More Than Sizzle At Stake

Jim Zorn's tenure as the Washington Redskins' coach included unexpected highs and crushing lows.
By Michael Wilbon
Sunday, February 10, 2008

It didn't work out particularly well when Daniel Snyder went out and boldly hired Marty Schottenheimer and gave him control of the entire football team for a year. It certainly didn't work out particularly well when Snyder wooed the Ol' Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, out of Florida and the college ranks to come and coach the Redskins. And while the Washington Redskins have made two playoff appearances in the last three years, that's certainly not the extent of what Snyder envisioned when he brought Joe Gibbs back for The Sequel. In each of those cases it turned out that the hype far exceeded production.

Virtually every big-splash acquisition over the last seven years, whether it was a player or a coach, has turned out to be, well, overstated. A great many times Snyder has gone out and gotten exactly the guy he had in his sights, from Deion Sanders to Al Saunders, and watched it fall somewhere between disappointing and disaster. You cannot fault Snyder one bit for effort.

Nobody can ever accuse the Redskins' owner of doing anything halfway. Still, the top choices haven't produced top results.

And that brings me to Jim Zorn, newly and somewhat surprisingly now the head coach of the Redskins. Nothing the Redskins have done in Snyder's tenure has had less fanfare than the announcement of Zorn as coach.

It might be the best thing that's happened to the franchise in a long time. If any franchise could benefit from a hire with no hype, with no fanfare, with no overstatement about what he's going to do and how he's going to do it, it's the Washington Redskins.

Clearly, Zorn wasn't Snyder's first choice, and that's probably a good thing, too. If Jim Spagnuolo, the Giants' defensive coordinator and Super Bowl game-plan hero, had wanted the gig, he'd have been introduced as head coach, and trust me, it wouldn't have been at 6:30 on a Saturday night. If Bill Cowher had wanted to end his sabbatical after one season, Zorn would have been introduced to his new boss, and Cowher's introduction would have been treated at Redskins Park like the arrival of a deity. Even the hiring of Jim Fassel would have created a buzz simply because he's been to a Super Bowl, because he played on the big stage in New York.

People here had a reaction to Fassel -- and not a good one, since he coached the Giants. Nevertheless, it was a reaction. Zorn? My bet is 70 percent of the people who own season tickets to Redskins games have no idea who Zorn is. Even to people who follow pro football fairly closely, Zorn was the guy who threw to Steve Largent when Seattle's franchise was born, but was replaced by Dave Krieg by the time the Seahawks were any good.

What Zorn was doing was transitioning from player to coach. Boise State, then Utah State, then the University of Minnesota. The last 10 years it's been the Seahawks, Lions and Seahawks again. No glamorous stops. Nobody was making a huge fuss over him like Norm Chow or Rick Neuheisel.

Most everybody you talk to about Zorn swears he's spent the time to become a really, really good offensive coach. Knows the game inside out because he played it. Learned to communicate it. Is especially effective working with quarterbacks (which ought to come in handy considering the Redskins have a young one who needs to be coached up).

The stories over the next couple of days will concentrate on whether Snyder got the coach he wanted, when the critical thing is whether Snyder got the coach the Redskins need. Lack of sizzle and anticipation doesn't mean Zorn's not a good choice. That the search went from Gregg Williams to Fassel to Spagnuolo to Zorn and turned into a soap opera also doesn't mean Zorn isn't the right guy.

If he becomes to the Redskins what Jeff Fisher has become to the Tennessee Titans, would it matter whether Zorn was the first, fourth or sixth choice? It's possible that Snyder and the Redskins backslid into hiring just the right guy while looking from New York to Arizona for a guy with a higher profile who might not be any better than Zorn. Stumbling onto the head coach of an NFL team when the owner has unlimited resources at his disposal is a comical story now. If Zorn winds up being as successful as the handpicked men with greater r¿sum¿s and reputations, it could ultimately serve as a cautionary tale.

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