By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010; D01
SAN DIEGO -- An optimist to the end, Coach Jim Zorn looked forward Sunday after the Washington Redskins squandered a late lead in a 23-20 loss to the San Diego Chargers that ended their disappointing season.
Shortly after the Chargers rallied for a game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds to play in front of 67,554 at Qualcomm Stadium, Zorn declined to address multiple reports that the Redskins plan to fire him Monday, instead focusing on his plans to strengthen the Redskins' roster for the 2010 season and beyond.
"Really?" Zorn deadpanned when a reporter informed him of the reports. "I have no indication of that. And I would not even comment on that until, you know, there's a lot of things, I'm sure, out there as far as stories. There already has been. I get that. But I'm working on our team meeting. I'm working on our offseason schedule. And until [I'm told differently], I'm getting ready."
It is highly unlikely, however, that Zorn will be given the opportunity to execute his short- and long-term plans for Washington. The Redskins (4-12) finished the season on a three-game losing streak that appears to have closed the book on Zorn's tumultuous two-year tenure.
Many within the Redskins organization say it is probable Zorn officially will be fired early this week -- likely on Monday -- as the Redskins continue their latest major reorganization under owner Daniel Snyder. Zorn, who had never been an NFL coordinator or head coach until the Redskins hired him for those jobs, has a two-season record with the Redskins of 12-20.
Bruce Allen, the team's new general manager, declined to comment on the reports of Zorn's imminent ouster. "I wouldn't respond to that," Allen said. "But thanks for the heads-up."
As they prepared to leave a locker room after a game for the final time this season, players spoke of Zorn as if he had already moved on. "He was like a second-year head coach, he was learning and stuff like that," said defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who sat out the loss because of an injury.
"If you give him time, he could have been really good. But you can't expect him to be like a Hall of Fame coach his first and second year out of the gate."
Said defensive lineman Phillip Daniels: "It's Dan's team. Whatever decision he makes, the organization makes, you have to respect it. That's just the way it is."
On Sunday, Zorn watched the Redskins falter down the stretch again. Washington rallied from a 13-0 first-half deficit and took a 14-13 halftime lead. The Redskins extended their lead to 17-13 in the third and 20-16 in the fourth, but failed to withstand a late rally by San Diego's backups.
After winning the AFC West title and earning a first-round bye, San Diego (13-3) played its starters briefly against Washington. No. 2 quarterback Billy Volek teamed with second-team fullback Mike Tolbert on a go-ahead, two-yard touchdown pass within the game's final minute.
The Redskins failed on downs as quarterback Jason Campbell threw four consecutive incomplete passes. Volek kneeled once to run out the clock, and then Zorn, flanked by a Redskins security official and followed by television cameramen, slowly walked off the field, strain evident on his face.
"You have to give him respect for hanging in there," said Campbell, who completed 28 of 42 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. "I know we had our problems, we disagreed on some things, but that's part of it. That's part of the relationship between a coach and quarterback in the NFL.
"But I commend him for sticking in there this season with all the speculation and everything. He kept going out there and doing his job everyday. You knew he was trying to focus on the team and the things he was supposed to do as a head coach to try to put us in position to win. You have to respect that."
In the next few days, the Redskins are expected to introduce former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan as their next head coach, according to people in the Washington organization, and Allen will meet with Washington's current assistants, some of whom are under contract for the 2010 season. Some members of the coaching staff expect to be fired with Zorn on Monday.
The Redskins appear to have satisfied the league's Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview a minority candidate for any head coaching vacancy, paving the way for them to quickly complete a coaching change.
Shanahan's son, Kyle, the Houston Texans' offensive coordinator, reportedly will join his father to run Washington's offense. Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is expected to replace Greg Blache as the Redskins' top defensive coach.
Barring unforeseen developments, the makeover of the coaching staff should be completed this week.
In Snyder's 11 seasons as owner, the Redskins have missed the playoffs eight times. The past two seasons, they finished last in the NFC East. And for only the second time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, Washington this season failed to win a game against a division rival.
The Redskins will have a top-five pick in the April draft. In addition to the Redskins' No. 1 pick, they also currently have selections in the second, fourth, fifth and seventh rounds. In order to select defensive lineman Jeremy Jarmon in the supplemental draft, the Redskins surrendered their third-round pick. Their sixth-round pick went to the Miami Dolphins in the Jason Taylor trade.
Although the offensive line would seem to be an obvious place to start for Allen and Shanahan, there are other pressing roster matters. Shanahan is eager to draft and develop a young quarterback, a person in the NFL familiar with his thinking said.
And in addition to the obvious roster work before them, Allen and Shanahan have other internal issues that require their immediate attention. Haynesworth, scheduled to receive a $21 million roster bonus in March, has expressed frustration about the team's disciplined defensive scheme.
Allen and Shanahan will have Snyder's full support as they try to remake the Redskins. But Snyder has provided significant resources for all of his other coaches with relatively little to show for the millions he has spent. Zorn is the latest coach to fail to meet Snyder's expectations.
"In my world, nothing has to be fair. You see what I mean?" Zorn said. "It's not up to me. It's not about fairness. I could just whine about how uncomfortable everything is. That is not productive. So I don't live in a world where I think everything has to be fair or dealt [with] fairly or whatever. Because it's not that way for anybody, to be honest with you. It's just not the way it is."