- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2008

Chris Meidt spent a lot of time in his old job worrying. Were the practice fields getting mowed? Was the laundry getting done? Would there be enough helmets for all of his players?

Meidt’s new job hasn’t stopped him from fretting. However, the cause of his apprehension has changed with the passing of one football season. He is standing on a manicured practice field, dressed in a Washington Redskins Dri-fit T-shirt and matching cap. No one on the 80-man roster is without protective head gear.

“I am worried about Jason Campbell and Todd Collins and Colt Brennan and Derek Devine,” Meidt says.

Six months ago, the thought of mentoring a first-round NFL draft pick would have caused the 38-year-old Meidt to sit back from his bowl of Malt-O-Meal cereal and let out a deep laugh.

For those who have not yet committed all 368 pages of the Redskins’ media guide to memory, Meidt is the former Division III college coach Jim Zorn hired as an offensive assistant in February. For those with trouble weighing the disparity between D-III and the NFL, consider the Redskins had 23,000 more people at Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage than Meidt’s St. Olaf College Oles drew for a home game last season.

There were 18,300 more folks in Ashburn, Va., than live in the entire township of Arden Hills, Minn., home of Bethel University, where Meidt played quarterback as an undergrad and served as offensive coordinator from 1995 to 2001. Should the Redskins make it to Tampa, Fla., this February, Meidt would go from the Cereal Bowl - the title of the annual clash between St. Olaf and rival Carleton College - to the Super Bowl.

Meidt owes the rare opportunity to Zorn, whom he met in the mid-1990s when both men served as offensive assistants in the same state - Zorn as Jim Wacker’s quarterbacks coach at the University of Minnesota, Meidt as offensive coordinator at Bethel.

Since Golden Gophers quarterback Cory Sauter played for Meidt’s father-in-law and worked with Meidt at summer camps and clinics, the small-college coordinator decided to touch base with Zorn. The two coaches hit if off. They found they shared a deep faith in Christianity - “That’s the most important part of their lives,” Sauter says - and had similar strategies with X’s and O’s. Through the years, they kept in touch, talking game strategy over the phone each autumn and attending the same coaching clinics every spring.

“We like to be aggressive - that’s where Coach Zorn and I agree,” says Meidt, who as Oles’ coach habitually went for it on fourth down and surprised opponents with onside kicks. “We like to push the football, and part of that is taking some calculated risks.”

A mathematics major at Bethel, Meidt always has loved crunching numbers. He earned a master’s degree in business administration from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota and worked as a computer systems analyst for Burlington Northern Railroad before beginning his coaching career. He describes himself as “anal.”

“Everything in life I think could fit in a matrix - you can organize it and you can plan it out and you can detail it.” Meidt says.

Adds Horace Gant, a former Oles wide receiver now trying to land a Redskins’ roster spot: “He’s a perfectionist,” “He would have our plays broken down into percentages - like we would complete this play 75 percent of the time, and when we should run it, what down, what yardage, all by the numbers. That’s how anal he is.”

While Meidt’s might may lie in his attention to detail, Cincinnati Bengals assistant offensive line coach Bob Surace - a former coach at Western Connecticut State and the only other member of a current NFL staff to jump from Division III to the pros - warns that Meidt must avoid the temptation to micromanage in his new job.

“It’s not easy,” Surace says. “These players don’t have a weakness. A Carson Palmer or a Jason Campbell can make any throw. I look at my role is like being a pro golf coach. Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer in the last 25 years and he has a swing coach. You don’t want to change their swing, just learn to tweak it.

“I knew if I said something to [Bengals Pro Bowl tackle] Willie Anderson after every play, he was going to look at me like I was crazy. But if I can find that one little thing, that one little detail here and there - that could be the difference between winning and losing.”

Judging by the way Meidt and Zorn chat following each snap in training camp, things seem to be going smoothly thus far. But the majority of Meidt’s handiwork goes unseen to the casual practice observer. Aside from the hours Meidt spends putting together power point presentations and drawing up playbooks, Gant says Meidt took the schemes Zorn brought from Seattle and “put [them] in Redskins’ terminology,” thus easing the transition for Campbell and the rest of the offense.

“That’s all Meidt’s doing,” Gant says. “Coach Meidt actually took the Seattle offense and reworked everything.”

Everyone at Redskin Park is getting accustomed to the mix of easygoing Midwestern manner and unbridled enthusiasm for gridiron minutiae. Rookie quarterback Colt Brennan says he would have never known his new coach was from a D-III program had someone not told him before the first day of camp. Campbell likes Meidt’s accent, which sounds similar to William H. Macy’s in “Fargo.”

“It’s funny because it’s different you know - ‘Haaay, Hay? What you saay Jaason? Haay?’” Campbell says, doing his best impression before losing himself in laughter.

His wisecracking quarterback aside, Meidt says everyone on the East Coast has been warm and welcoming. He says he misses the free Malt-O-Meal in the St. Olaf cafeteria and his beloved Minnesota Twins and longs for the family and friends he left behind.

“It’s been an adjustment,” says Meidt, who moved his wife, Allison, and three children to Leesburg, Va., a month ago. “Our whole family lived in Minnesota. We had lived there our whole life, we had never left. We had a great life there. But it was an opportunity and a great organization, and I had heard such good things from Coach Zorn about Mr. Snyder and [Redskins executive vice president/football operations] Vinny [Cerrato] and so the pieces just seemed right to us.”

Zorn, for one, is happy his old friend decided to play leapfrog on the coaching ladder.

“He’s just a tremendous asset, a tremendous value on the field and off the field,” Zorn says. “I just hope that there is some stuff that rubs off on other guys because he’s a guy you’d want to emulate.”

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