By Barry Svrluga and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 6, 2010; D01
When Jim Zorn was hired as the Washington Redskins' head coach, his new players, like nearly everyone else, expressed surprise. They needed to feel him out, learn about his past, and wonder whether his credentials as a former NFL quarterback and position coach would translate into success as the head man.
Tuesday night, when word began to spread that Mike Shanahan -- he of the two Super Bowl championships -- would replace Zorn as the Redskins' on-field leader, there was no need for introduction. Several players embraced the move immediately and openly.
"I think we needed a guy in here who people are going to respect off of his name alone, and Mike Shanahan is that guy," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "You already knew he was going to come in here with a great scheme, a great mind because he's a great coach. You know he's a great leader. But to have that name, Mike Shanahan, associated with the Redskins is big for us, it's big for the fans, and it's just great news."
It wasn't exactly unexpected news, particularly for the players. Zorn was under fire for most of the 2009 season, and Shanahan's name was the one most frequently mentioned, in large part because Shanahan and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder have had a good relationship for years.
"Everyone knew it was coming," tight end Chris Cooley said. "I think my first reaction is that I still feel for Jim Zorn. The guy worked hard, wanted to win but it just didn't come together."
Still, when Zorn was fired Monday, one day after the Redskins finished a 4-12 season that closed his two-year tenure, some players spoke about how players needed more discipline. Former head coach Joe Gibbs, the Hall of Famer who returned in 2004 for a second stint to coach the Redskins, commanded the kind of respect that brought discipline immediately. Players said Tuesday night Shanahan could bring the same feel.
"Being able to add a two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, it's phenomenal," middle linebacker London Fletcher, a defensive captain, said while attending the Washington Capitals' game at Verizon Center. "He commands respect from the players right away. . . . He instantly becomes the face of the franchise."
That is, essentially, what Shanahan was for his 14 years as the coach of the Denver Broncos. He won his back-to-back Super Bowls there with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, but continued for the next 10 years after Elway's retirement. That decade of Shanahan's career yielded only one playoff victory. But those two trophies, which came after the 1997 and 1998 seasons, still carry weight with players.
"It's definitely a start," defensive end Andre Carter said. "You're talking about a man who's been to two Super Bowls, so he knows what it takes to build chemistry in an organization and have everyone start moving in the right direction. So I think this is a great hire. It's an honor to be working with Mike Shanahan."
Only one Redskin, running back Clinton Portis, has experience playing for Shanahan. In 2002, Shanahan and then general manager Ted Sundquist drafted Portis in the second round, and the University of Miami product had two of his most productive years running in Shanahan's scheme, which emphasizes offensive line play. Though Shanahan also helped engineer the 2004 trade that sent Portis to Washington for All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey, Portis wholeheartedly endorsed the hiring of his former coach.
"I think it's a great idea," Portis said Tuesday night. "I really think it's the best direction you can head in. You're talking about a proven coach, a coach who's going to come in and get things done, a coach that's got something to prove. He's a hell of a coach. I think the players are going to love him, and I think he's going to bring in the right kind of guys."
There will be, in coming days and weeks, much discussion about who the right guys for Shanahan's offense would be. The focus, as it was when Zorn was hired to replace Gibbs in February 2008, will be quarterback Jason Campbell, who just completed his fifth season and could be a restricted free agent this offseason. Campbell spent two years in Zorn's West Coast offense, and Shanahan runs another version of the same scheme. Tuesday night, Campbell expressed optimism.
"Everything I know about him is he has always had great offenses, he puts points on the board, he has a successful running game and great passing game," Campbell said. "I definitely think he's the type of leader and he has the type of leadership qualities that we need in a head coach. "
That is one bit of focus for Bruce Allen, the son of legendary Redskins coach George Allen who was hired in December to serve as Washington's general manager. Thus, in less than a month, Snyder has completely transformed the way the football branch of his franchise runs, essentially trading Zorn and Vinny Cerrato, the former executive vice president of football operations, for Shanahan and Allen.
"Moving forward, I'm excited to be a part of Mike Shanahan's and Bruce Allen's team," Cooley said. "I think with that combination, it's a new vision, a new direction -- which is good at this point."
Staff writers Rick Maese and Dan Steinberg contributed to this report.