A little more than a year ago, Jim Zorn stood in the Seahawks' practice bubble and inadvertently hinted at this day. We were talking about...
A little more than a year ago, Jim Zorn stood in the Seahawks’ practice bubble and inadvertently hinted at this day.
We were talking about the Seahawks’ franchise-altering run of success, something that seemed so far away in 1976 when Zorn quarterbacked the infant team. The conversation flowed like it always does with Zorn, a most thoughtful and chatty interviewee.
Near the end of our talk, I asked Zorn if this was nirvana for him, coaching quarterbacks for the team he once led as a player, competing with legitimate championship hopes every year. Zorn paused and then shook his head.
Great, yes. Ideal, no.
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“There’s more I’d like to do with my career,” Zorn said that day. “This is a wonderful, amazing time, but it’s not all there is for me.”
I didn’t think much of those words until Saturday, when Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder acted on his latest impulse and gave Zorn his first head-coaching gig.
And you thought Super Bowl XLII served up an upset. At his introductory news conference Sunday, Zorn even referred to the hiring as “miraculous.”
Of course, he also erred and said he was happy to be coaching the “maroon and black,” when Washington’s colors are burgundy and gold. But, hey, aren’t we striving to be colorblind in sports anyway?
There will be no Zorn bashing here. He’s too classy, too well-intentioned. He has already taken enough heat from some Washington die-hards, who are understandably shocked.
Just two weeks ago, Zorn was Mike Holmgren’s quarterbacks coach, a passionate guy with quirky training techniques. He’d throw out a Slip ‘n Slide to teach his quarterbacks how to get down after scrambles. He’d incorporate dodge ball into footwork drills. Sometimes, his methods were a little goofy, and Holmgren deserves the most credit for molding Matt Hasselbeck, but the Seahawk quarterbacks trusted Zorn.
On Jan. 25, Zorn accepted Washington’s offensive coordinator job, even though the team had yet to name Joe Gibbs’ successor. This was the “more” Zorn was hinting at, a new challenge, a chance to run an offense again.
Zorn wanted to stay in Seattle, but the Seahawks could offer no assurances that Zorn would get a similar opportunity. Holmgren is leaving after the 2008 season, but the Seahawks have given his job to Jim Mora, and Mora will have the freedom to decide his own offensive staff.
So the 54-year-old Zorn left to call plays for the first time in his coaching career. Then, at the end of Snyder’s blooper-reel coaching search (picture a blindfolded rich man violently swinging at a piñata), Zorn was granted a promotion before he even started work.
Snyder goes through coaches like they’re chewing gum. Zorn is Washington’s sixth coach since 1999. He follows Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie (interim coach in 2000), Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Gibbs, who has chosen to retire for a second time.
Zorn signed a five-year, $15 million contract, but there are predictions that he will last only a year in Washington.
Here’s hoping Zorn defies those low expectations.
The NFL could use another out-of-nowhere success story. The league is full of too many retread hires as it is. Washington’s long-rumored top option was former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel, and if the choice was between Fassel’s outdated methods and Zorn’s novelty, it’s good that novelty won for a change.
Safe hires — and now, succession plans — continue to make it difficult for fresh blood to get head-coaching jobs. If Zorn succeeds, this strange hire could promote innovative thinking within the NFL.
Then again, isn’t Bill Cowher still without a job?
It’s hard to change a league one Zorn at a time, but that’s what must be done. Unlike other green coaches who are handed impossible situations, Zorn inherits a decent team.
Washington has the kind of defense that can carry a team, although losing defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is a blow. The offense, which is what Zorn was hired to fix in the first place, is the biggest issue.
We remember what the Seahawks did to the Washington offense last month. Injuries created some of those problems, and the team will benefit from the return of quarterback Jason Campbell, who missed the end of the season with a dislocated left knee.
Washington has offensive line issues, but Campbell’s progression will determine this franchise’s immediate future.
So, after all the craziness of the past few weeks, Zorn is back in a familiar position. He must groom a quarterback to ensure a team’s stability.
Grab that Slip ‘n Slide and get to work.