Chat with Michael Wilbon: Jim Zorn fired, Redskins future and more

Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Monday, January 4, 2010; 1:15 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Jan. 4 to discuss why the Redskins fired Jim Zorn, the upcoming NFL playoffs, World Wide Wilbon (which is Not Just Another Sorry, No-Account Sports Blog) the latest sports news, his columns and anything else on your mind.

A transcript follows

Discussion Archive * Column Archive * Talking Points Videos


Bronx, N.Y: Has order and accountability finally found its place at Redskins Park?

Michael Wilbon: Hi everybody. Happy New Year. Hope everybody enjoyed the holidays; I certainly did. Still out in Scottsdale, Az. after being in San Diego yesterday for the Redskins season finale and the end of the short Jim Zorn era. Of course, Zorn has already been fired and Dan Snyder is apparently trying to finalize an agreement with Mike Shanahan to be the next boss of the Redskins. Has order and accountability finally found its place at Redskins Park?

Who knows. Are you presuming it has? If so, I think that would be a big mistake. I thought it had found its place at Redskins Park with the hiring of Marty Schottenheimer. No? Well, everything was supposed to be okay with the hiring of Steve Spurrier because he was an iconic coach. No? Well, certainly Joe Gibbs return was going to return the Redskins to the top of the NFL. No? The Redskins have been adrift for a long, long time and I don't know that the hiring of Mike Shanahan, who has been a terrific coach for a long time, is going to change that overnight. The Broncos weren't any good in Shanahan's last couple of seasons. There were big personnel mistakes, the team didn't make the playoffs. Bruce Allen didn't put together any kind of winner down in Tampa. The Bucs won with a roster that was in place before he got there. Seems, to be, quite possible Dan Snyder is simply writing another chapter of Celebrity Football, which we have seen doesn't work. No, I don't presume anything has found its way to Redskins Park. Let's see. Let's see.


Washington, D.C.: Which D.C. team will bring a championship back to D.C. first?

Michael Wilbon: The Capitals have the greatest shot. They're good right now, have the roster to do it right now and a smart management team right now. I think the Caps can win this year. There are teams in their way, like the Penguins and suddenly the Blackhawks which are more desperate to win than even the Capitals are ... But the Caps seem to have what it takes, and not just in some short-term way ... Georgetown basketball is a threat again. The Wizards and Redskins? Not so much.


Richmond, Va.: Given the high draft choice, do you think the skins will trade down? Does Allen have a history of stockpiling draft picks?

Michael Wilbon: Allen doesn't have any long history of doing anything with draft picks. I'm reminded that he didn't run the draft in Oakland ... didn't have anything to do with the draft in Oakland, according to a Raiders official I talked to last week ...


Laurel, Maryland: I am one person who does not think Jerry Gray is head coaching material.

My question, do you believe any head coach will trust Jerry Gray, if the rumor is he will go behind your back to get your job?

Michael Wilbon: You mean like all the other coaches who talk to owners, when asked, when it is apparent that coach is a goner? I understand this is a tough situation when you are working for a guy and the owner asks to speak with you. But if the question is about stabbing a fraternity member in the back, then what about Shanahan talking to the Redskins while Zorn is in the corner office? Or Cower saying he's available and would talk to the Bears while Lovie Smith is in the corner office? It's a cut throat biz, which isn't exactly news. Whether this will hurt Jerry Gray, I don't know.


Anonymous: Do you think that Zorn will wind up in Cleveland with Mike Holgren

Michael Wilbon: He could. Also, he could simply sit out a year or so considering he's got, what at least $6 million coming his way over the next two years. But yes, the people who say Zorn was largely responsible for Matt Hasselbeck's evolution in Seattle under Holmgren see him going to work for his old boss in Cleveland and helping coach up Brady Quinn. Sounds logical.


New York, N.Y.: Wilbon! Why don't you have a daily show outside of PTI like your pal Tony?

Is Snyder capable of keeping his nose out of the front office and let people who actually know what they are doing (or at least have a clue) do their jobs?

If not, what can the fans do to get him to invest his ego elsewhere?

Michael Wilbon: I have a job covering professional basketball for ABC/ESPN and one writing a column and blogging for this newspaper ... two jobs my pal, Tony, doesn't have. That's enough for (and of) me. I think Snyder's pursuit of Mike Shanahan is just more of the same old way of doing business. But let's see. Let's see.


Rockville, Md.: Mike - so what else did former Raider employee Mike Lombardi of the NFP say about Allen to you ...

Michael Wilbon: I don't know Mike Lombardi ... Never talked to him other than "Hi, Mike how are you?" So never EVER try to guess who my sources are. You're not that good.


Madison, NJ: Mike, your wife is a Wahoo. I attended U.Va.'s basketball victory over UAB last Wednesday, and they looked solid. Maybe too early to tell on the Tony Bennett era, but do you have any prognostications on Mike London as their new football coach? Happy New Year.

Michael Wilbon: I think Craig Littlepage has great job with the two most important hires a university has ... And YES, I do mean the most important hires, more important than any department chair, any professor. Whether academics like it or not these are any school's two most visible employees. I like both hires and think Craig got it right.


Woodbridge, Va.: Seeing as what I've heard about Bruce Allen is that he's a "cap guy", is Shanahan coming here to "shop for the groceries, as well as cook the meal"?

Michael Wilbon: Seems like that's the case to me, which I think is ALWAYS a mistake.


St. Louis, Mo.: Rams on the clock: None of our defensive draft picks have seemed to work out since the team came to St. Louis, should we skip drafting Suh and get a quarterback instead?

Michael Wilbon: You think a defensive line with Chris Long and Suh wouldn't work out? I would beg to differ.


Richmond, Va.: How about the William and Mary Tribe BB team?!? Stuns both Wake and Maryland on their courts. ... Can the CAA actually get a at large in the NCAA this year?

Michael Wilbon: I know we're into legit college basketball time, but we're wall-to-wall Redskins/Gilbert/NFL playoffs, pal. Get with the program.


Burke, Va.: I know you're going to get loads of questions about Zorn and Arenas, but I'm hoping to address a broader question.

With everyone caught up in end-of-the-decade lists, I spent part of the last week at work (while the rest of my office was away on vacation) trying to statistically answer a question my friends and I have argued about many times:

Is D.C. the worst sports town in the country?

Using the four major sports leagues, and looking back over the past ten full regular seasons, I figured out the winning percentage of each major sports city. I only took cities that have teams in three or four of the main leagues (before you say it, I am fully aware of how nerdy this is).

(Town (number of teams), win percentage, playoff appearances, win/loss in championship game/series)

1. Boston(4), .586, 24, 6/1

2. Dallas(4), .56825, 20, 0/2

3. Philly(4), .56775, 26, 1/3

4. Denver(4), .535, 19, 1/1

5. LA(6), .525, 28, 6/3

6. Pittsburgh(3), .5223, 11, 3/1

7. Minneapolis(4), .522, 17, 0/0

8. St. Louis(3), .520, 16, 1/1

9. NY/NJ(9), .518, 48, 5/7

10. Toronto(3), .506, 10, 0/0

11. Miami(4), .504, 12, 2/0

12. Detroit(4), .502, 19, 3/3

13. Phoenix(4), .495, 14, 1/1

14. SF Bay area(6), .484, 16, 0/2

15. Houston(3), .478, 8, 0/1

16. Chicago(5), .472, 15, 1/1

17. Tampa(3), .466, 10, 2/1

18. Atlanta(4), .456, 12, 0/0

19. D.C.(4), .450, 11, 0/0

20. Cleveland(3), .448, 7, 0/1

The only reason D.C. is above Cleveland is because of the Caps; without them and comparing across the same three sports, DC has a .424 winning percentage. Awful!

I am born and raised in the area here, but I was 7 when a team in the area won a big championship (outside of the Terps and DC United I guess). Do you think the new decade will be as bad for this area as the last one?

Michael Wilbon: I don't measure the value of a sports town by what the teams' winning percentages are over a period of time. That's cyclical. I look at the support, the passion in a city, the overall attitude about all of the sports choices offered. D.C.'s a middle-of-the-pack city, certainly not up there with Boston, Chicago, New York, Philly, Cleveland, Detroit, but above Atlanta, Miami. Middle of the pack is where I have D.C. Winning games isn't within a city's control, except the amount of pressure the fans put on management, I guess.


Washington D.C.: Mike, Who are your favorites to meet up in the super bowl and what teams do you have as sleeper picks?

Michael Wilbon: The way it's set up now I like the Packers and Chargers in the Super Bowl. Sleeper? Can the Cardinals be a sleeper if they beat the Packers? I really think the winner of that game goes to New Orleans and beats the Saints, who I've said for three weeks I don't see winning another game this year. I don't see the Colts beating the Chargers either, even though the game will be in Indy. I think the Ravens, now that Wes Welker is out, have a better chance of beating the Chargers in San Diego, but I can't see the Ravens beating the Patriots.


Bloomington, Indiana: I read on the Post site that Allen and Shanahan want to draft a quarterback -- I assume Bradford or Tebow. But isn't the conventional wisdom now that the Redskins' top priority is offensive line? If so, will it be possible through a couple high draft picks and a trade or two to strengthen the group in the trenches? And if the new leadership does make the offensive line a priority, wouldn't this be an important signal of positive change in management?

Michael Wilbon: Tebow isn't a first-round draft pick and that's the choice they make we'll be having the same conversations about the Redskins next year that we're having now.


Oakland, CA: Is Mike Leach a perfect fit for the Raiders or what?

Michael Wilbon: Yeah, and if Al Davis tells him to wear a patch over his eye he'll do it. Hell, if Davis tells him to poke his eye out and put a permanent patch there he'll probably do it.


Winter Haven, Fla.: Michael, I realize this is a little old but, with all the accolades for George Michael I was a little surprised to read one nasty comment concerning George and his non-appearance at Glen Brenner's funeral. As a big fan of both I wasn't aware of the bad blood ... what's the story?

Michael Wilbon: I didn't know either man well then and have no idea. I met Glen Brenner once ... twice tops and didn't know him at all. And never had reason to ask George about their relationship. But, didn't George break down on the air when he announced Brenner's death. Do I have that correct?


Verizon Center: If Abe was looking down on the team today, I think he would be disgusted. As tough as the gun laws are in D.C., Gilbert's got to go to jail, right? That clears one bad contract off the books and allows the Wiz to try to find some players. Can Leonsis do the Wizards what he has done with the Caps?

Michael Wilbon: Glad we're getting to this. I should have dealt with this in my column about Gilbert Arenas and this gun controversy the other day, but didn't. The primary reason Abe Pollin changed the name of the franchise from Bullets to Wizards was because he'd become very, very concerned with the image of Washington, D.C. in the early- and mid-1990s as a murder capital of the country. Abe Pollin detested that and wanted not just to not add to the perception, but wanted to actively make a statement that he supported tough, no-nonsense positions on guns and violence here. A lot of us, and I include myself, thought Abe was overreacting, that he went too far, that changing the name was unnecessary. I've been hoping that whoever the new owner would be, presumably a group led by Ted Leonsis, would change the name back to Bullets, in part to honor the name of the team Abe Pollin brought to metropolitan Washington. But it's a little difficult to make that case right now. In fact, it appears Abe Pollin had it right all along, specifically the depth of his concern and worrying about perceptions of a nickname. Having said that, yes, Abe would be disgusted if he was here to see this. Six weeks after his death his family has to deal with Gilbert's nonsense? I thought Irene Pollin's statement the other day sounded all the right notes. Gilbert has to be suspended. If these various investigations turn up nothing new, and that the guns were not loaded, there's still going to be a short suspension. There has to be. If the guns were empty, it's going to be impossible to make the case that the team should seek to have the rest of the $111 million contract voided, though that would dramatically help the team.

I'm one of those people who has found Gilbert colorful and quirksome and enjoyable for his eccentricities in his time here. But this is way, way, way over the line. And Gilbert should have know that. This isn't simply a case of "bad judgement." This is egregious. I think this episode should be the impetus to break up this team...not that anybody else did anything wrong. Specifically, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, who are absolute professionals, did nothing wrong. In fact, dealing them to contenders would help the rest of their careers and help the Wizards rebuilt. This group of players isn't going to accomplish anything together. That window has closed. If we're disappointed as consumers of the product, how disappointed do you think Butler and Jamison are. I've had players from four different teams in the last two weeks ask me if Butler, who has been marginalized this season, and Jamison are available. The Wizards need draft picks and cap room and they need it now. I don't know if Ernie Grunfeld feels the need to rip up this team and start from scratch, or if Leonsis feels that way, or if he would be in control soon enough to be a player in the 2010 free agency summer. But one would hope that in the weeks after Abe Pollin's death the Wizards, particularly a franchise player handed a $111 million contract, would conduct themselves in a way that would make the late owner proud. This isn't the way. And now, the baby needs to go out with the bath water.


Chevy Chase: How about that Northwestern Bowl game? Ever seen a crazier ending?

Michael Wilbon: Crazy, crazy and (for me) a completely disappointing ending. I applaud Coach Fitzgerald for going for the touchdown in OT, considering our kicker had suffered a leg injury and was out of the game...But we're at 60 years and counting without a bowl victory and that one was within reach. But we're not Notre Dame and won't behave like fans of that program. Our expectations aren't outrageous. We've won 17 games the last two years and have a 35-year-old coach who can take the program to greater heights. All in all it was a great season and a great game...But I'm tired of these endings...If you didn't see the game, I have to think you'll be able to soon as an "Instant Classic" on ESPN because it was that, from coin flip to final play.


Brooklyn, NY: Hi Mike- Do you think David Stern will suspend Arenas for the rest of the season? And while I know the Wizards as we know them are over, what's the point of losing Butler and Jamison for 40 cents on the dollar right now?? So depressing ...

Michael Wilbon: What makes you think they can only get 40 cents on the dollar for Jamison and Butler? Suppose they could get Tracy McGrady's expiring contract and something else? Or an expiring contract from, say, the Clippers and a draft pick? And I don't think anybody has gotten more than seven games for a gun-related suspension, so if it's determined the guns were not loaded, how long a suspension should we really expect? I think we have to see what these investigations turn up so that we know the facts. David Stern will have to wait for just that before making his decision.


New York, NY: Do you think the Knicks are heading in the right direction or is the Eastern Conference just really terrible?

Michael Wilbon: The latter. The East, again, is terrible. Although, the Western Conference has more good teams there's nobody other than Denver that can challenge the Lakers. At least the East has four teams (Celtics, Magic, Cavs, Hawks) who could represent the conference in the NBA Finals.


Washington, DC: If you don't think the Knicks or the Nets will be able to afford LeBron next year, do you think he'll stay in Cleveland? If--and I know this is a big if--the Wizards can void Arenas's contract and move Butler and/or Jameson, do they suddenly become players in the LeBron sweepstakes?

Michael Wilbon: I know, I know ... I had that pipe dream already. That would free up, what, 40 million bucks? They'd have to have the new owner in place, the coach LeBron would want. Depends on what LeBron thinks of D.C., and I've never asked him because it wasn't important...It only becomes important if they can clear all that cap room, which seems almost impossible.


Alexandria Va.-Glenn Brenner Breakdown: Actually, I recall it being Brenner's sidekick or number 2 at Channel 9 who broke down on air.

Michael Wilbon: Okay, I would expect people at Channel 9 who worked with Brenner to have broken down ... But what about George?


Charlottesville, Va.: This may be old news, but I have been dying to know your opinion on this. Does Michael Jordan's role as a friend/mentor/advisor to Tiger Woods have zero affect on the way he leads his life? I find that hard to believe. As a very young man, Tiger developed a relationship with a famous womanizer. No connection there?

Michael Wilbon: You people who ask these questions and make these associations and jump to these conclusions are so dumbfoundingly naive. How many famous womanizers do you think Tiger Woods knows and is friends with? Countless, believe me. And you don't need to go to pro basketball and come up with Michael Jordan. You can stay a lot closer to home than that. The only thing I cannot believe, when it comes to the case of Tiger Woods, is how clueless people are on the subject of men with options and sex ... over the entire sweep of history. I'm not saying it's right, I'm saying it is. Get real, people.


Winter Haven, Fla.: Michael/Brenner... I seem to remember that also, that's why the comment surprised me. George will sure be missed, your Redskins shows with him were great and I never missed them!

Michael Wilbon: He will ... And thank you.


Rio de Janeiro, RJ: So, if it is Shanahan as the next head coach, once again, Synder and Cerato picked a head coach and a GM themselves, instead of hiring a GM and let him interview and select a head coach. What has changed. Danny is still playing fantasy football ...

Michael Wilbon: Bingo in Rio. Bingo.


Fairfax, Va.: As a Minnesota transplant, I'm perhaps biased, but in a weekend where so many playoff-bound teams phoned it in (Indy, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Arizona) I was glad to see the Vikings put in a genuine, play-the-starters-and-try-to-beat-the-other-team-to-a-pulp effort yesterday. Fans and opponents deserve the respect of an honest effort every week.

(I also liked that Favre directed his last touchdown pass of the game to a hardworking, no-glory, fourth-year fullback to give him the first TD of his career.)

On the flip side, I have to admit that what happened to Welker certainly validates the idea of sitting starters at the end.

Michael Wilbon: Yeah, we should talk about Week 17 of the NFL season. What a joke. It ought to be seen as an embarassment. Half the games had one team that didn't give a damn and didn't compete, didn't even try. I understand, from a competitive standpoint, the desire to keep people healthy, which is what the Patriots weren't able to do. But...what about the sponsors who paid full freight? What about the people who paid full price for a ticket? They were cheated in half the games. Teams like the Colts, Saints and Bengals--all division winners--didn't even try. I didn't see the Cardinals game but they didn't try 100 percent and still had three players injured, three regulars. What's the answer? I don't know. I do know that increasing the season by two games to 18 isn't the answer. The league is lying to itself and the consumer if it suggests that's the answer. But what a joke the Week 17 games were. Nobody got their money's worth except the owners who sold out the games and perhaps the networks who got their money from advertisers who didn't get their due. What a rip-off.


Culpepper, Va.: Let's assume Shanahan is in. Weren't his offensive lines predominantly smaller but quicker guys? Would that kind of approach work with the Redskins, especially in the NFC East where it seems like you need a giant line?

Michael Wilbon: What, Shanahan didn't beat NFC East teams in all that time he was coaching the Broncos?


Washington, D.C.: Mike - A post just went up on espn's "TrueHoop" that I sort of agree with and would like your comments on, especially in light of the long response you just posted re Arenas. The gist, if you'll take my word for it, is that given the enormous gun ownership in the NBA, and the severity of offenses of people like Pippen, West, Jackson, Christmas, and endless etc, it's odd that Arenas' comparatively minor (at least as thus far reported by people other than New York Post) possession issue is spawning such outrage and coverage. True Hoop: Gun Mania (, Jan. 4)

Michael Wilbon: Believe me, those situations led to the feeling of outrage in their communities at the time.


Vienna, Va. : Re: womanizing-

most of us get to take the high ground only because we'll never have the opportunities ...

Michael Wilbon: Understood competely. THAT's an honest assessment.


DC Sports Town: I think there are other contextual things that happened this decade that show that DC has actually grown as a sports town:

Growth of Penn Quarter around the Verizon Center, making a lively sports/entertainment center for the city.

Hey! We got a baseball team, and built them a very nice stadium.

Plus, I think that whats great about DC is that sports ARENT all encompassing. There is other stuff to do too in addition to rooting for the home team.

Michael Wilbon: I agree completely with your bottom line. It's one of the reasons I like living in D.C. even though I make a living in sports/media ... But that doesn't make it a better SPORTS CITY. More balanced, sure? More diverse interests? Sure. Better sports city? Nope.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think there's been irresponsible reporting from the New York Post on the Arenas issues?

Michael Wilbon: Could be. Absolutely. It's not like the New York Post is the New York Times. Wouldn't be the first time. Although, if The Post gets it right, in the final analysis, then The Post should be credited ...


Anonymous: Earlier you said that hiring Shanahan might be another case of Redskins 'Celebrity Football'. Let's say you're making the call for the next Redskins head coach: Who's your pick and why?

Michael Wilbon: I don't know. I'd have a GM/Director of Football Operations make that hire after doing substative and thorough interviewing. I'd find a coach, not annoint another one.


Washington, D.C.: Let's say the Wizards give away Butler and Jamison now, but they aren't able to void Arenas's remaining contract. The Wizards probably don't have the cap space to afford any premier free agent this offseason, and the team is probably perpetually stuck in lottery limbo, like we were between '90 and '96, and then between '98 and '05. Why is this scenario more desirable than seeing what happens when Butler finally returns to form and Miller returns?

Michael Wilbon: Dude, check the standings. The Wizards are projected to be in lottery limbo now. They're paying out the wazoo and they've got nothing. They're not going to get significantly better. Why? They win a couple and we're all hyped up and then they get smashed by a team they shouldn't get smashed by. This is the pattern they're stuck in. Time to start anew.


@gilbertarenas: Usually when an athlete starts making stupid statements on twitter, within a few hours someone convinces them that it's in their best interest to delete the posts and shut down the account. Why has no one done this for Gilbert?

Michael Wilbon: I'm okay with Gil standing by what he feels. I've had this conversation with him lately. I'm okay with that. This is a new age we live in, where celebrities speak their minds without filter ... I understand your point completely, but I'm okay with Gilbert speaking his mind, even when the rest of us might disagree.


Vienna, Va: If Shannahan is hired as the new head coach and he fails to win more then 14 games over 2 seasons will he be fired line Zorn was?

Michael Wilbon: No ... He'll get a third season.


Shirlington, Va.: Re: Bingo in Rio, I read where Shanahan was contacted first and said he would work with Bruce Allen - so wouldn't that be the coach actually selected the GM? And was Vinnie aware of all this while it was going on, or was he told the morning he "resigned?"

Michael Wilbon: Yes and yes ... Very perceptive. You see why I'm skeptical about this whole thing?


Rosslyn, Virginia: If Gilbert pointed a gun, it's an assault with a deadly weapon ("Knowingly or purposely causing serious bodily injury to another person, or threatening to do so"). He'll have jail to worry about more than a suspension.

Michael Wilbon: Even if there's no ammunition in the gun? I'm not a lawyer ... should ask the one I live with but she's chasing a little person who's running through the house with a vacuum in his hands ... Okay, I gotta run and prepare for PTI ... We're in the thick of a real good sports run, people. I LOVE this time of year. NFL playoffs (which we didn't even get to), pro basketball, coaching changes, colleges heating up, Bowl season (which seems lame). It's packed. Talk to you guys next week after we've gotten through the first round of playoffs. Tell you what ... I'll also take another six or seven questions and post answers later tonight which most of you will see in the morn ... We'll convene again next Monday, same time, same channel. Stay warm ... MW


Washington D.C.: Why isn't it a lock that Chris Johnson gets the MVP award this year? He's done something only five other players have done and he broke Faulk's yards from scrimmage record. Is it a race/image thing from the NFL?

Michael Wilbon: He'll get votes. But mine would go to Peyton Manning, with Johnson second ...


Washington D.C.: D.C. is a much better sports town than Philly. They boo their own players and cheer when people get hurt. Passionate sure but what's your definition of best?

Michael Wilbon: I'll try and answer this one tonight, so if this can be re-sent to me again we'll start here ... MW


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