Here we are, with one season in the books under Washington Redskins rookie coach Jim Zorn, and we still don’t know if he can be an NFL head coach — just like we didn’t know when he was hired in February.
Yes, the team finished with a respectable 8-8 — on the surface, not bad for a rookie. But they lost six of their final eight games, including Sunday’s last second 27-24 defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. That finish leaves the same questions unanswered that were there a year ago when Zorn was the shocking choice by owner Dan Snyder to replace Joe Gibbs as the Redskins head coach.
There are plenty of rationalizations to make people feel better about Zorn as the head coach — the injuries the team dealt with, the challenge of learning and adapting to a new so-called West Coast offense. You could make the case all contributed to a disappointing finish to the season after a 6-2 start.
But we need to go back to the day that Zorn was hired in February and the circumstances surrounding his hiring, and ask if anything has really changed since then. Zorn was hired basically because he was the last man standing. The Redskins had embarked on a lengthy interview process, with the intent all along of hiring Giants defensive coach Steve Spagnuolo after New York’s Super Bowl triumph. But Spagnuolo turned the job down, obviously fearful of the dysfunctional way this franchise has done business. So after Snyder refused to give the job to Redskins defensive coach Gregg Williams, he hired the guy as head coach who he had just hired recently to be the team’s offensive coordinator — Zorn.
Zorn was an icon in Seattle, where he was the franchise’s quarterback in their early expansion years. But he was only the quarterbacks coach with the Seahawks, and was never considered head coaching material. He was passed over as Seattle coach Mike Holmgren’s replacement, as the Seahawks designated Jim Mora Jr. to be their head coach next season. And Zorn was even told he would not be invited back as the quarterbacks coach after this past season. The place where he was best known and beloved didn’t think Zorn was an NFL head coach.
After the way this team performed in his first year — particularly the offensive futility that was displayed — we still don’t know if he is an NFL head coach. Yet the Redskins have little choice but to give Zorn more time because of the heavy-handed way this organization has done business in the past. Continuity — even the continuity of uncertainty — is important if the Redskins are going to change the reputation that led to Spagnuolo turning down what should be an elite head coaching job. We often hear that despite his mistakes, there is no doubt that Snyder wants to win, and is willing to spend the money to do so. That may be the case with his players, but if Dan Snyder really wanted to win, the Redskins would be doing all they could to hire two key figures to help them do that — former Steelers Super Bowl coach Bill Cowher and the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots personnel boss, Scott Pioli. Both are considered to be the prime targets of the Cleveland Browns, who fired their head coach and general manager after their disappointing season. If you want to win, and are willing to spend the money, these are the men you need to pursue.
That won’t happen, though. Neither would likely come here because of Snyder’s track record of fancying himself as some sort of football personnel man — though at one time, being the head coach of the Washington Redskins was considered among the best jobs in football. And it won’t happen because Dan Snyder likes the way he and his buddy, Redskins vice president Vinny Cerato, do business. As he said after Joe Gibbs stepped down last January, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It’s not just broke. It’s shattered. And the question remains, can Jim Zorn fix it?
I will be on The Sports Reporters on ESPN 980 AM on Monday, Dec. 29, and Tuesday, Dec. 30, from 4 to 7 p.m.
To learn more about Thom Loverro, go to www.thomloverro.com