It's Too Early for the Season To Be on the Line

By Mike Wise
Thursday, September 24, 2009

No matter how many impetuous souls want the coach to go, Jim Zorn is not losing his job Monday. He is getting more than one season plus three games to prove his worth, more than a potentially disastrous Sunday in Detroit.

Don't get me wrong. The Z-man needs a victory over the god-awful Lions, losers of 19 straight, more than he needs a healthy, experienced right guard. There is not a better opportunity on the 2009 calendar.

For all their trouble crossing the goal line, the Washington Redzones are going up against a Lions franchise that has now surrendered 1,033 points in its last 34 games. The Wall Street Journal reports this is the most porous defense since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. (Throw in Zorn's bang-up offense inside the 20-yard line, and you've got a classic NFL matchup: the Very Movable Object against a Completely Underwhelming Force.)

Moving to 2-1 on Sunday doesn't buy Zorn a season pass. But the feeling here is he has to win three of his next six games to ensure he remains the coach for the rest of the season. And winning against Detroit gives him cushion against Tampa Bay and Kansas City at home, both very winnable games.

He could probably lose at Carolina and trudge into Monday night at home against Philadelphia in October at a somewhat respectable 4-2 against a division rival. If he's 3-3 at that juncture, that might portend real trouble. Daniel Snyder has a bye week to make the most important decision of the season.

Let's be clear: Unless the wheels fall off, Zorn deserves this year to make it work for a variety of reasons. Beyond a fair shot, exactly what does the franchise do in the middle of the season? If Zorn is given his walking papers, you don't merely lose your head coach; you effectively lose your offensive coordinator and your quarterbacks coach, irrespective of how troubling the play-calling has been.

Besides, even Sonny Jurgensen had the Z-man's back Wednesday when I called him, playing down any feud between retired NFL quarterbacks going back-and-forth in an uncomfortable interview situation following Sunday's 9-7 eyesore over the Rams.

"That's just two old rag-arms talking," Jurgensen said Wednesday night. "I'm sure he didn't like some of the plays that were called when he played, either."

Sonny called his question to Zorn -- asking the coach why he called a halfback option pass by Clinton Portis on third and goal, adding that, had he been the quarterback receiving that call, he would have called an audible -- "legitimate." He added that he and Zorn spoke by telephone this week and everything between them is ducky.

"I talked to him and we're okay," Sonny said. "I like Jim Zorn. He's a man under a lot of pressure. Anybody would be in that position."

Indeed, on my midday radio show, callers were split Wednesday on whether Zorn needed to win Sunday to keep his job -- yet nary a one believed Zorn would make it to next season.

On the radio station Snyder owns, host Kevin Sheehan flat-out asked Zorn, "Is Sunday a game that could affect your job security?"

"I won't even answer that question," Zorn said, somewhat defiantly. "I'm trying to get ready for Detroit. I'm not worried about my job."

Connect the dots if you like. Play the conspiracy game if you must. But this is nothing new, the notion that a local media guy asked the embattled coach to address his job security. And the coach headed off the question quickly. It happened in this town, with this team -- 28 years ago.

Then, Frank Herzog, the iconic former play-by-play announcer for the Washington Redskins, asked then-rookie coach Joe Gibbs, "Two, three more games like this, Joe, and does Mr. Cooke say that's it, goodbye?"

As Post columnist Dave Kindred chronicled, Gibbs replied with a smile, "That's up to Mr. Cooke. You'd have to ask Mr. Cooke that."

Joe Gibbs was 0-4 and on his way to a 0-5 start in his rookie season as a head coach.

See, they took their football serious then too.

The good news for Zorn: Analysts at BetUS.com have posted odds on the first NFL coach to be fired, and at 4 to 1, Zorn is No. 3 on the list, behind Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio (at 7 to 2) and Buffalo's Dick Jauron at 3-1. And according to Portis, the coach isn't alone.

"Hey, I feel like I'm on the hot seat," Portis said on Wednesday. "I can't speak for Coach Zorn, I don't know. I feel I'm on the hot seat. We're getting booed coming off the field, so I think everybody in this organization is on the hot seat.

"You know, I think you look at the owner, he's on the verge of losing fans. You know, how long before people just give up and stop coming? You look at the players, and people want you out of here. You look at the coach and people want you out of here. So who's on the hot seat? Until we come out and play to our potential, everyone is on the hot seat."

No matter how hot it gets Sunday, none of them is losing his job Sunday. Now, the bye week? That remains to be seen.

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