Redskins' New Coach Sees the Task Ahead

Jim Zorn's tenure as the Washington Redskins' coach included unexpected highs and crushing lows.
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2008

Staring at three gleaming Super Bowl trophies in front of him, Jim Zorn paused briefly during his introductory news conference as the Washington Redskins' new head coach yesterday. Zorn, who had never been a head coach or top-level assistant in the National Football League before joining the Redskins, was in his first official role after replacing Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs.

With Gibbs seated in the second row of the auditorium at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Zorn acknowledged his predecessor's success in leading the Redskins to those championships back in the 1980s and early 1990s. And he said he's eager to begin the task of trying to add to the collection.

"I look at these three trophies, it's quite intimidating, and I know who's behind this little group here," Zorn said. "I'm very proud to be standing in an organization that has these and . . . I understand the opportunity I've been given. I'm sure there are some surprised people. I know I was surprised to get the opportunity, but I know how hard I'm going to work to earn everyone's trust and confidence."

After a coaching search that lasted 32 days and was shrouded in secrecy, the Redskins promoted Zorn, hired as Washington's offensive coordinator on Jan. 25, to be the team's sixth head coach since the 2000 season. Zorn, 54, signed a three-year contract.

Formerly the Seattle Seahawks' quarterbacks coach, Zorn began interviewing late last week for the position. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder's surprise move to elevate Zorn completed a process precipitated when Gibbs abruptly retired as team president and coach on Jan. 8.

"I said we'd be thorough and we'd conduct a full process and we did," Snyder said. "We did just what we said we'd do. What we were looking for was a coach with characteristics. And our characteristics were starting with character, a character person. Joe [Gibbs] has such character and I've learned so much not only about him, but about what I and the Redskins want in the future.

"We also talked about leadership, great leadership, but it starts with character. It starts with a person's character, their integrity, their smarts, their drive, their energy, their passion. We ended up with the right guy. We ended with a person that has all of those plus much, much more."

Gibbs, who has been publicly supportive of Snyder throughout the search for his successor, applauded the decision. Gibbs is serving as a consultant to Snyder.

"There's got to be a chemistry and a good feeling for both sides in the process, and I think that's what happened," Gibbs said. "I think that's what led Dan to Jim. I don't know Jim personally . . . but everybody that I know that knows him talks about what a great person he is. I think it's going to be good for Washington to have such a high-quality person."

Zorn already has made a good impression on some of the assistant coaches he inherited. "Awesome, awesome," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said about his early dealings with Zorn. "I had to meet him during [last] week. Excellent man. His reputation, we have friends in common, and what they alluded to . . . everybody you talk to they don't say good guy, they say great guy."

Redskins players said they, too, looked forward to working under their new boss, who played quarterback in the NFL for Seattle, Green Bay and Tampa Bay and has a reputation as a good tutor of quarterbacks.

"From actually playing the game, he understands what we go through as players, and that's real big," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "He knows what it's like during the season, the stuff you experience and the stuff you have to fight through, because he's been there before."

Before promoting Zorn from offensive coordinator to head coach, the Redskins promoted Blache, the defensive line coach the last four seasons, to direct the defense after former assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams left the organization because he was no longer under consideration to replace Gibbs. It's uncommon for teams to hire top-level assistants before selecting a head coach, and although Zorn plans to hire an offensive coordinator and possibly another assistant to help him coach quarterbacks, Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, the team's executive vice president of football operations, have retained much of Gibbs's former coaching staff.

"I'm very excited that Dan and all those involved kept the continuity here before the head coach got here, and now we've got a solid group and we can absolutely go hard and fast into the free agency, into the [scouting] combine, into the draft and then with our offseason program," Zorn said. "It's going to be much more comfortable for me in this situation than it would be starting from scratch."

Zorn said the development of Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell is a priority for the team. Campbell will be playing in his seventh offensive system in eight years dating from college at Auburn. Zorn is a proponent of the West Coast offense, which is based on the short passing game, though he said yesterday that the Redskins will have a "balanced attack" mixing the run and pass.

"We talked about this," Zorn said of Campbell's development. "He's had all these coordinators in all these different years. Eh, bummer. That's his career. And we start with what his career has been, but I'm not going to worry about all the influences he's had. I'm going to try to dive in and teach him the influences he's going to have. And I'm going to try to teach him the exact philosophies that I would use teaching any of those college quarterbacks that I had coming up through the ranks and any of those pro quarterbacks I've had.

"I'm going to use the same technique because they work at all levels and they will work for him. I hope he'll be just fired up and ready to go. I hope to see a difference in how he plays next year. I'll work hard to make sure that happens."

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