With Zorn fired, Redskins criticize lack of discipline on the team

Clinton Portis, whose shouting match with Jim Zorn in 2008 was a sign of things to come, confers with his ex-coach earlier this season.
Clinton Portis, whose shouting match with Jim Zorn in 2008 was a sign of things to come, confers with his ex-coach earlier this season. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Football players speak in code. But when your year ends 4-12 and your coach is fired the next day before dawn, that code is easy to break. Instead of using lingo to obscure, the Redskins on Monday used it on to clarify some of their core problems under ex-coach Jim Zorn.

According to several players, the Redskins lack discipline. They miss too many practices that tougher players gut out. They skip meetings and break curfew. They don't study as hard as winners and don't force themselves to practice enough. Internal communication, compared to Joe Gibbs II, has eroded. Stars go outside channels, circumventing and undermining their coach, to take controversial issues straight to team executives or the owner.

Maybe you knew or suspected all that. But now it's out there.

"We did lack some discipline on this team," running back Rock Cartwright said. Under Zorn, there were "rule guys and guideline guys." That's a bitter joke, folks. It means you go by the rules, unless you're a pet star, then "you go by your own guidelines."

With Gibbs, there was a lot of individual coach-to-player communication and a committee of players that conferred every week on any topic. "Gibbs was a very loyal guy. And you repaid it," Cartwright said. "You would never go above his head.

"When you've got guys that feel like they have that power, then of course that's a bad apple in the bunch," he continued. "Not necessarily go to the owner, could be the GM. Not getting into no names, but I know it."

But everybody knows the main names: Clinton Portis and Albert Haynesworth, the highest-paid players on offense and defense, respectively, who were called out by multiple teammates by describing them without quite naming them.

Now we may even know the moment that Zorn's regime, if it ever had a chance, was doomed. Just as the Redskins reached 6-2 in 2008 with a win in Detroit, Portis and Zorn had a shouting match on the sideline.

Portis was mad that the candid Zorn put too much of his business out in public view. With hindsight, maybe it was Zorn's way to try to keep Portis a "rules guy." Portis went over Zorn's head. And it was Zorn who got the internal hand slap.

"Zorn was made offensive coordinator. Then they asked him to be head coach. He didn't ask for that. He took it in. I felt sorry for Jim that he had to go through this," said veteran defensive end Phillip Daniels, a member of Gibbs's leadership committee. "He started 6-2. Then players got in controversy with the coach and after that it went downhill."

Better "discipline wins us four or five more games," Daniels said. "Study. Get your rest. Don't do crazy stuff. Be on time for meetings. We talked to some players about it."

Daniels added that the "disciplinary action" handed out to Haynesworth on Christmas day for being late was far from the only example of the problem. "If the coaches can't trust you, maybe you are in the wrong sport."

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