- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008

In a stunning final twist to a monthlong search, the Washington Redskins named newly hired offensive coordinator Jim Zorn as their head coach last night.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Executive Vice President Vinny Cerrato had interviewed seven confirmed candidates in their search of Joe Gibbs’ replacement after the Hall of Fame coach retired Jan. 8. But after more than 100 hours of talks, the man they liked best was the 54-year-old Zorn, who has never coached an NFL offense, let alone an entire team.

Mr. Snyder had hired Zorn, the Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach for the past seven seasons, as offensive coordinator on Jan. 26 and dismissed associate head coach Al Saunders, who called Washington’s plays the past two seasons.

The team will introduce its new coach today at 3 p.m. at Redskins Park.

Mr. Snyder’s previous three head coaching hires, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Gibbs, all had long track records in those jobs, though most of Spurrier’s came at the collegiate level.

That led most NFL observers to believe Mr. Snyder would choose former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel or former San Francisco 49ers/Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci once other top candidates fell out of contention. Mr. Snyder had dismissed Redskins assistant head coach Gregg Williams. Former Atlanta coach Jim Mora and Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had withdrawn from consideration. Defensive coordinators Ron Meeks of Indianapolis and Jim Schwartz of Tennessee had also interviewed.

“We knew of Jim’s stellar offensive reputation, so we hired him as coordinator, but we also suspected he would be a strong candidate for head coach,” Mr. Snyder said. “After our first six-hour interview with him, I told Joe [Gibbs], ‘This guy would make a terrific head coach.’ But we stayed true to our commitment to interview every candidate.”

In a statement released by the team, Mr. Snyder said he and Mr. Cerrato had a daylong discussion about the candidates after meeting with Spagnuolo on Wednesday and Thursday. At that point, he invited Zorn to meet for lunch.

“I told him we were considering him as the next head coach, and asked if he wanted to move forward. Without hesitation he said, ‘Absolutely,’ and that’s all I needed to hear,” Mr. Snyder said.

After meeting with Zorn from Friday night into yesterday morning, Mr. Snyder and Mr. Cerrato decided the former quarterback was the right man to lead their team and offered him a five-year contract.

“I’ve always dreamed of being a head coach with a franchise rich in tradition like the Redskins,” Zorn said. “I know about the history of this franchise as well as the passion of its fans. I won’t let you down. … I, like all Redskins fans, am a longtime admirer of Joe Gibbs. Thanks to him, today’s Redskins have a solid foundation that will serve us well. I expect great things of our team, and hold myself accountable for providing the leadership to make us successful.”

Zorn is a protege of respected Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, whose coaching tree has sprouted several successful NFL sideline bosses. Most prominently, Philadelphia’s Andy Reid has guided the Eagles to five division titles in nine seasons despite having never been even a coordinator prior to his surprise 1999 hiring.

Another Holmgren protege, Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy, needed just two seasons to lead the Packers to their first NFC championship game in a decade. Jon Gruden, who coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory in the Super Bowl in 2002, is another former Holmgren assistant, as is Mariucci.

The surprise hire drew rave reviews from those familiar with both Zorn and the Redskins.

“Jim knows his X’s and O’s, but he also has a way with people,” Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent told The Washington Times yesterday.

Mr. Largent, a former congressman from Oklahoma, has remained a close friend of Zorn’s since their days with the Seahawks, where they spent nine seasons playing together.

“He’s a very good communicator,” Mr. Largent said. “I think he’ll be very good for [Redskins quarterback] Jason Campbell.”

Under Zorn’s tutelage, Matt Hasselbeck soared from a first-year starter with a 70.9 passer rating to a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback with 70 touchdowns and just 36 interceptions over the past three seasons.

In the nine seasons before Zorn joined the coaching staff in 2001, Seattle made the playoffs just once while finishing 54-75. Since then, the franchise has made the postseason five times, won four NFC West titles and an NFC championship and went 79-60. The Seahawks eliminated the Redskins from the postseason in 2005 and 2007.

“Jim’s very smart, very hands-on,” said Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs, who played three seasons in Seattle when Zorn was an assistant. “If he’s anything like Coach Holmgren, he’ll be very organized, very on-point. When Matt was first [in Seattle], we were [shaking our heads], but look at him now. It just takes time with quarterbacks.”

It remains unclear if Zorn will hire an offensive coordinator or a quarterbacks coach or will also fill one of those roles himself. Most of Gibbs’ staff, including offensive assistants Don Breaux, Joe Bugel, Stan Hixon and Rennie Simmons were recently given contract extensions. So were special teams coach Danny Smith and the defensive staff, headed by Greg Blache — promoted from defensive line coach on Jan. 26 after Mr. Snyder fired Williams.

Zorn not only made the expansion Seahawks as a rookie free agent out of Cal Poly-Pomona in 1976, he started at quarterback from Day One. He held that spot until the 1983 season, when he split the job with Dave Krieg. Zorn’s playing days ended four years later after stops in Green Bay, Winnipeg of the CFL and Tampa Bay.

The Whittier, Calif., native began his coaching career in 1988 at Boise State, where he coached quarterbacks. He also worked at Utah State and Minnesota before returning to the NFL as an offensive assistant in Seattle in 1997. After coaching quarterbacks for three years in Detroit, he rejoined the Seahawks in 2001.

Zorn and his wife, Joy, have four children and one granddaughter.

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