Zorn considered resigning over play-calling

Longtime friend says coach was given ultimatum; Redskins deny trying to force Zorn out

Coach Jim Zorn denies he was given an ultimatum by Redskins management.
Coach Jim Zorn denies he was given an ultimatum by Redskins management. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2009

Washington Redskins Coach Jim Zorn considered resigning Sunday night after team management told him he must relinquish his play-calling responsibilities or lose his job, former congressman Steve Largent, a longtime friend of Zorn's, said Wednesday.

"They went to the point of pulling out his contract and said, 'You have to do whatever the owner tells you to do,' " Largent told KJR radio in Seattle. "His choice was either to resign or to continue on under the current scenario."

Contacted by telephone later in the day, Largent said it was his opinion -- not Zorn's -- that the Redskins were trying to force him to step down. "Jim isn't going to do that. Jim isn't a quitter," Largent said.

Three people who said they were familiar with Zorn's conversations gave a similar version of what happened. They requested that their names not be used because of the sensitive nature of Zorn's status with the Redskins.

However, in a statement released by the team Wednesday evening in response to the Post's request for comment, Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' executive vice president of football operations, said Zorn was not given an ultimatum when he met with the Redskins coach at FedEx Field after the team's 14-6 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

"I met one-on-one with Jim and I suggested to take the play-calling off of his full plate," Cerrato said in the statement. "In no way did I ever give him an ultimatum. In fact, I received a voice mail from Jim that said, 'You decide how you want to handle this and I'm in.' "

In a separate statement on the same sheet of paper issued by the team, Zorn said: "There was no ultimatum. My focus is preparing for the game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night."

Zorn initially refused to give up play-calling in his meeting with Cerrato, those familiar with Zorn's conversations said, but later that night he called Cerrato on the telephone and agreed to allow Sherman Lewis, hired two weeks ago as a special consultant for the team, to take over those duties.

In the telephone interview Wednesday, Largent said Zorn had considered stepping down "for a moment. But just in his heart, he wasn't ready to give up. It's just not something that he would ever do. He has too much integrity and class."

Asked whether he would have been fired had he refused the team's order, Zorn said this week he couldn't answer the question. "I don't have that answer for you," he said. In a separate interview with Comcast SportsNet, responding to the same question, Zorn said, "I'm not going to answer all those questions. I don't want to dig deep into all this psyche of that issue. It is what it is, and [a new play-caller] is going to happen."

When he was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach in January 2008, Zorn signed a five-year contract that included two team options. He is owed the remainder of his salary from this season and in 2010, which is believed to be about $4 million total.

Largent said the turmoil surrounding the Redskins is wearing on Zorn, but added that his onetime teammate with the Seattle Seahawks is still committed and thinks he can win in Washington.

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