The hiring of Bruce Allen as general manager of the Washington Redskins creates a new dilemma for Jim Zorn - as if the coach needed more problems.
Make no mistake about it: Zorn figured his prayers were answered when his nemesis, Vinny Cerrato, resigned Thursday.
The resignation probably revived hope in Zorn's mind - hope that Cerrato, in his obvious contempt for the coach, had extinguished - that he somehow can save his job.
Zorn is a possibilities person. He no doubt believes that if he shows Allen something special in the final three weeks of the season - like beating the Giants, Cowboys and Chargers to finish 7-9 - that he might be retained for next season.
Zorn is quite capable of talking himself into believing this - even amid reports that the Redskins already are discussing the position with former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.
"I won't speculate over what happens the next three weeks," Zorn said Thursday. "Hopefully, we can have many conversations and hope we can be compatible."
"I will work as hard as I possibly can - not to try to save my job, but to continue to work the way we're working to bring a winner to this program. That's really what I set out to do right from the beginning. And then, I hope Bruce will observe. It'll truly be up to him because of the position he's in."
Here's the problem: In order to succeed, Zorn will have to follow the plan Cerrato forced on him earlier this season that took the playcalling out of his hands and gave it to consultant Sherm Lewis.
Zorn clearly hates not calling the plays, though publicly he has tried not to show it. Still, his feelings were apparent when he spoke of how he would "comply with" Cerrato's decision - as if it were a hostage demand.
"Sometimes we have to do things that are uncomfortable," Zorn said.
Zorn is convinced he is some sort of playcalling wizard, almost defining himself by that belief. So when Cerrato stripped him of those duties in what was a national embarrassment for the coach, he took away the very essence of Jim Zorn the football coach.
The perception grew worse for Zorn when the team's offensive performance dramatically improved after Lewis took over in October.
The offense scored 30 and 34 points in games against the Saints and Raiders the past two weeks - a threshold the Redskins never reached in nearly 1 1/2 seasons with Zorn calling the plays.
You don't need to be Bill Walsh to see the offense is working better under this setup.
Yes, the system is convoluted. Lewis and offensive assistant Chris Meidt sit in the coaches' booth calling pass plays, offensive coordinator Sherman Smith is on the sidelines calling running plays, and Zorn supposedly calls plays in the two-minute drills. And there are variations that involve other coaches as well.
Cumbersome as the system is, it has worked.
Zorn clearly is frustrated that credit for the improved performance is given to the new playcalling system.
He goes out of his way to point out that he still designs the game plan, and he uses the term "game-planning," not "playcalling," to describe the improvement.
And he maintains the improvement is because of better execution of his system by the players.
Now the guy who forced this system on Zorn is gone.
So will Zorn become more involved in the playcalling - his passion - or continue to be a sideline observer and hope to reap the rewards of a system designed to freeze him out?
When asked Thursday if he had plans to change the system, Zorn answered that he will "probably keep things the way they are."
I somehow doubt Jim Zorn will "comply" now that he is a free man.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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