Thomas Boswell: Redskins' Zorn Still Trying to Put On a Positive Face

By Thomas Boswell
Monday, December 15, 2008

CINCINNATI Jim Zorn's face was drained, as if he'd just walked away from a car crash but wasn't sure how much damage he might discover if he looked back over his shoulder.

"Hi, everybody," he said quietly and without sarcasm, just a smart, decent man thrown in over his head too soon and showing up, doing his duty to explain a horrible day at the office, a 20-13 loss to the awful "Bungles" that someday may be Exhibit A in the case against him keeping his job.

Head football coaches learn a million tiny things over time, even how to step to a lectern and project the version of NFL reality that serves their purpose or motivates their team or, in a case like the Redskins, helps keep a 6-2 start from disintegrating utterly into a second-half fold.

Few coaches at the highest level of their sport are novices at such things -- except Zorn. As a result, no answer he gives, whether insightful, slightly odd or just idiosyncratic, sounds at all like anything that any NFL coach from Vince Lombardi to Bill Belichick would ever have said.

With their playoff chances all but incinerated, their job security a mystery and two far-from-easy games left to play, perhaps not one of them would begin, "Hi, everybody." Yet that speaks so well for Zorn and so badly for those who chose him to lead a team of aging, built-to-win-now vets.

Some teams and some coaches aren't worth feeling bad for when they destroy what might have been a fulfilling season, a postseason run and even a year to remember. Even some Redskins teams, if they disgraced themselves to a 1-11-1 team that had lost its previous two games by a combined 69-6, would have deserved a horse laugh or a quick dismissive burial.

But not these particular Redskins, some with signs of tears still on their faces, others with jaws clenched long after a defeat as embarrassing and unlikely as any in the last 15 years. And not Zorn, who when asked about his possible job insecurity, said: "There will be speculation, conversation. That's the way it will be. It will be there."

The Redskins, a proud veteran team, know they are running out of January chances. On days like this, when they can't even line up correctly, boot a desperately-needed onside kick directly out of bounds and, worst of all, fumble two inches from the end zone, it's hard to remember that this is a classy locker room, not a bunch of rock heads.

In all, 19 key Washington players in this game were in at least their seventh pro season. "People talk about whether our coaches are good enough," one veteran said with disgust. "Man, look around. This is a team of coaches. Nobody should have to tell us how to play this game."

The Redskins dressed in silence, hundreds of years of NFL experience in one room combining to produce a game of plays unworthy of amateurs.

"Days like this, you know time is against you. You start the year 6-2. It's right there for us. Then you come here, half-empty stadium, no noise to overcome and lose to a team with one win. It hurts," guard Randy Thomas said. "This is a vicious game, a crazy game. You think, 'My teammate is over there on the ground unconscious. Come on, Santana [Moss], move your arm.' "

Part of the Redskins' problem is that, because many came here for big contracts, they still talk like the stars they once were. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, executive vice president of football operations, have mastered acquiring players who aren't what they were -- but the difference is diabolically hard to tell until you put all of them on the field together at once and nothing goes quite as it should.

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