports that he had made disparaging remarks about Gibbs during his interview were untrue.

"I haven't heard a thing from [Snyder and Cerrato], but I can assure you that Joe Gibbs is one of the best people I have ever been around in the world and one of my favorite people to ever be around. I came here because Joe Gibbs asked me and I feel honored to work with Joe Gibbs. . . . I can't believe anyone would even come close to suggesting that I would ever say anything inflammatory or derogatory about Joe Gibbs. He's my idol."

A source close to Williams indicated this morning that he expects the coach to withdraw.

According to sources, Williams and Fassel, the only two candidates to interview multiple times to replace Gibbs, have told the Redskins that Zorn would be their top choice to be offensive coordinator. Under league rules, the Redskins cannot interview Spagnuolo until after the Super Bowl.

A Redskins spokesman said the team would have no comment. Naming an offensive coordinator before the head coach is not unprecedented. The Dallas Cowboys did the same thing when they hired offensive coordinator Jason Garrett before head coach Wade Phillips last year.

Attempts to contact Al Saunders, who had one season remaining on a three-year contract as associate head coach-offense, were unsuccessful. But a source close to Saunders confirmed that the Redskins have told him he can interview with other teams and he does not believe he is welcome to return. League sources said that St. Louis has expressed interest in Saunders.

Word of Zorn's hiring comes a day after Gibbs called Redskins assistant coaches to tell them that the search for his replacement is likely to take several more weeks. One assistant said Gibbs did not tell them about Zorn's hiring, which likely affects the future of every coach on offense. "They haven't told us anything [about Zorn]," the Redskins assistant said. "I heard about it on the radio. I have no idea what it means for us."

Spagnuolo is a candidate, a league source said, in part because of his experience in the NFC East. The Redskins also are interested in interviewing New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after the Super Bowl.

During a meeting on Wednesday with Snyder and Cerrato, the team's executive vice president of football operations, Zorn was told that Williams, Fassel and Indianapolis Colts assistant Ron Meeks were the top candidates to replace Gibbs, said a source who spoke with Zorn.

Meanwhile, it appears Baltimore Ravens assistant Rex Ryan, a Fassel favorite, will remain defensive coordinator for new Ravens coach John Harbaugh, a source familiar with the situation said. The Ravens are determined to keep Ryan, who is popular with players, on the staff. Ryan and Harbaugh had another productive meeting yesterday, the source said.

With the Redskins, Zorn, who was eager for the chance to direct his own offense, is expected to run an aggressive passer-friendly version of the West Coast offense, said a league executive familiar with Zorn's philosophy. Zorn developed a reputation as an outstanding teacher while working with Matt Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace in Seattle, as well as with rookie Charlie Batch when Zorn was with Detroit. The development of young quarterback Jason Campbell is a top priority for the Redskins.

"He's very hands-on with his quarterbacks," said Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs, who played in Seattle while Zorn was on the coaching staff. "He's a real bright guy. Very sharp. And [Seahawks Pro Bowl quarterback] Matt [Hasselbeck] would tell you he's done a lot for his career. I think he'll be real good for Jason [Campbell]."

Another reason Zorn was willing to relocate to Washington is that he remains close to former Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent, a former Oklahoma congressman who lives in the Washington area.

Zorn's playing career began with the Seahawks in 1976, which was the franchise's first season, and he played nine seasons in Seattle. After leaving the Seahawks, Zorn continued his playing career with the Green Bay Packers (1985), the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers (1986) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1987). Zorn is among only eight players inducted into the Seahawks' Ring of Honor.

Zorn spent eight seasons coaching in the collegiate ranks. He spent two seasons (1995-96) as quarterbacks coach at the University of Minnesota after coordinating Utah State's offense from 1992 to '94. His first collegiate coaching job was as an offensive assistant/quarterbacks coach at Boise State from 1989 to '91.

Snyder and Cerrato soured on the offense after two seasons under Saunders, who is owed about $2.5 million in the final year of his three-year contract.

In Saunders's first season, the Redskins scored more than 22 points in only four games and finished ranked 20th in the NFL in scoring and 13th in total offense. This past season, the Redskins were 15th in total offense and 18th in scoring.

While with the Kansas City Chiefs, however, Saunders developed a reputation for being an innovative tactician, designing no-huddle plays that featured three- and four-receiver sets. For the first time in franchise history, the Chiefs in 2004 led the NFL in total offense. After Kansas City accomplished the feat again in 2005, Gibbs hired Saunders to modernize the Redskins' offense.

Saunders honed his pass-oriented offense under former Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, who was "very disappointed" the Redskins ousted his longtime friend. "I really can't believe it," Vermeil said. "I understand every situation is different . . . but sometimes people don't know what they don't know. Al Saunders is an outstanding football coach and an outstanding person."

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