By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 18, 2009; D01
With the introduction of Bruce Allen as the Redskins' new executive vice president and general manager Thursday, attention immediately shifted to the status of Jim Zorn and who might replace him if Washington decides to hire a new head coach.
While there are a number of high-profile candidates available for any coaching vacancy -- among them Super Bowl winners Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren and Bill Cowher -- most speculation at Redskins Park centered on Mike Shanahan, who led the Denver Broncos to two NFL championships and who has been mentioned has a potential successor to Zorn for weeks.
Though several people both inside and outside the Redskins organization spoke about Shanahan as the leading candidate, no one in position to know -- namely, owner Daniel Snyder and Allen -- said so on Thursday. Allen gave no indication how he would run a potential coaching search, and Snyder said that when Allen "makes a decision, or the club makes a decision, it's a Redskins decision."
Not surprisingly, Zorn's status and a possible coaching change were not among the subjects Allen was eager to discuss. "I just met Jim," Allen said in the facility's auditorium. "We're going to see how we can beat the New York Giants [on Monday night]. There'll be plenty of time after the season" to deal with the coaching situation.
Attempts to contact Shanahan's attorney Thursday were unsuccessful. Shanahan, who said he plans to coach again next season, has had discussions in recent weeks with the Buffalo Bills.
A two-time Super Bowl winner, Shanahan has the type of credentials Snyder would seek in his effort to restore fan confidence after a season in which the Redskins will miss the playoffs for the eighth time during Snyder's 11 seasons as owner.
"What I'm going to do is work as hard as I possibly can," Zorn said. "Not to try to save my job, but to continue to work the way we're working to bring a winner to this program. That's really what I set out to do right from the beginning. And then, I hope Bruce will observe. It'll truly be up to him because of the position he's in."
The hiring of Allen, whose father, George, led the Redskins to a Super Bowl, was Snyder's first step in his attempt to make over the organization's image. Bringing in Shanahan, possibly with the title of president and coach, would be another significant step in the process.
"Obviously, Bruce has got the authority," Snyder said.
As an executive with the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Allen worked with Gruden, another Super Bowl-winning coach. The Buccaneers fired Allen and Gruden at the end of the 2008 season after the team struggled down the stretch and failed to qualify for the postseason.
Hired as an analyst for ESPN's "Monday Night Football," Gruden agreed on Nov. 16 to what the network described as a "multiyear" contract, which seemed to indicate Gruden would be out of the mix for upcoming coaching openings. Gruden reportedly does not have an out clause in his ESPN contract, and the network expects "to have Jon on 'Monday Night Football' for many years with the long-term commitment he has made to ESPN," spokesman Bill Hofheimer said.
"The coach is the leader of the team, is the leader of the organization throughout sports," Allen said. "The Dodgers are better when they got a better manager. Period."
Gruden declined a request to comment about whether he would be interested in coaching the Redskins, but in a statement, he praised the Redskins for hiring Allen.
"Bruce Allen is a great football mind and an even better person," Gruden's statement read. "His background and understanding of the Washington Redskins' tradition will be a huge asset to the Redskins. He is a leader and a great fit for this job. He's a big reason why I had any success in coaching. I'm really happy for him and I wish him the best."
Internally, secondary coach Jerry Gray could be a long-shot possibility. Gray, who has served as a defensive coordinator, is widely respected in the organization. He recently was a finalist for the head coaching position at the University of Memphis and was expected to serve as the Redskins' interim coach if Snyder fired Zorn before season's end.
"When the time is right, it'll happen," Gray said recently. "What you have to do is just focus on doing your job and the things you need to do, so that when the opportunity comes, you're ready."
Two other Super Bowl-winning coaches -- Holmgren and Cowher -- have been mentioned for potential openings around the NFL. Holmgren spoke this week about the possibility of serving in an administrative capacity with the Cleveland Browns, and he could be a contender to serve as president of his former team, the Seattle Seahawks. Cowher, who coached the Pittsburgh Steelers, likely will not end up with the Redskins, a source close to Cowher said.
Another possibility is that Allen, after evaluating Zorn and his staff over the next three weeks, will decide to retain Zorn, who is under contract in 2010. Zorn, however, has all but been fired, people within the Redskins organization said.
Snyder has expressed frustration within the organization about Zorn's performance and that of the offensive staff, according to the sources. In addition to Zorn, other coaches on the staff are under contract for next season, but the expectation is that Zorn and most of his staff would be fired even if the team won its final three games.
For his part, Zorn has remained optimistic.
"I won't be able to control that issue except by winning and showing my competency," he said. "And then it will be to the observations, the skills that Bruce has. We'll just kind of leave that up to him. I wouldn't speculate on what is going to happen over the next three weeks except that I know that Bruce will be working very hard to see the climate, to see all of the things that he's looking for, all of those elements that he's looking for in our football program."
Staff writers Rick Maese and Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.