Fans of Redskins, Maryland Football Losing Patience With Programs

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By John Feinstein
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

To paraphrase the great Keith Jackson, "there's a whole lot of booing going on around here."

Around here would be the Washington metropolitan area. The Redskins, whose fate is considered by most to be only slightly more important than the health care bill, actually won on Sunday and still got booed. It might have been their failure to beat the spread or -- more likely -- it was that the final score was 9-7 against the woeful St. Louis Rams.

The night before in College Park, the Maryland football team heard some serious booing after losing 32-31 to Middle Tennessee on a field goal as time expired. No, that's not Tennessee; it's Middle Tennessee -- a team Maryland lost to a year ago on the road. Terrapins fans no doubt would have left Byrd Stadium in a bad mood -- much like Redskins fans -- even if the final kick had somehow been blocked or sailed wide to allow the Terrapins to escape the way they did a week ago in overtime against James Madison.

The message in both places is this: The fans aren't happy. When fans aren't happy, the coaches bear the brunt of the criticism, usually about a step ahead of the quarterback.

Jim Zorn is two games into his second season with the Redskins. His record is 9-9. He took over a team that had gone 9-7 plus a first-round playoff loss under Joe Gibbs in 2007, a team that failed to draft any offensive linemen in the 2008 draft who could help right away. A year ago, with the Redskins at 6-2, one could almost envision a statue of Zorn outside the stadium formerly named for Jack Kent Cooke.

Then age and injuries caught up with the offensive line, the team collapsed and finished 8-8. So much for the statue. Half the town was crying, "Next!" urging Snyder to throw more money at another big-name coach -- a tactic that has yielded two playoff wins in his 10-year tenure as owner, one with Norv Turner, the coach he inherited.

The funny thing about it all is that three weeks from now, the Redskins could easily be 5-1. The next four opponents -- the Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs -- are a combined 0-8. But if the team should throw in a loss during this next stretch, Zorn and quarterback Jason Campbell will be pilloried again in every corner of Redskins-land.

Let's forget that it's almost impossible to judge an NFL coach after 18 games. Bill Parcells won three games in his first season with the Giants and Bill Belichick got fired in Cleveland after five mostly mediocre seasons. Gibbs was 8-8 -- just like Zorn -- in his first season. Eric Mangini made the playoffs in his first season with the Jets. He may never coach another winning team.

It is almost impossible to fairly judge a quarterback if his offensive line can't produce a consistent running game or pass protection. Mark Rypien looked like Terry Bradshaw in 1991, when the Redskins line kept him so well insulated his uniform rarely needed to be laundered after games. Of course, that hasn't stopped anyone from judging Zorn or Campbell.

Let's ask this question then: Who hired Zorn? Who put himself in a position where, even for huge money, almost no established NFL coach wanted to work here -- in part because the team had hired an offensive coordinator (Zorn) before hiring a head coach? What does it say when Steve Spurrier walked away from $15 million left on his contract just so he could get away?

Gibbs drafted Campbell. Gibbs also insisted on bringing in a washed-up Mark Brunell. But if Snyder and executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato were so convinced that Campbell was the wrong choice, why didn't they simply pull the trigger on some deal -- ANY deal -- to bring in a new quarterback this season? Instead, they let Campbell twist in the wind, probably damaged his confidence and ensured that he'll leave after this season even if he emerges as a star. Either way, they'll be back to the quarterback drawing board.

Then again, to my knowledge, they haven't sued any of the "best fans in football" in weeks, so maybe things are improving.


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