Redskins Get Smith In the End

Sherman Smith
Former Titans assistant Sherman Smith has a change of heart and accepts the Redskins' offer to serve as offensive coordinator. (George Walker IV - The Tennessean)
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By Jason Reid and Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 16, 2008

On second thought, Sherman Smith will join the Washington Redskins. After initially rejecting an offer yesterday to become the Redskins' offensive coordinator, Smith reconsidered and became the final member of new head coach Jim Zorn's coaching staff.

"Well, when I tried to tell Z-man [Zorn] about my decision, he had some things to say to me," Smith said. "He said, 'Just think about it for a few more hours and we'll talk later.' When I did, I realized Washington is where I need to be now."

Smith left the Tennessee Titans, agreeing to a three-year contract to help Zorn, his former teammate and close friend, implement the West Coast offense. Earlier this week, the Redskins hired former Seattle running backs coach Stump Mitchell as their assistant head coach-running backs and Chris Meidt, formerly the head coach of St. Olaf College in Minnesota, to be an offensive assistant.

Smith's decision ended a tumultuous day for him in which he walked away from the Titans after at one point informing Tennessee Coach Jeff Fisher he would return next season. After speaking with Zorn, however, Smith said he decided it was time for a new career challenge and that the Redskins' job suits him well.

"My man Z-man is giving me a great opportunity and a lot of responsibility," Smith said. "This is a chance for me to really grow in my career while being part of a great organization in Washington. I have an opportunity to develop more as a coach and an offensive coordinator. It was a very difficult decision, but the more I thought about it, joining Jim and the Redskins was the right thing."

On Thursday, Smith, 53, said he was strongly leaning toward accepting the offer Zorn had made while having dinner together Tuesday after touring Redskins Park. But Smith, who has been part of Fisher's Titans staff since 1995, promised Fisher he would not make a decision until they spoke, and Fisher was unavailable Thursday.

After speaking with his family Thursday night, however, Smith had second thoughts about leaving the Titans and a Nashville area that has "been very good to me and my family."

Yesterday morning, Smith told Fisher he would return next season. Smith then called Zorn, who earlier this week told reporters he would not push Smith to accept the job. But when Smith tried to reject the offer, Zorn made a stronger pitch to his friend, encouraging Smith to take more time. At about 4 p.m., Smith said, he accepted the job.

"That's definitely how it went," Smith said. "I've been really happy here. My family has been really happy here. I had more peace about staying, and the reason I did is because that didn't affect my family. If I stayed, we didn't have to move. My daughter would be happy, my son would be happy and my wife, she wouldn't have to do all that moving stuff, so it was easy to feel better about staying than leaving.

"Jim wanted me to be sure about this. He talked about the opportunities I would have if I came. He said some things to me about the responsibility I would have. He said some things to me about what we could accomplish together as a staff. And knowing how hard Jim works, and the type of people he surrounds himself with, who would not want to have a chance to work with him?"

An assistant head coach/running backs with Tennessee, Smith oversaw the Titans' running game. Smith, an NFL running back for eight seasons, and Zorn were rookie starters with the Seattle Seahawks in 1976.

Since Zorn was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach late last week, Smith and Mitchell have topped his list of coaching candidates. In addition to having strong ties to Zorn, Smith and Mitchell are well versed in the West Coast offense.

The plan is for Meidt to assist Zorn, Smith and Mitchell, freeing Zorn to work with the quarterbacks -- particularly young starter Jason Campbell -- during practice. Mitchell will have significant input in devising running plays and, along with Smith, help teach Zorn's scheme to the coaching staff and players. Zorn will be the Redskins' play-caller.

"Jim has a plan and I believe in it," Smith said. "I really believe there's a lot I can do to help the Washington Redskins, and I'm glad Jim does too."

Redskins Note: The club reduced its salary cap figure by almost $9 million, converting Chris Cooley's roster bonus to a signing bonus, according to a source familiar with the cap situation. The Redskins are now about $7 million over the cap.

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