By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 5, 2010; D01
As his final weeks as the Washington Redskins' coach passed, Jim Zorn said repeatedly that he was making every effort to focus solely on the next game, the next chance for a victory. The reality that swirled around him, though, was impossible to ignore. So when Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen called him in for a meeting early Monday morning, just after Zorn and the team returned from a season-ending trip to San Diego, to tell him he was fired, the second-year head coach was hardly shocked.
"I don't see how I could've been surprised with all the speculation for the last five or six weeks," Zorn said by telephone Monday evening.
In his first interview since his dismissal, Zorn said he understood why Allen and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder would want a new coach after Washington's disastrous 4-12 season. But during a 15-minute conversation, his thoughts on the job he left remained consistent with the thoughts he had while he was in it: He was thankful for the opportunity, and he wished his two-season record was better than 12-20.
"My experience was just incredible," Zorn said. "It was tremendous. Too short for me, but tremendous. Learned a lot. I think I accomplished some things, but we accomplished a lot less than what was necessary, less than what was expected, so that's why I'm on the road."
Zorn, 56, would not go into details about his feelings regarding the myriad developments during the 2009 season -- whether he was offered an ultimatum in October about giving up play-calling duties; how he handled his relationship with Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, then the executive vice president of football operations; what he thought about one of his assistants, secondary coach Jerry Gray, interviewing for his job while Zorn still held it. Even though he spent nearly two full years with the Redskins, he said he preferred to keep his evaluations of the organization private.
"That's not for me to judge, because I was hired to do a job," Zorn said. "And it wasn't my job to have a philosophical reflection on what that might be. I would choose not to answer that, but I think for the right reasons, not because I'd want to say something controversial. That's not my place.
"There's a lot of opinions about that on every NFL team, but the truth of the matter this year is we were 4-12. Period."
That Zorn would essentially choose to overlook the extraordinary circumstances of the Redskins' season and focus on the positives does not surprise those closest to him. Sherman Smith, an old teammate with the Seattle Seahawks who served as Zorn's offensive coordinator with the Redskins, said Monday, "It's something that Jim will learn from and grow from."
"I would say Jim's strength, it's not forgive and forget," said Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent, Zorn's favorite target during their NFL playing days in Seattle and his best friend of 30 years. "It's totally forgive, and learn from the mistakes you've made. I think that's Jim's basic attitude about life. But at the same time, Jim also has an incredible capacity to say, 'Okay, that was last week or that was last year. What do we do this year to get better?' "
Zorn essentially said that will be his approach going forward. Just as he remained outwardly confident in his abilities and his decision-making during the season, he said his tenure with the Redskins made him a better coach than he was when he arrived, fresh off a stint as the quarterbacks coach with the Seattle Seahawks. He does not, for a minute, believe his coaching career is over.
"I think there's a process in gaining experience as a head football coach," Zorn said. "I believe that from Day One to today has been just -- I think every experience I had was an important experience and a meaningful experience. With coaches, players, administration. Every aspect -- offseason, training, planning, to the whole in-season battle. You just can't describe it. It would take a long time to describe all the exciting parts of being a head football coach.
"I think I'm a better coach today because of the experiences that I've had. That's the positive that comes out of something like this. I'm further along now in experience as a head football coach. I hope I get another opportunity."
Zorn was hired by Snyder and Cerrato upon Joe Gibbs's retirement in early 2008, first as the offensive coordinator, then -- shockingly, even to him -- as the head coach.
But when Cerrato resigned last month, and Snyder immediately replaced him with Allen, an organizational sea change seemed imminent. Zorn said his brief meeting with Allen on Monday morning was "professional" and "non-emotional." He said he also spoke with Snyder as recently as Monday morning, but he would not go into the details of the conversation.
"I don't think it's appropriate," he said.
In some ways, Zorn said, his experience is too raw to evaluate clearly. On Monday, though, he began that process -- a process he hopes will make him a better coach at another stop, wherever that might be.
"I do think that in the next days and weeks, the few weeks to come, I'm going to do a lot of reflecting, because now's when the experience is freshest," he said. "I just hope I can reflect on some of those things that were solid, that I would feel like I would replicate, some of those things that I would change, some of those things that I have no control over, and some of those things that were gray areas that could go either way based on your decision. That's what I'm going to do. I want to be ready."
Staff writers Jason Reid and Rick Maese contributed to this report.