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The Power Of Positive Thinking

Jim Zorn's tenure as the Washington Redskins' coach included unexpected highs and crushing lows.

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By Sally Jenkins
Monday, February 11, 2008

Many of you are angry and out of patience with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder for taking a month to search for a head coach, only to end up with the unproven Jim Zorn. But it's done, and the only choice now is optimism. Come on, people, get behind it. If you need help, play one of those soothing therapy tapes in your head, the kind you find in a "successories" catalogue. Search for your inner spiral stairway. Breathe and think tranquil thoughts. Even if the whole thing turns out to be another of Snyder's juvenile misadventures at the ticket holder's expense, focus on the positive: At least you are important in the life of a child.

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The pessimistic view is that Zorn was hired because stronger candidates rejected the job, and because he is malleable enough to suit Snyder and executive vice president Vinny Cerrato. But we're not going to think that way, are we? Instead we're going to polish our affirmation crystals and tell ourselves that Zorn, 54, is a good find who was somehow missed by the rest of the league, that he was just waiting to be chosen by someone with the penetrating insight to recognize he can be the game's next great. We're going to take the upbeat view that he's displayed real offensive verve as quarterbacks coach for the Seattle Seahawks, and that he can make the leap to head coach despite the fact that he is a career deputy.

Let the naysayers dwell on the fact that Zorn will have to learn on the job how to steer a large and famously difficult organization. Or that most of his assistant coaches already have been picked by the owner, who incidentally also likes to dabble in personnel and play-calling philosophy. Zorn himself acts like Redskins Park is a field of daisies. "I'm excited that there's a lot of the staff in place already," Zorn said at his introductory news conference. "I think it would be very difficult for me to come in and start from square one. It's going to be much more comfortable for me in this situation than it would be starting from scratch." See? Doesn't that feel better than kicking a hole in the wall?

The fact is, there is something immensely likable about Zorn, with his rough, curry-comb haircut, and his untutored answers, and his high enthusiasm, even when he talks about how great it's going to be to wear maroon and black.

Two things we can count on are that Zorn will be a good teacher for quarterback Jason Campbell, and the ball will go up in the air, given Zorn's credentials as a master of the West Coast offense. Of course, the Redskins will have to unlearn their old offense in hurry, and grasp the patterns and intricacies of the new offense. But push away that negativity. Embrace change. "This whole game is about rhythm," he said, "not about hanging onto the ball until you see a guy open." It was the most interesting thing anyone's said at Redskins Park in some time, and in an instant it made up for the maroon-and-black gaffe, and for letting it slip that he wasn't approached about the top job until three days ago.

A skeptic might worry that the search for the man to replace Joe Gibbs took more turns than a Tilt-A-Whirl at the amusement park. It initially appeared the Redskins would promote from within. Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense, was Gibbs's apparent choice and favorite for the job -- right up until Snyder fired him. Twice it seemed Jim Fassel was on the brink of signing a contract, but the final phone call never came. Good people were strung along and inexcusably left hanging. Jim Mora and Pete Carroll were pursued and begged off, and so did Steve Spagnuolo of the New York Giants after enduring a 28-hour interview. What did they talk about all that time? Perhaps Tom Cruise wanted to be sure he was free of Thetan bodies.

The whole ordeal took so long you wondered if Snyder was going to name himself head coach, and while he was at it, change the name of the team to the Redskyns.

The case for Zorn seemed to come down to Snyder's personal hunch, a gut feeling. "We knew of Jim's stellar offensive reputation, so we hired him as coordinator, but we also suspected he would be a strong candidate for head coach," Snyder said in a news release. "After our first six-hour interview with him, I told Joe [Gibbs], 'This guy would make a terrific head coach.' "

Now, a cynic might find something troubling at the heart of that statement: Snyder told Gibbs who would make a head coach? Wouldn't we all feel better if it had been the other way around, if it were Gibbs who did the talking and Snyder who did the listening on the subject of what makes a good head coach? But let's not think about it that way, instead let's focus on our Tibetan singing bowl and hum as we meditate on how nice it is to learn that Snyder finally knows what he's looking for in a coach, after going through five of them in nine years.

Zorn represents a fresh start for everyone. Whatever has happened at Redskins Park is in the past, the tangled management decisions, the confused strategies, the mixed results, the seasonal swoons from 10-6 to 6-10, Zorn had nothing to do with it. He deserves every chance try to make a success of the job in his own way, free of prejudgment. He was awfully good at his last job, and just maybe he's the man who can make this one work. At least, it's something to dream about as you swill a calming tea infusion, clutch your obsidian meditation sphere, and lay your head on a zen pillow.


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