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Redskins' Outlook Bleak When Sonny Starts Raining Shots

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Anyone who tells you that Sonny Jurgensen has lost any zip on his verbal spirals definitely wasn't paying attention to the Hall of Fame quarterback during Sunday's pregame show on ESPN-980 leading up to the Redskins dismal 20-17 loss to Carolina.

Asked about the team's hiring last week of former NFL offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis to provide Coach Jim Zorn an "extra set of eyes," Jurgensen said, "If I was Zorn, I'd quit."

He also said if the Redskins had started backup quarterback Todd Collins this season instead of Jason Campbell, they would be 4-0 and indicated he would have benched Campbell at halftime of the Tampa Bay game in favor of Collins. There's a decent chance the straight-shooting Jurgensen told Zorn the same thing, just as he did when he told Zorn he would have ignored the halfback option call Zorn sent in during the game against the St. Louis Rams earlier in the season.

Zorn and the Redskins took a savage beating on many television pregame shows in the hours before the kickoff against Carolina, but Jurgensen's on-air comments should be considered particularly meaningful because he's always had the ear of owner Daniel Snyder.

Wouldn't it be interesting to hear Snyder's reaction to Jurgensen's pregame comments? That obviously is not going to happen so long as the owner sticks to his policy of "no comment" during the season.

Still, Larry Michael, the team's radio play-by-play voice and a full-time Redskins' employee, could have done us all a favor during his regular Sunday pregame session with Vinny Cerrato by specifically asking the team's vice president for football operations about Jurgensen's remarks. Sadly, though quite predictably, it never happened.

By the way , when (obviously not if) the Redskins do make a head coaching change, don't expect former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick to get an interview. Billick, now a game analyst for Fox, was assigned to the Carolina game and also was pointedly critical of Lewis's hiring during the game telecast, saying, "I'm not sure that's the message you want to send to your players."

Of the constant turmoil surrounding the team, Billick said, "That organization has brought it on themselves."

And you'd also have to wonder if columnist and author John Feinstein will be invited back for future guest appearances on ESPN-980's "Sports Reporters" after some of his comments directed toward the Redskins owner Tuesday afternoon.

Feinstein suggested if Redskins fans are that disgusted with all they're seeing, they should boycott Sunday's home game against Kansas City at FedEx Field. Stay home and watch on television, he suggested, and see what Snyder thinks about all those empty seats.

That clearly would get the message across, said Feinstein, who also speculated what might have happened if New England owner Robert Kraft came down to Bill Belichick's office after the Patriots' loss to Denver on Sunday and suggested bringing in former Redskins defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon as "another set of eyes."

Actually, with the Redskins' defense still unable to mount any consistent pass rush, bringing in Petitbon might actually not be a bad idea.

New School

That's the name of a promising four-hour show being aired on Saturday mornings by WJFK. It's hosted by 27-year-old Washington native Shan Shariff, a graduate of American University who also has a full-time gig on an ESPN affiliate on the Eastern Shore during the week.

Shariff goes on for four hours here Saturday and clearly encourages listener participation, occasionally engaging in long discussions with callers on the hot sports topics of the week. Last week's back-and-forth on Rush Limbaugh's bid to became a part-owner of the St. Louis Rams was terrific sports radio, and Shariff also has a nice interviewing style with guests, as well.

On Sunday mornings, the station also is airing one of the better national NFL pregame radio shows, this one hosted by Mike Francesca, a regular on WFAN in New York. I've never been much of a Francesca fan, mostly because of his blustery, know-it-all persona and far too cozy relationships with people such as Bill Parcells. But his syndicated NFL show, which used to air on the old WTEM 980 before it became an ESPN affiliate, is loaded with topical interviews, solid information and a long weekly session with highly opinionated former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms of CBS, one of the very best NFL analysts on the air.

No Free Pass

Working conditions for WJFK-FM Redskins reporter Chris Russell have improved dramatically since the new all-sports station went on the air in July. For most of the first week he covered training camp, Russell was not allowed to file live telephone reports into the station from Redskins Park. Instead, he had to leave practice, get in his car and drive off the property to call in.

That situation changed within a week, and Russell is now permitted to feed his live stories to the station from the team's Ashburn facility. But he's also the only on-air WJFK representative credentialed to be on the premises, with only one credential allotted to the station at FedEx Field on game day.

WJFK switched to an all-sports format in mid-July in direct competition with ESPN-980, the AM station owned by Snyder's Red Zebra broadcasting division. In the most recent ratings book, WJFK was seventh in the Washington market among men 25-54, its target demographic, with ESPN-980 ranked ninth. In men 18-34, WJFK was No. 4 in the market, with ESPN-980 at No. 16.

The credential restriction on WJFK means that talk show host and former Washington linebacker Lavar Arrington apparently is not welcome at Redskins Park or in the FedEx Field press box on game days, nor are any other show hosts. Mike Wise, a Washington Post sports columnist who hosts another WJFK show, gets his credentials through the newspaper, not the radio station.

Chris Kinard, WJFK's program director, said station officials are still "trying to work with the Redskins" on the credential issue and "we're not making it a big deal because we want a good working relationship with the team."

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Len.Shapiro@washingtonpost.com

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