By Jason Reid and Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 15, 2008
Tennessee Titans assistant coach Sherman Smith is expected to accept the Washington Redskins' offensive coordinator position today, which would complete the coaching staff of new head coach Jim Zorn.
"No question about it, I'm really excited about the opportunity Z-man has offered me," Smith said yesterday, referring to Zorn. "I work for a great organization right now, and he's giving me a chance to work for another great organization. I've heard great things about the Redskins and I obviously know about Z-man and what he wants to accomplish. I feel really comfortable about a lot of this, but there is a process I have to follow."
Smith, 53, had planned to inform the Redskins of his decision yesterday after speaking with Titans Coach Jeff Fisher. But Fisher was unavailable to meet with Smith, a member of Fisher's Titans staff since the 1995 season, delaying the official announcement another day.
"I go back a long way with Z-man, so he knows how I am," Smith said. "I gave [Fisher] my word. I promised him we would speak before I made my final decision, and that's what I'm going to do. After 13 years, I owe him that much. Also, I don't want to be someone who makes a decision and then vacillates. When I make a decision, I want my head and heart to be in the same place. I'm really close. I'm getting there."
Smith would replace Al Saunders, the Redskins' top offensive assistant the last two seasons who was let go after head coach Joe Gibbs stepped down last month. Saunders is now offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams.
Stump Mitchell, Washington's new assistant head coach-running backs, arrived at Redskins Park yesterday. Since Zorn was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach late last week, Smith and Mitchell, 48, have topped his list of candidates to complete the staff. In addition to having strong ties to Zorn, Smith and Mitchell are well versed in the offense Zorn plans to use.
"I'm sort of speechless about the opportunity," Mitchell said. "I've come to a franchise that's one of the most outstanding in the league, one that I was kind of in awe of as a player. Just the tradition of the Redskins and everything they've accomplished . . . you could definitely say I'm excited."
Smith, an assistant head coach who oversees Tennessee's running game, interviewed Tuesday and received a contract offer when he went to dinner with Zorn, his former teammate and close friend. Smith, an NFL running back for eight seasons, is a longtime running backs coach eager for a promotion as he tries to advance his coaching career.
"You're always interested in finding new ways to improve and working with people who can help you do that," Smith said. "Anyone would . . . look forward to working with my man Z-man and the staff he's putting together. I've talked to a lot of people I trust, and they've told me this sounds like a good move for me at this time in my career."
Zorn will be the play-caller and quarterbacks coach for the Redskins next season. Earlier in the week, the Redskins hired Chris Meidt, head coach of St. Olaf College in Minnesota, to be an offensive assistant. The plan is for Meidt to assist Zorn and the other top-level staff members, freeing Zorn to work with quarterbacks -- particularly young starter Jason Campbell -- during practice. Mitchell will have significant input in devising running plays and, along with the offensive coordinator, help teach Zorn's scheme to the coaching staff and players.
Mitchell accepted his position without interviewing in person because he has ties to the Washington area. "I knew what a tremendous job Jim would do bringing outstanding individuals to the staff. When you're talking about a staff, it all starts with mutual respect for one another," he said. "You have to be able to lean on one another and trust one another, that's the first thing you need, and I know that's what Jim wants."
The Seahawks' running backs coach since 1999, Mitchell coached at Morgan State in Baltimore from 1996 to '98. Mitchell will help teach Zorn's scheme.
During his time in Seattle, Mitchell, a running back for nine seasons with the St. Louis and Phoenix Cardinals, was heavily involved in diagramming running plays. Zorn plans to lean on Mitchell as well, giving him the freedom to design short-yardage and goal-line plays.
"That's the way we game-planned in Seattle," Mitchell said. "It gave me an opportunity to do some of the things I like to do, but every situation is different. I'm going to do whatever Jim wants me to do, that's why I came here, but it's really not about the X's and O's, it's all about the players.
"You don't win football games because of plays, you win football games because of players executing and making plays. What we have to do is put players in position to make plays. I believe the players here have the talent to be successful, and we're going to work to help them perform at their best."
Redskins Note: In an interview at Daytona International Speedway yesterday, Gibbs said he was excited about the selection of Zorn and portrayed the front-office moves that have followed his resignation as an effort to build on the success of last season.
"I thought Dan did a great job," Gibbs said, referring to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. "It was a tough, real long process there. They were able to keep most of the coaching staff there, so that's exciting. There are only two or three coaches who are probably not going to be there. That's pretty good, considering the size of that coaching staff. So I'd say it's probably, what, 85 percent of the coaching staff that got to stay. Not only that, but all of the medical team and everybody in the equipment room. I think there's been a real continuity to trying to keep the group together."
Staff writer Liz Clarke, in Daytona Beach, Fla., and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.