Redskins' Jim Zorn strives to ignore outside chatter

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jim Zorn awoke Tuesday morning, still the coach of the Washington Redskins. But by now, late in his second season as a head coach, the list of questions with which he must deal is far more complicated than why a play worked or failed or whether an injured player might return.

Zorn's Tuesday, then, included dealing with the aftermath of Monday's embarrassing 45-12 home loss to the New York Giants; answering questions about how one of his staff members has interviewed for the job he currently holds; wondering what star defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth meant when he said, "We need somebody to lead us in the right direction;" and somehow focusing on the penultimate game of the season -- one that is, most likely, the second-to-last game of his career as Redskins coach.

Told at an unusually brief day-after-game news conference that some players believed the distractions of the past few weeks -- which also include last week's change from Vinny Cerrato to Bruce Allen as general manager -- finally caught up with the coaching staff, Zorn said, "I would disagree with that."

But with two games left in a season filled with far more tumult than satisfaction, Zorn said he is actively trying to ignore reports that his ouster will come swiftly at season's end, and that the most likely replacement is former Denver coach Mike Shanahan. Jerry Gray, his secondary coach, has interviewed for Zorn's job, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation. Zorn, though, said Tuesday that such a development would bother him only "if I allowed it to bother me."

When asked what his reaction was to Gray's interview and whether the staff could hold together under such circumstances, Zorn remained as he has since he arrived in Washington less than two years ago: relentlessly positive.

"I do know this: There's all kinds of comments," Zorn said. "I don't really want to have an answer for that specific question, or my longevity-here questions. And I really believe this: That our staff's pretty together. I think it still is.

"We're frustrated we're losing. We're trying to eke out any single opportunity to put our guys in the right position so that they can be successful and motivate them in such a way that they'll go out and play with passion, and it does take a staff being together to do that. So I feel pretty good about our staff, and I feel like we're together. I don't even know all the stuff that's going on on the sides."

Yet at 4-10, what's going on on the sides has more relevance to the direction of the franchise than anything that happens in the final two games, Sunday night against Dallas at FedEx Field and Jan. 3 at San Diego. Gray's interview for Zorn's job would allow the Redskins to move more swiftly in hiring a replacement, because any team replacing its coach must interview at least one minority candidate, a stipulation of the so-called "Rooney Rule."

Gray, who is African American, would not address his interview late Monday night, after the loss to the Giants.

"No questions about that," Gray said. "No head coach questions. None. Zero. You want to talk about the Cowboys?"

Zorn, too, was asked whether he would seek out information from his assistants on whether they were pursuing jobs behind his back. He said he was trying to focus on the traditional parameters of his job.

"I try not to be the investigative reporter," Zorn said. "I try to be the head football coach and be open with our staff and players about the important things that are going on as they pertain to the game, as they pertain to our preparation, and the strategies, the schemes, the health of our players. That's really the focal point. That's what I'm called to do, not go and try to figure out all the extras -- and there's so many things out there, I don't even know what's true and what's not."

Zorn's status and the change from Cerrato to Allen were a significant focus of Monday night's broadcast on ESPN. On the show, Jon Gruden, the former Tampa Bay and Oakland coach who worked closely with Allen in both spots, said he would not coach anywhere next year -- essentially taking himself out of consideration for a potential Washington opening. Allen, in a separate interview, evaded questions dealing with reports that Shanahan is in talks to replace Zorn.

Then, with Allen watching, the Redskins responded with their worst game of the season, one that featured a Zorn-called fake field goal at the end of the first half run not once, but twice -- after the Giants called a timeout -- that resulted in a bizarre interception of punter Hunter Smith.

"Bruce Allen pretty much got a head start on evaluating talent," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "If he looked at what he saw today, he'd scrap this whole thing."

Shortly after Hall spoke Monday night in a quickly emptying locker room, Haynesworth -- who signed as a free agent in the offseason and is guaranteed $41 million -- suggested he had been misused this season in the scheme of defensive coordinator Greg Blache and admitted that the season has been "frustrating."

"The score, the record, they'd say that we're horrible, that we don't know how to play football," Haynesworth said. "But I've been around these guys a lot. I think they know how to play football. I think we're all just going different directions, and we need somebody to lead us in the right direction."

Zorn played down the comments Tuesday.

"After a loss, I think there's a lot of things said," Zorn said. "I think the meaning behind those things probably can go in many different directions. I will say it was a frustrating loss for all of us."

Next up for Zorn: a short week of preparation for Dallas, one that will include more sit-down meetings with Allen. Zorn said those meetings, thus far, have been "encouraging" and "very positive." He will have just a few more before this season, and Allen's evaluation of both the coaching staff and the players, concludes.

"I'm very impressed with his actions and his attention to the inner workings of our program," Zorn said. "I think in some things, I think he's been very impressed with, and I think some things that he's going to really have some good input on as well. . . . Everything has been up front, positive, and straightforward. We're moving in the right direction."

Staff writer Rick Maese contributed to this report.

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