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The Former QB Is On the Mark

By Mike Wise
Monday, February 11, 2008

Jim Zorn's first day on the job felt like a wedding, the sort in which the bride and the bride's mother had selected the cake, the hall and the bridesmaid's dresses -- everything really -- long before the groom was even in the picture.

This was their day; he just had to show up in a smart charcoal suit, which Zorn did, smile like it was the best day of his life and make everyone believe he is Daniel Snyder's Mr. Right instead of Mr. Right Now.

For the most part, Zorn accomplished the feat. With Joe Gibbs's stamp of approval -- Gibbs sat in the second row of an almost-filled auditorium at Redskins Park -- the guy who was coaching quarterbacks in Seattle last month said all the right things about Washington's glorious gridiron past and tumultuous present, even invoking the Sean Taylor tragedy.

He spoke of how, except for the occasional tinkering, he planned to leave things the way they are and build on what Gibbs, what's left of his staff and the players have begun. Of the defense Greg Blache inherited from Gregg Williams, Zorn said, "I'm going to leave that alone."

And while there will be some who say Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, who is now effectively the general manager, got the marionette they wanted so they could keep playing puppeteer, well, that's not fair to the organization or Zorn.

A real, gee-whiz quality emerged from the former Seattle quarterback yesterday, a genuine feeling of, "Jeepers, I can't believe I got this job." He was almost as surprised as we were when Snyder asked him Thursday, less than two weeks after giving him his first offensive coordinator gig in the league, "Would you like to interview for the head-coaching position?"

"I was a bit taken aback," he said, before telling Snyder, "Certainly."

Of course he got help with his speech from the people who've been here a while. But he also possessed a degree of openness, especially away from the microphone, free of any pretense or practiced delivery.

The only quibble here is, the day should have been more about Zorn and moving forward instead of what it was: justifying a shock-and-awe hire that no one saw coming.

The afternoon had a faux pas or two, including Zorn mistaking the burgundy and gold for "the maroon and black." There was also a power surge in the auditorium, and the lights partially went out on him three times near the end of the news conference. He improvised well, saying he knew his time was up.

The only time you cringed for the man was when he began heaping effusive praise on Gibbs and the organization for coming up with such an original and thoughtful on-field memorial for Sean Taylor after the safety was slain -- placing 10 players on the field for the first defensive play of the Buffalo game, instead of the usual 11, to signify Taylor's absence.

Which was beyond ironic. The plan, of course, was hatched and carried out by Williams, the guy who thought he was going to get the job Zorn started yesterday. In fact, Williams's inability to tell Gibbs about the planned tribute was said to be part of the reason Snyder and some of the ownership group felt uneasy about handing Williams the keys to the car. So, in essence, Zorn was lauding an idea that may have indirectly helped lead to his hiring. Zorn was asked if it was an interesting coincidence that Bill Lazor, Washington's former quarterback coach, ended up taking his old job in Seattle. He agreed it was, and half-smirked when a reporter joked that if Lazor had just waited a few more weeks, he could have been the guy.

He is plainspoken, unfiltered. Zorn admitted to reading the newspapers and listening to talk radio, where he said 41 percent of people polled were okay with his hire. "That's a better approval rating than the president of the United States of America," he said as the room busted up laughing.

If he really does read and listen to the pundits, it will be interesting to see if he can mask his displeasure over criticism.

His former mentor Mike Holmgren often reeled him in when he wanted to run a crazy gadget play or two in Seattle, but learning to deal with on-field adjustments is child's play next to how to handle the media jackals and any off-field incidents involving a star player or two.

Whether Zorn can lead men -- or even be the new platoon leader and delegate his sergeants to the jobs they've already been entrusted with -- remains to be seen.

But the Redskins got the man they wanted, no question. Snyder and Cerrato wanted someone who wouldn't rock the boat or reinvent the wheel on offense, someone who could cut his teeth -- someone new, who has yet to believe the myth about his own coaching prowess.

Cerrato, who had much input in the decision, was asked, "Why Zorn, after all the names and people you interviewed?"

Cerrato said he remembered how meticulous and into his job Zorn was at the annual scouting combine, where Zorn ran the quarterbacks through their drills with zeal and encouragement despite the monotony. Snyder assured everyone that a proper, thorough process had been gone through, even if it did take 32 days to find someone to replace Gibbs.

Asked if he ever endorsed Williams, Gibbs said he had never had a conversation with Snyder about who should be his successor, adding, "The owner's got to be comfortable."

As the man in the smart, black suit with the yellow tie stepped to the podium -- and Zorn began sounding the themes of continuity and tradition -- it was clear everyone had their man.

Hey, someone has to lead the maroon and black.

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