Page 5 of 5   <      

Blazing New Trails

Jim Zorn's tenure as the Washington Redskins' coach included unexpected highs and crushing lows.

"The battle is, how far do we go with this in interviews?" Zorn says. "How far do we go with this as who I am as a person, and how far do we go with this as far as who I am as a head coach? That's where things can get risky in the story."

He is asked what he means.

"Because people don't want to be excluded from their beliefs," he replies. "What's so wrong with their beliefs? And I say nothing."

There's an incident that bothers him. He remembers a kicker missing an important field goal and later justifying the mistake by saying, "It was God's will."

Zorn shakes his head. "Whoa!" he says. "Earth to player. Don't ever say that. Why would you say that? I don't think that's a statement that has any logic. A lot of people would say in tragedies, 'Oh, that's God's will,' and maybe it is. But that doesn't mean we have to resign ourselves to the fact. It takes the motivation out of everything. 'Well, that's the way it's supposed to be. Why don't we just sit around?' "

His faith is why some felt he would be a good fit for Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell. Like Hasselbeck, Dilfer and Brock Huard -- quarterbacks who Zorn had success with in Seattle -- Campbell is a Christian. The thought has been that if there was anyone who can get the most out of Campbell, it is Zorn, who has done the same with every other gifted passer he has worked with.

Holmgren, who is something of a mentor to Zorn, has encouraged Zorn to spend the bulk of his time with the quarterbacks. It is what he knows best. Holmgren said the same thing to Snyder when the owner, after hiring Zorn as head coach, gushed into the phone, "What did you think?"

"They have a very good football team, with a young quarterback," Holmgren says. "And I told Dan, 'You make sure he's doing that and not worrying so much about something else.' "

There are some inside the Seahawks organization who see Zorn as naive -- a wonderful man, a great quarterbacks coach, but also too decent for what he is about to undertake. They worry about all the Redskins' coaching changes and that he does not have the political instincts to survive with Snyder and Cerrato.

"Jim's a great guy, but he's swimming with sharks," one Seahawks official says.

Still, there are close friends, people who know him well, who shake their heads. No, they say, he is much more aware of everything than some might think.

"He is not naive," says Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith, who worked with Zorn in Detroit and is a friend. "He sees the whole picture. I think the reason people say that about him is that Jim thinks outside the box. Jim thinks things through and mulls decisions and stays on an even keel. You know, everyone gets so narrow-minded."

Zorn has only affection for Snyder. Joy agrees. Both of them rave about how kind and helpful the owner has been. Zorn has been told by many friends to be careful with Snyder, but Zorn's style has always been to judge people by how they are with him. Snyder has been good, more than good. It is all Zorn has to go by. He says, like many have said, that Snyder wants desperately to win. Zorn wants this, too.

He remembers how the coaches he worked for -- Ross in Detroit and Holmgren in Seattle -- both came to crossroads a few years into their tenures. Ross was fired, Holmgren was kept, and three years later went to the Super Bowl. He said he wants to believe that if the same issue were to arise in Washington, Snyder will do what Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder who owns the Seahawks did, and choose to be patient.

And make this the greatest adventure of all.

<                5

© 2008 The Washington Post Company