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Redskins fire Zorn, expect to name Shanahan coach this week

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By Rick Maese and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

In a day that signaled a dramatic change of direction for the Washington Redskins, two football coaches flew into Dulles International Airport on Monday. Returning from the final game of the season, Jim Zorn landed before dawn and was almost immediately fired. Within hours, the private jet of Redskins owner Daniel Snyder arrived, carrying Mike Shanahan, who began discussions with the team about becoming its next head coach.

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Shanahan, Snyder and Bruce Allen, the team's newly hired general manager, were expected to meet into the night. As of late Monday night, no announcement had been made and no introduction of Shanahan was planned, but barring an unexpected hitch, an announcement of his hire could be made in the next couple of days.

The team announced Zorn's dismissal with a news release Monday morning, ending his disappointing two-year run as head coach. Allen addressed reporters at a midday news conference -- by which time Shanahan had already boarded Snyder's jet in Denver and was en route to Washington -- but Allen declined to discuss Zorn's possible successor or set a timetable for naming him.

"It's real clear that we're going to be aggressive," Allen said. "And what we're looking for in a head coach is somebody who can lead these men that we had in our locker room this year to levels they haven't played to before."

Snyder has long admired Shanahan, who won Super Bowls for the Denver Broncos in 1997 and 1998 and was fired following the 2008 season, and the two are widely reported to have spoken on multiple occasions in the past year.

If Snyder can work out the details -- and do it before another NFL team comes courting -- Shanahan would inherit a team that bears little resemblance to the ones that helped build his impressive résumé in Denver. His responsibilities could include personnel decisions, which would give him more power than most NFL coaches to build the team's roster.

Washington's players gathered at Redskins Park in Ashburn on Monday morning, first to meet with Allen, who informed them of Zorn's fate, and then to clean out their lockers. With change on the horizon, many weren't certain when -- of even if -- they would be returning.

"Snyder wants to win," cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "He thought he had a winning coach and players to do it with. Coach [Zorn] will probably be one of the first main things to go and then some of us."

An expected dismissal

Zorn's dismissal had been expected since early in the 2009 season, and speculation grew into near-certainty as the team's fortunes crumbled. The season concluded on Sunday with a 23-20 loss to the San Diego Chargers. Zorn leaves the team with a career win-loss record of 12-20; the Redskins' 4-12 mark this season is the franchise's worst since 1994.

Zorn had publicly stated last week that he hoped to return for a third season -- the last one remaining on his contract -- but neither he nor his players were surprised the Redskins cut him loose so soon.

"My experience was just incredible," Zorn said in a telephone interview Monday evening. "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."

The Redskins' team plane returned from San Diego early Monday. Zorn went directly to Redskins Park from the airport shortly after 2 a.m., arriving just ahead of buses carrying players. Allen said he met with Zorn in his office in what both men described as a "professional" meeting, and informed him of the team's decision. Zorn didn't emerge from the team's facility until 4:43 a.m., walking to his white Porsche Cayenne with a staff member at his side and then talking on his cellphone as he drove out of the parking lot for a final time.


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