Washington Redskins Face Detroit Lions With Title of NFL's Most Dysfunctional Team on Line

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By Michael Wilbon
Sunday, September 27, 2009

If you're the Detroit Lions, the only team to lose all 16 games in an NFL season, losers of 19 straight games and the laughingstock of the league for a couple of seasons, wouldn't you be pretty darn encouraged at the sight of the Washington Redskins coming to town?

Of course you would roll out the red carpet for a team so drawn to drama its coach is in serious trouble the week after winning the home opener. Wouldn't you want a shot at a team that is just about always guilty of underachieving, whose offense is next to worst in the NFL? A team that will be starting a new offensive lineman who has never played a down in the league?

Okay, the Detroit Lions have been a mess for a while. Yes, they're on the short list of biggest losers in professional sports today.

So what does that make the Redskins if they lose in Detroit? Won't that lock in the Redskins as the most dysfunctional team in the NFL? Will Redskins management sue its own players? It wouldn't be any dumber than firing Coach Jim Zorn three games into the season.

Nobody within the organization is confirming that Zorn will be fired if the Redskins lose to the Lions on Sunday, but it's not like the Redskins have earned any benefit of the doubt or given anybody reason to think they'll make a smart, forward-thinking decision.

We're talking about a franchise that undermined its starting quarterback over the summer, a franchise that sued financially strapped ticket holders during a recession while swearing to the longest waiting list for season tickets in professional sports, a franchise whose fans resorted to booing during and after the very first home game of the season, even though it was a victory.

These, sadly, have become the conversations that surround the Washington Redskins, the discussions made even more embarrassing by the fact that the franchise has a record of 83-95 since the last back-to-back winning seasons, in 1996 and 1997.

Why wouldn't Daniel Snyder fire Zorn at 1-2? It fits the pattern of dysfunction dating from 2000. Norv Turner was bounced with three games left in an 8-8 season. Marty Schottenheimer, whom Snyder gave essentially total control of football operations, was fired one year later after going 8-8. Steve Spurrier's tenure ended with an aggregate record of 12-20 and all-around disgust. The second Joe Gibbs era was so much less (30-34) than most of us expected.

The team has missed the playoffs in 13 of the past 16 seasons. The highlights, in fact, have been the headlines in the offseason. Redskins get Bruce Smith. Redskins get Dana Stubblefield. Redskins get Deion Sanders. Redskins hire Ray Rhodes. Redskins trade draft picks. Redskins hire Marvin Lewis. Redskins trade more draft picks.

Redskins steal offensive genius from Kansas City with big playbook. Ooops!

Redskins get Jason Taylor for draft picks. Taylor goes back to Miami.

Just because firing Zorn would be stupid and would set the franchise back two or three years doesn't mean the Redskins won't do it. The Redskins lead the league by a wide margin in being goofy. Why keep Zorn when you've got Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan and even Tony Dungy out there available? In fact, the less sense it makes, the more likely the Redskins are to do it, like hiring Zorn in the first place.

Look, I'm not saying Zorn is (or isn't) the answer as head coach. But with a combined career record of 9-9, who knows yet? It's not like he's the first head coach to preside over a dreadful Redskins offense. You know where this club has ranked in scoring the past 10 seasons (including this one)? Starting in 2000 they've been 24th (under Norv Turner), 28th (Schottenheimer), 25th and 22nd (Spurrier), 31st, 13th, 20th and 18th (Gibbs), 28th and now 30th (Zorn).

That marks just once in the top half of the league this decade.

So, you'd fire Zorn after going 1-2 to start the season? I think Zorn looked rather foolish when he said he would bench Sonny Jurgensen for saying (thankfully) he would have gotten out of that silly halfback option play against the Rams last Sunday. But I wouldn't fire the coach. This is the root of the problem with the Redskins now; they change coordinators and coaches like Kim Kardashian changes bikinis. You want to make Greg Blache the head coach? One look at Blache would have told anybody he was more qualified than Zorn to be the head coach in the first place.

So, this is the back story of how the Redskins got to be in such a position entering Detroit. Asked during the week about Zorn being on the "hot seat," Clinton Portis said: "I think everybody in this organization is on the hot seat . . . Who's not on the hot seat? Until we come out and play to our potential, I think everybody is on the hot seat."

Everybody except the men who've made the decisions, because they don't actually have to be accountable or do anything beyond blame the media.

Chances are the Redskins can stiff-arm all this Zorn talk at least for a couple of weeks by beating a Lions team run by a rookie quarterback who is completing barely 50 percent of his passes and is tied for the league lead in interceptions. But if the Redskins lose in Detroit, the anxiety in and around the team will be higher than it has been in recent seasons, and maybe Zorn really will be out. Recent history says the Redskins will make changes. The losses and mini-dramas will outnumber the victories. And a new coach, unsuspecting and innocent, will figure he can change it all. Good luck.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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