At His First Practice, Zorn Already Has 'Good Feel' for the Redskins

By George Solomon
Sunday, May 4, 2008

Athletes and coaches have a lot of big days in their lives. But for 54-year-old Jim Zorn, Friday was really big. "I couldn't sleep, so I got out of bed at 5:45 and was in the office at 6:15," Zorn said of the first day of his first minicamp as coach of the Washington Redskins.

And how did Zorn view what he was about to do?

"I thought to myself, 'Now I'm the one held accountable for this team, my players,' " he said after his initial practice. "It's certainly a different feeling being the head coach."

During those first 90 minutes on the field, Zorn was bouncing around in a T-shirt (more maroon than burgundy), old brown pants and running shoes. He said he stayed 15 yards behind the plays so the players could take "responsibility" for their work.

If installing his West Coast offense (more rhythm than timing, I'm told) was an immediate priority Friday, he cautioned: "This is a long-term process. The key is repetition, doing all this over and over."

And the first practice?

"Outstanding," Zorn said, showing the enthusiasm and candor that must have won over owner Daniel Snyder, who chose Zorn to succeed Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs even though Zorn never had been a head coach at any level.

Eleven years of pro quarterbacking and 20 years of bouncing around colleges and the NFL as an assistant, including the last seven as quarterbacks coach with Seattle, apparently prepared Zorn for this task and seems to have grounded him for whatever lies ahead. I thought Snyder should have hired someone with more experience, as he'd done three previous times. And who knows if Zorn will last longer than Bill Cowher's sinking portfolio?

But as tackle Jon Jansen said, "He brings a good feel to this team." That might be what the Redskins need most after what happened last season with the death of Sean Taylor, the resignation of Gibbs and a recent draft-day performance by the front office that left most fans asking, "They did what?"

Time to Assess

Cleveland's 17-point victory over the Wizards on Friday night at Verizon Center eliminated Washington from the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year, but the game wasn't even over when thoughts began turning to next season. (If you're the coach, the last thing you want to see is half of the white-shirted crowd heading for the Metro with four minutes remaining in the game.)

Team president Ernie Grunfeld's desire to keep the "core of the team together" may not be as carved in stone as it was before the playoff series began and his guys were blown out of the gym by Danny Ferry's guys twice.

Spin this any way you want: LeBron James is just too good (he's Michael, Magic and Bird combined), Gilbert Arenas (on the bench in a cream-colored suit made for cruising) and Darius Songaila (where was super-lawyer Brendan Sullivan when we needed him?) out, Wally Szczerbiak and Daniel Gibson just lucky.

Grunfeld has huge decisions to make: Does he retain Eddie Jordan as coach? Does he try to re-sign Gilbert, when no one knows if Gil will ever be Gil again? Is Antawn Jamison happy? How about Caron Butler's health? Anyone out there to work inside with Brendan Haywood?

Getting to the playoffs four consecutive seasons is impressive. Getting knocked out of the playoffs in the first round three straight years by the same team is not.

Touching Bases

· Some observations from the Nationals' longest homestand of the season:

Too bad about Chad Cordero's latest shoulder woes (torn muscle), which the team says are unrelated to the tendinitis that has bothered him all season and previously put him on the disabled list with Gilbert. Cordero, the team's closer the last three years in Washington, will be out for at least four weeks. Meanwhile, Dmitri Young remains on the DL trying to overcome his back woes, while the disappointing Paul Lo Duca (what fan doesn't miss Brian Schneider?) prepares to resume his duties behind the plate.

Still, Manager Manny Acta has coaxed this team back to near respectability with a nice run these past two weeks, despite big hitters Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns all batting worse than .220. Credit solid work from the pitching staff and some unexpected clutch hitting from the likes of catcher Wil Nieves.

As colleague Thomas Boswell wrote, the average attendance of nearly 30,000 is "respectable though not spectacular for a new ballpark.'' The team's improvement and warmer weather likely will boost attendance, although someone of authority should admit those empty seats on TV behind the plate need filling. How? Cut the price of those $325 tickets.

· Good to see Billie Jean King in town this week for the dedication of the Pauline Betz Addie tennis facility in Bethesda and to promote Mark Ein's Washington's Kastles. The Kastles open World TeamTennis play on July 8 in a temporary 2,020-seat facility on the site of the former Convention Center. Serena Williams is the team's star, but I'm not up to speed on Sacha Jones, Mashona Washington and Scott Oudsema. Also, I thought Justin Gimelstob retired, and how come D.C. tennis regular James Blake is not on the squad?

· College football poobahs had a meeting in Florida this week and foolishly chose yet again not to institute a BCS playoff, but instead awarded a bowl game to the District on Dec. 20 at either Nationals Park or RFK Stadium. Navy will be the host team -- if the Mids have a winning season -- with an ACC team the likely opponent. I don't know about you, but I've already got my tailgating menu planned.


Gordon Bradley, the face of soccer in the Washington area for years, died Tuesday from Alzheimer's disease. He was 74. Bradley, who was born in Sunderland, England, came to Washington in the 1970s to coach the Washington Diplomats of the North American Soccer League after guiding the Pele-led New York Cosmos. He coached the George Mason men's team from 1985 to 2000, compiling a 183-113-53 record, and also the Washington Stars (1985-96) of the American Professional Soccer League. He also was a TV commentator for D.C. United games.

A member of the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame since 1996, Bradley's youth soccer camps in Northern Virginia were attended by thousands. He also counseled numerous coaches, including this former MSI mentor, who once asked him about 30 years ago why soccer in the U.S. was so far behind the rest of the world.

"Because of coaches like you," he said, laughing uproariously.

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