In Washington, every NFL story is five minutes from transforming into a tale of the past. This town’s media circuit is so densely populated with ex-players, and the historical stories are so richly amazing, and the present is often so dreary. So it seems like every season, we are treated to new details — or at least new slants — on seasons that ended long ago.
Which is why this week, a discussion about whether Jay Gruden could be in danger of losing the locker room became a discussion about Jim Zorn’s style, starring Clinton Portis. First, Portis offered a nod to Joe Gibbs.
“Coach Gibbs had the locker room,” Portis said Monday on ESPN 980. “Players would do anything for Coach Gibbs. Although we practiced in pads on Saturday my first year here; we practiced in pads on Saturday before we went and got on the plane.”
“Just a few times,” Chris Cooley noted.
“It don’t matter, it was a few times too many,” Portis said.
Steve Czaban then asked if Gruden was in danger of losing the locker room.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Portis said. “Now I know who did lose the locker room, and that was Coach Zorn. Coach Zorn lost the locker room here.”
“Coach Zorn might have lost the locker room Week 13 of season one,” Cooley agreed.
“Coach Zorn lost the locker room because he split the locker room between Christians and ballplayers,” Portis said. “So if you didn’t believe in what he believed in, if you weren’t Antwaan Randle El — I’m saying it, I’m going to talk, I’m on the radio — if you weren’t Antwaan Randle El, if you weren’t the guys who sat and prayed with him and did everything the way they thought your life should be, you kind of got, ‘Well, you’re not doing right’ speeches directed toward you.
“I’m grown,” Portis continued. “I can do what I want to do. I don’t have a police record. If I don’t get in no trouble, don’t assume the way that I live my life, don’t preach to me about what’s right. Because you’re not right, you’re phony, you’re sitting here in my face telling me one thing and then you go behind my back and say something else.”
“He’s not wrong, and this is exactly what I was going to say,” Cooley added. “He didn’t do it with intent though. Jim Zorn didn’t come in with intent to say ‘I want Christians.’ But he sold his pitch, his sales pitch was ‘Believe in and have faith in my program.’ And it was basically a sales pitch to a Christian team. It wasn’t ‘We’re going to be smart, we’re going to adapt, we’re going to make sense.’
“Literally any time there was anything that came up on offense that was ‘Hmm, this doesn’t make any sense, Jim, why are we doing this?’, it was ‘This was how Bill Walsh did it.’ Much like saying, ‘Go to the Bible and read it.’ It was the West Coast Bible that he sold over and over and over again. Plus, Sherman Smith did come in and give a sermon every single morning. … We’re all hyped about football, Sherman Smith would come in and say this is how we need to live our lives. We’re like, ‘Whoa, I’m fine once I leave this building, bro. I want to talk about football.’ ”
Czaban pointed out that Gibbs is also extremely public about his religion.
“But he didn’t force that upon you,” Portis said. “Coach Gibbs gave you the opportunity. ‘Listen, if you want to talk about it, you know I’m doing it the right way, come talk to me.’ ”
“I’m fine with praying in moments of turmoil,” Cooley said. “But the way Joe Gibbs sold his team was to football players and guys believing in each other, not believing in a system and a coaching base with it. … [Zorn’s system] was designed around the way a religion is designed: faith.”
“Listen with Coach Gibbs, you were who you were, and that was okay,” Portis said. “He just wanted you to come and work hard, that’s what he wanted. As long as you worked hard.”
Portis later said that Gruden won over this locker room by benching Robert Griffin III, and that players have not given up on him. But that wasn’t as interesting as the Zorn stuff.
Oh, and they also asked Portis about Zorn’s Hip Hip Hooray chants.
“I never listened to Zorn,” Portis joked.