By Jason Reid and Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 10, 2008
In a stunning end to the Washington Redskins' coaching search, recently hired offensive coordinator Jim Zorn will be introduced today as the team's next head coach.
Zorn, 54, is a former Seattle Seahawks quarterback and assistant coach. He never has been a head coach and never had been an offensive coordinator in the NFL before the Redskins gave him that job on Jan. 25.
"I've always dreamed of being a head coach with a franchise rich in tradition like the Redskins," Zorn said in a statement. "As a player who had to fight Redskins teams at RFK as well as at our home field, I know about the history of this franchise as well as the passion of its fans. I won't let you down."
Former players under Zorn consider him to be a patient teacher who handles high-pressure situations well. They say he shares some similarities with Joe Gibbs, who stepped down as Redskins coach and team president on Jan. 8, including being devoutly religious.
"He reminds me of a young Joe Gibbs," Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "When you say Joe Gibbs, people immediately respect him and treat him as a great guy. Jim is like that. People respect him."
Redskins players reached last night expressed relief that the search, which dragged on for 32 days and had been shrouded in secrecy, finally ended. The team seriously considered about half a dozen candidates, most notably former assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, the favorite of Redskins players; former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel; and Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who directed the stunning upset of the previously undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
"I was very surprised, I think a lot of guys were, that they hired Coach Zorn," lineman Lorenzo Alexander said. "We knew he was going to be here as the offensive coordinator, but I don't think a lot of people saw this coming. The good thing is that we finally have some direction now that we know who our head coach is going to be. Coach Zorn hasn't been a head coach or a coordinator, but he comes in with a reputation of a guy who knows what he's doing. We can kind of move on after that whirlwind."
Williams -- who after being snubbed by the Redskins, left to run the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense -- and Fassel were considered leading candidates at various points after long interviews with owner Daniel Snyder. Indianapolis Colts assistant coach Ron Meeks interviewed multiple times for the position and former San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci, who now works for the NFL Network, also was among the candidates Snyder met with recently. But Snyder had few choices left after waiting so long to make a decision in an offseason when there were few high-profile candidates interested in the job.
Earlier in the process, Seahawks assistant Jim Mora withdrew from the process and was given a five-year contract extension that also ensures he will become Seattle's next head coach when Mike Holmgren steps down.
The decision to bypass Williams infuriated fans, who filled Internet message boards, even the one backed by the team, with angry posts. The outcry grew louder when Fassel became a leading candidate, fans wanting no part of a coach who had been fired by the Baltimore Ravens as their offensive coordinator.
Multiple days of interviews early this week with Spagnuolo resulted in him signing a new three-year contract with the Giants hours after returning home. Spagnuolo withdrew on Wednesday.
Of the remaining candidates, Fassel was the only one to get a phone call that day from the Redskins reiterating their interest and telling him to expect further contact, league sources said. On Thursday, none of the candidates was contacted, according to league sources, but observers at Redskins Park began to notice that Zorn was not at the facility as often as expected and had begun spending more time with Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, executive vice president of football operations. That led some in the organization to believe he was now interviewing to become the head coach.
By yesterday, negotiations with Zorn intensified and that evening one of Snyder's planes was sent to Seattle to pick up Zorn's family. The Redskins also contacted Fassel yesterday, telling him further communication would be coming today, league sources said.
"We're proud that our search was diligent, thorough, and resulted in today's announcement," Snyder said in a statement. "Jim's track record and reputation as a player, great teacher, and as a coach makes us confident that they will translate to success for the Redskins."
Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs was a former draft pick and star for the Seahawks and knew Zorn from his time in Seattle. Springs was enthusiastic about the possibilities but expects significant change in the offense.
"The offensive guys better be ready, I'm telling you it's going to be different from what they're used to," Springs said. "The way they ran practice and the whole philosophy of thinking is entirely differently. This system is all about speed, the quickness, the timing getting in and out of practice, from want I remember."
Ironically, Fassel and Williams both told the Redskins that Zorn, who signed a five-year contract with the team, would be their top choice to be offensive coordinator if they got the head coaching job, sources said.
"I definitely think this can be a good thing for the offense, a real good thing, now that we know Jim is going to be our next coach," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "The defense was already taken care of when they moved up coach [Greg] Blache to take over. He was an in-house guy, and the right guy, and Jim is a good hire, too. He's from the outside, but he's coming in with a good reputation."
Zorn developed a reputation of being an effective tutor of quarterbacks while a position coach with the Seahawks. Zorn was initially hired to replace play-caller Al Saunders as offensive coordinator. It is unclear at the moment who will be the offensive coordinator. Zorn was expected to hold that job and be the quarterbacks coach responsible for molding young quarterback Jason Campbell, whose development is a priority for the organization.
Randle El expected Campbell to benefit from Zorn's direction as the play-caller, and having Zorn as the head coach could be even better for Campbell.
"Jason still needs that guy, the quarterbacks coach in his corner, and [Zorn] has been that guy for other quarterbacks," Randle El said. "Now he's going to be the head coach here. I think that could be big for Jason."
The two met before the Redskins lost to the Seahawks on Jan. 5.
"I introduced Jim to Jason Campbell and now I kind of regret it," Hasselbeck said. "It was before the playoff game in Seattle and Jim was standing there with me and I introduced them. They hit it off. They just stood there and talked and talked. Usually when I'm warming up Jim is there talking to me, but instead he was standing there with Jason."
Zorn spent seven seasons as quarterbacks coach for the Seahawks under Holmgren, where they shared in playoff trips for the past five seasons and one Super Bowl appearance. His elevation to head coach adds his name to Holmgren's "family tree" of quarterback coaches who moved into the head coaching ranks, joining Andy Reid (directly from quarterbacks coach to Eagles head coach), Jon Gruden, Marty Mornhinweg and Mariucci.
Springs said Zorn's experience under Holmgren should serve him well.
"I like the fact that Coach Holmgren and his staff were extremely confident and extremely well organized," Springs said. "I learned so much from being [around] those offensive coaches and Jim's been around enough good people that he'll bring in some good guys with experience, and I personally think he can do some things. I know he worked his quarterbacks hard, but we'll have to see what kind of coach he is."
The team has scheduled a 3 p.m. news conference today at Redskins Park to introduce Zorn.
Staff writer Les Carpenter contributed to this report.