Preparing to Move Forward

Jim Zorn's tenure as the Washington Redskins' coach included unexpected highs and crushing lows.
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2008

For all of the weighty matters that lie ahead for Jim Zorn -- implementing a new offense, rounding out his first staff, mentoring quarterback Jason Campbell -- his immediate priority is decidedly mundane. Zorn, the new head coach of the Washington Redskins, has a staff primarily of coaches who have been in limbo throughout the prolonged search to replace Joe Gibbs, and he plans to provide them with a schedule and offseason calendar as soon as possible.

Zorn, who is noted for his organization and preparedness after seven years under Mike Holmgren in Seattle, has much to accomplish this month, with the NFL scouting combine beginning in 10 days, and the start of free agency on Feb. 29. There is no time to waste regarding the chore that might come to define his coaching tenure -- turning Campbell into an elite passer in the challenging West Coast offense -- either. And Zorn is also compiling a list of candidates to serve as offensive coordinator and to assist him with the quarterbacks.

"My staff needs a calendar all the way through July so that they know from tomorrow all the way through training camp when are work days and when they have some time off," Zorn said after his introductory news conference yesterday. "A football season is grueling, and so they need to know when they're going to have some time to kick back and relax. That's my first order of business."

Zorn, 54, also will spend this week trying to contact every player on the roster, a challenging task this time of year when most are out of town at their offseason homes. As a first-time head coach, Zorn realizes that the players will be sizing him up from the onset, trying to read his strengths and determine how hard he will push them and what he will demand.

"I'm going to be a new coach, and I'm going to need their help to make this thing work," Zorn said. "I'm hoping I get a good response from them."

He is in the process of completing a list of candidates for the two positions he plans to fill on the offensive side of the ball. Numerous league sources expect Zorn to contact Tennessee for permission to interview their assistant head coach, Sherman Smith, for the offensive coordinator position (Smith and Zorn are former teammates and close friends), among others. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato have also told league sources and former head coaching candidates of their desire to streamline the coaching staff after it bloated with high-priced assistants under Gibbs. Zorn is expected to hire a younger, less-experienced candidate to assist him with the quarterbacks. Bill Lazor, the Redskins' former quarterbacks coach, signed last week to replace Zorn in that capacity in Seattle, league sources said.

"I see a guy in that [quarterback coach] role, but I'm going to be as much hands-on as I can," Zorn said. "I've got to really teach. That's my aim. That really was one of my selling points to Mr. Snyder. Just because I'm now the head coach, I still want to do that. Kind of one of the things I'm most excited about doing, staying involved that way."

Zorn is also interested in hiring Seattle running backs coach Stump Mitchell, who has spent nine seasons with the Seahawks, to fill the same position in Washington, league sources said. Redskins running backs coach Earnest Byner signed his one-year offer from the team last week after interviewing with the Buccaneers, league sources said, but has been informed that his status remains still in the air.

Several league sources said the Redskins would like to broker a trade of sorts with the Seahawks, but the feasibility of that remains to be seen with Mitchell under contract there. Seattle's staff was coaching at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii last week and the situation could be resolved after it returns home.

Deciding whether he or the new coordinator will call plays is another consideration. "I'm not sure yet," Zorn said. During his interview for the offensive coordinator position, Zorn was adamant about calling plays, and sources said that ideally he would still like to do so. However, the responsibilities that come with being a head coach will intensify his game-day obligations. Should Zorn hire a more experienced coordinator, he may decide not to call plays.

Zorn said yesterday that having been offered the job so late in the offseason, with the combine and draft upcoming, he was pleased to have the bulk of his staff in place, but he must also become better acquainted with his assistants. He shares a strong relationship with special teams coach Danny Smith from their time together in Detroit, and said he is very comfortable leaving defense and special teams to those who know it best.

"I'm going to leave that alone," Zorn said.

When Greg Blache accepted the promotion to the defensive coordinator position last month, he did so only after being assured he would have significant authority over the staff and players on defense, league sources said. Blache will maintain Gregg Williams's defensive scheme, Blache said. The early interactions between Zorn and Blache have been positive.

"If he would have said there were certain things he wants to do, I'd respect that, because ultimately it's all going to be on his head," Blache said. " . . . But the fact that he says, 'Go ahead and do it,' that's just the icing on the cake."

Redskins Note: The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced that the Redskins will play in the annual Hall of Fame game, facing the Indianapolis Colts at 8 p.m. Aug. 3 in Canton, Ohio. The game is played the day after Hall of Fame inductions, which, this year, will include Art Monk and Darrell Green.

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