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Redskins Looked Below the Radar

By Mike Wise
Sunday, February 10, 2008

There are processes of elimination and processes of desperation. Jim Zorn, lucky guy, today embodies that last-ditch plea at closing time. He was plucked after dark by people who were too fickle to begin with, and now must pretend they had Joe Gibbs-like conviction all along.

Their options dwindling to retreads and high-maintenance guys with control issues -- really, after every decent candidate left the prom with someone else -- owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato hired a virtual newbie to succeed the most important person in franchise history.

In the end, Bill Cowher and Pete Carroll merely were radio fodder. Jim Fassel, who once took a New York Giants team to the Super Bowl and seemed on the precipice of getting the job, did not turn out to be life-partner material after all.

Zorn, who took Al Saunders's job on Jan. 25-- becoming an offensive coordinator for the first time in his NFL career -- was the stunning pick for the top job last night.

Never let it be said again that Snyder won't promote a mailroom clerk to CEO. The Horatio Alger character just got a headset.

The announcement of such a below-the-radar candidate, which interestingly came on a Saturday (the same slow-news day on which Gregg Williams got his walking papers), had this shock value attached to it -- as if a caper had been solved by Shaggy and Scooby.

Zoinks, it's Zorn!

Gibbs's gig was filled by an ex-Seahawks quarterback whose greatest feat was putting Steve Largent in the Hall of Fame. When Gibbs was leading Washington to Lombardi trophies, Zorn was moonlighting in the Canadian Football League and coaching quarterbacks at Boise State.

It's nice of the organization to remind everyone that Andy Reid was once also promoted from a position coach to head coach.

But Zorn might be the most out-of-the-box Redskins head coaching hire since an anonymous offensive wizard in San Diego was plucked from obscurity by Bobby Beathard in 1981 -- when coordinators didn't have cult followings and $2 million-a-year deals.

Before he's portrayed as Everybody's Eighth Choice, Jim Zorn could turn out to be Cerrato's Joe Gibbs. In his first genuine decision as the team's executive vice president of football operations, there is real potential for symmetry here.

Like Gibbs, Zorn is principled, passionate and extremely candid. Zorn is said to have no fraud in him and plenty of authenticity. He says what's on his mind, which might endear him to the fan base but (now that Gibbs's spell has worn off of Snyder) might drive his perception-driven employers up the wall.

In a locker room with heavy religious influence, which grew exponentially after Sean Taylor's death more than two months ago, Zorn, like Gibbs, is an evangelical Christian. His even-keeled temperament could be the bridge needed to connect with many skeptical players, who still want to know why Gregg Williams was done so wrong.

When it comes down to it, Zorn is Diet Joe. He's Gibbs Zero -- all the pressure without half the r¿sum¿.

This is also further investment in Jason Campbell, who now has a coach intimately familiar with the quarterback position to take the next step.

I've said for a long time that Snyder and the entire organization needed to finally trust their own judgment, to stop being so concerned about what others thought. They needed to validate their own talent instead of letting some venomous Internet message board -- and a media infatuated with the big name -- validate it for them.

I just didn't think they'd take it this far.

Fassel seemed like the guy all along, if only because he appeared to be the only candidate who had signed off on the hiring of Zorn to lead the offense and Greg Blache to take over Williams's job as defensive coordinator.

The thinking from the Redskins' perspective was supposed to work like this: gain some distance from the stench of how Williams was milked for his knowledge -- and then discarded like a practice squad call-up. Let the angry caravan that didn't originally want Fassel pass and name Gentleman Jim sometime this week.

It's not that the candidates whom Snyder courted didn't have a shot. But in a year of slim pickings in the super-coach business -- Cowher and Carroll preferred to wait another day -- there was not much left to choose from. Brian Billick, sadly enough, was beginning to sound good.

And then, completely unexpectedly, came Zorn. Who knew? However qualified he is, however right a decision he may turn out to be, it doesn't change how bizarre and fouled-up much of the entire search has appeared from the outside.

Jim Zorn? He was what resulted from Snyder's clandestine cross-country flights aboard Redskin One? The subterfuge? The real mystery candidate who somehow outshone a very capable Ron Meeks, a hungry-to-get-back-in-the-game Fassel and Steve Mariucci, who wants to be remembered for something other than Detroit?

Wow. Beyond Mrs. Zorn, who imagined this?

Look, Zorn might be something as a head coach, that rare out-of-left-field hire that pays incredible dividends. But today, a month after Gibbs stepped down and launched a cloak-and-dagger search, there is no other way to look at his hiring.

It was closing time, time to pick someone who could make up for all the rejection Steve Spagnuolo might have caused. Maybe this isn't settling for crumbs when the Redskins could have had the whole buffet. But today, Jim Zorn looks like a fall-back guy who is going to have to work extra hard over the next year not to be Snyder's fall guy.

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