Toxicity Seeps Downward Through Redskins

Redskins Coach Jim Zorn, above, says he never had a conversation with Sherman Lewis -- hired as an "offensive consultant" -- before his arrival.
Redskins Coach Jim Zorn, above, says he never had a conversation with Sherman Lewis -- hired as an "offensive consultant" -- before his arrival. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Sally Jenkins
Saturday, October 10, 2009

Forget all the subtle analysis about what the latest moves by the Washington Redskins signify. What's going on is plain: Management is sabotaging the head coach.

The hiring of Sherman Lewis as an "offensive consultant" is a naked insult to Jim Zorn and his staff, as Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and his functionary Vinny Cerrato well know. The only possible effect it can have is to rob Zorn of authority and sow confusion and dissent in the locker room. Their attempt to frame it as a benign offer to bring in "another pair of eyes" is a charade. In fact it's a clumsy move, carried out by a management that fosters back-channeling instead of team building.

"I'm just not sure this is the way to run a big time professional franchise," Hall of Famer John Riggins said on his Twitter account.

Seconded.

The hiring of the 67-year-old Lewis from a bingo hall is a perfect snapshot of what's wrong with the Redskins. None of us knows the inner workings of the Redskins organization; all we can work from is the public result. But even from that standpoint, observing the Redskins this week was like looking at an MRI, a resonance image of their decade-long malaise. What ails the team appears to be a preexisting condition: The administration apparently fosters division, infighting and chaos.

"Quite candidly, in 2009, things go bad, somebody's got to go under the bus," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said last week, shortly before he went mum. That told you all you needed to know about the bad air in Ashburn. But if you needed any more evidence, then came the disclosure that Clinton Portis really did try to throw Mike Sellers under the bus, requesting Sellers be benched, which led to a locker room quarrel that ended with both men having to be restrained.

You might ask, what exactly does the front office expect the fresh eyes of Lewis to perceive in all this mess? Lewis was a superb assistant coach in his day, but he has no clear duties except to look over Zorn's shoulder. Asked what Lewis's actual job will be, Cerrato replied, "They'll get that figured out here in the next day." Asked what Lewis had been doing in the five years he's been out of football, Cerrato stammered, "Uh, ah, I don't, professionally."

Zorn frankly admits he never had a conversation with Lewis before he arrived. Can you imagine the awkward introduction?

Zorn: Who are you?

Lewis: Mr. Snyder hired me. He said the offense needed help.

Zorn: Aren't you a little old to play right guard?

Stability works; instability doesn't. There is evidence of that all across the league. Three teams fired their offensive coordinators before the season even began: Buffalo, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. What did it get them? A combined 1-11 record. Scapegoating doesn't fix problems; it exacerbates them, as Zorn, to his credit, knows. His backing of Jason Campbell despite three interceptions last Sunday, which paid off with a victory and a 2-2 record, was not just the smart thing to do; it was a stroke of healthy leadership.


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