Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

Firing Zorn was the kindest thing the Redskins have done to him

Jim Zorn, the former quarterback dogged by sacks, and Jason Campbell, the Redskins' current quarterback often dogged by hard hits, had plenty to commiserate about in '09.
Jim Zorn, the former quarterback dogged by sacks, and Jason Campbell, the Redskins' current quarterback often dogged by hard hits, had plenty to commiserate about in '09. (Toni L. Sandys/the Washington Post)
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By Tracee Hamilton
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The trash cans in the Redskins' locker room slowly filled Monday as players straggled in to clean out the detritus of a 22-week season, maybe the longest of their careers. They'd already met with General Manager Bruce Allen. All that remained on their to-do lists was a few last-minute autographs -- a ball here, a helmet there -- and to give their final thoughts on Jim Zorn, fired in the wee hours of the morning after two seasons as Redskins coach.

The consensus was about what you'd expect: Zorn's a nice guy, but it's about winning. And no one could argue that Zorn was a winner, not after a 4-12 season that left him 12-20 in two seasons as head coach of the Redskins. Linebacker London Fletcher summed up the sentiments of the team.

"You like Zorn as a person so you feel for him in that regard," he said. "But it's football, it's the National Football League that we play in and coach in. So you know that change is going to happen. Winning teams have change, losing teams have more change."

By that standard, the Redskins should have enough change to open a chain of laundromats.

The next change, presumably, will be the announcement of Mike Shanahan as the seventh head coach of the Daniel Snyder era, although Allen wasn't tipping his hand Monday. Coach of the Redskins has roughly the life expectancy of a human cannonball -- but without the fresh air -- so we'll soon see what Shanahan's made of, see whether he and Allen can wrest control of this foundering ship from the helm in the owner's box.

Zorn, meanwhile, will have enough down time to organize a support group of former Redskins coaches (and with six you get egg roll). Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, Steve Spurrier, Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs -- that's not a bad sextet (or two threesomes, as Spurrier would see it).

Everyone knows Zorn's story by now: hired two years ago as an offensive coordinator, then given the head coaching job by default, a 6-2 start and 2-6 finish in 2008, and then the humiliation of this season, during which he was stripped of his play-calling duties and most of his offensive control. Then the team interviewed one of his assistants for his job -- while he was still in it.

The last of a thousand cuts for Zorn came sometime between 2:15 a.m. Monday, when he returned to Redskins Park from San Diego, and 4:43, when he was accompanied to his car by a member of the team staff. Earlier this season I compared the torture of Zorn to the William Wallace death scene in "Braveheart," but perhaps that was too gentle a disembowelment. Now I'm thinking more of "Saw VII."

Allen described Zorn's reaction to the news as "disappointed but very professional," which is hardly surprising. Through all of the season's upheaval, Zorn conducted himself with class. (If only class were contagious, and spread through Redskins Park like a particularly virulent strain of H1N1.) Not only did Zorn take the high road all season, he cleaned up litter alongside it in his spare time. He had an E-ZPass for the high road. He owned the high road.

But of course, class doesn't win football games. Zorn didn't always effectively use the clock and his timeouts. Some of his play-calling was questionable, and some decisions were just bad. When he needed to light a fire under the team in the locker room, he turned to 69-year-old Joe Bugel to do it. Not that Buges isn't overqualified for the role, but sometimes the head coach needs to throw the bats in the shower, so to speak.

The only player I saw Zorn get annoyed with publicly was Jason Campbell, after the quarterback dared complain about the number of hits he was taking and the risk to his career. That didn't sit well with Zorn, who twice was sacked 44 times in a season. I disagreed with him on that point: Shouldn't you want better for the next generation? Just because you went through it, why should Campbell? I grew up without car seats and child locks, but I wouldn't let my kid roll around in the back seat or juggle knives in the kitchen.

And yet he let Albert Haynesworth play after coming late to practice, getting sent home, then carping and complaining about his coaches. It seemed Zorn held Campbell to a different standard, and that's never a good idea when you're dealing with 53 men. In fact, that attitude was surprisingly old school. New Age Zorn was seldom old school. Witness the Lonesome Polecat. Twice.

A lack of consistency was mentioned by more than one player during Monday's postmortem, prompted or not. Few would give specifics, but didn't disagree when a perceived star system and the uneven enforcement of the rules were mentioned. Told that other players had mentioned a lack of discipline, defensive end Phillip Daniels said, "I agree, 100 percent." He added his prescription for the entire team: "Listen to the coaches. Do what they ask you to do. Be on time for meetings. All those things. We can't win if we're not all together. We've got to be a team."

Of course, it's easy to point fingers now that Zorn is gone. There is no good way to fire someone, and Allen probably handled it more deftly than Vinny Cerrato would have done. Zorn will get several million dollars and relinquish his role as punching bag.

In other words, firing Zorn may have been the kindest thing the Redskins have done to him this season. Call the moving vans quick, Jim, before they change their minds.

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