By Rick Maese and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 5, 2010; A01
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.
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.
Most players and Zorn's assistant coaches didn't learn of the news until several hours later.
"I think it would have been a surprise if it didn't happen," said quarterback Jason Campbell, who worked more closely with Zorn than any other player. "When something has been going on as long as this was, it really doesn't come as a shock. I mean, we all really expected it by now."
Snyder addressed Zorn's firing in a written statement, released by the team's public relations staff.
"This has been an extremely difficult season for our organization and for the fans," the owner said. "Bruce Allen spent many hours examining the football operations, and we are both determined to do whatever it takes to build a championship team. That process begins today.
"No one in the organization is satisfied with our record over the last two years, and I am sure that Jim would concur with that statement. It has been painful for him too," Snyder's statement continued. "I certainly accept responsibility for mistakes that I have made. I am hopeful that our fans will accept my commitment and pledge to deliver a franchise that can compete in the NFC East every season."Evaluation and change
Zorn leaves behind a team that has plenty of holes, and if the Redskins are successful locking up Shanahan, the new coach will have a long list of immediate questions to answer. Though players have been bracing for sweeping changes, when Allen met with the team Monday morning, players said, he was complimentary of the pieces that are already in place.
"Everybody thinks there's going to be a whole lot of shaking up to do," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "Bruce just said it's not going to be as much as everyone thinks. He felt like we had the talent in this room to win games. We just need the right leadership, the right direction."
Assessing the team, Allen was more measured in his remarks with reporters. He wouldn't disclose any details of the organization's new course or set a timeline for the team's return to competitive form, though he did attach of urgency to the Redskins' mission. In Snyder's 11 seasons as owner, the Redskins have cycled through six coaches -- not including Zorn's successor -- and have won just one playoff game.
"I believe that we have to do everything today to get better," said Allen, the son of legendary Redskins coach George Allen, who was hired as general manager on Dec. 17. "What that gets us in number of wins this year, I can't make that promise. I do know one thing, that the organization's going to do everything it can to be successful immediately."
To that end, the new coach will have to do a quick evaluation of the existing roster. Though Zorn was ousted, the team has temporarily retained all of his assistant coaches and coordinators. The remaining staff is preparing reports on each player to submit to the next head coach, who will likely bring in his own set of assistants.
The Houston Texans are already planning to replace their offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, who is expected to join his father's staff. Much of the speculation for Mike Shanahan's preferred team's defensive coordinator has centered on Mike Zimmer, who currently holds the same position for the Cincinnati Bengals.
"You know what, change sometimes is good," said Hall, one of the few Redskins with a guaranteed contract for next season. "I think we reached a point here where we needed a change. We needed a change, we needed to start over with something fresh, and I look forward to what we bring in to get us back, get us going again, and get some of these guys back hungry."
The changes on the coaching staff and in the front office are expected to trickle down to all facets of the team's operations. Allen made several references Monday to the organization's need to alter the "status quo."
"We have to change the ways we have been doing business," Allen said. "The players are going to embrace it."
A new head coach would be a second major change in the past month. Replacing Vinny Cerrato, the team's former executive vice president of football operations, with Allen last month signaled a changing of the guard to many around the league. Allen, who formerly worked in the front offices of the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, began work immediately, analyzing every corner of Redskins Park.
"I've been able to listen to some players and I've listened to the coaches," he said. "I just know that last place is not Redskin football. Last place two years in a row is not Redskin football. Today we can start building the foundation that would make us successful in the future."
Staff writers Barry Svrluga, Paul Tenorio and Zach Berman contributed to this report.