Sunday, February 10, 2008

The first three times Dan Snyder hired a head coach for the Washington Redskins, it was as if he was trying to outdo his NFL ownership brethren.

He spent millions … and millions … and millions.

He ignored intriguing NFL assistants.

He wanted the individual who would produce the biggest possible splash.

Enter Marty Schottenheimer (established name), Steve Spurrier (big name) and Joe Gibbs (legendary name). Marty flamed out after an 8-8 season, Spurrier left after two disappointing seasons and Coach Joe lasted four years before retiring last month.

Those three decisions came to the forefront yesterday morning after a league source told The Washington Times the process would be finalized by last night and it wouldn’t be any of the candidates previously mentioned, chiefly Jim Fassel.

Who would it be to help Snyder save face after a search that entered its second month yesterday and the two perceived top candidates (Jim Mora and Steve Spagnuolo) removed their names from consideration?

Bill Cowher? Russ Grimm? A shocker like Brian Billick?

No, no and no.

A coaching search unlike any other in recent NFL history ended in a most unlikely fashion: Jim Zorn, named two weeks ago as offensive coordinator and a resident of Redskin Park since Wednesday, was hired.

A coach who wasn’t a big name was selected to lead the Redskins in the second Post-Joe Era. A coach with no time as an NFL coordinator much less as a head coach was tabbed to help form Jason Campbell into a franchise quarterback.

Those who had Zorn in the selection pool can take a bow. Even though it became the rule to expect the unexpected and assume every assumption to be wrong during the chaotic month, no one saw this coming.

But that’s exactly what The Danny and executive vice president Vinny Cerrato wanted — everything to be covert. Who knows how many “secret” candidates actually chatted with the Redskins’ brain trust?

As one agent said often during the process, it’s always good to be the last candidate interviewed. Zorn talked with the Redskins about the coordinator position and then became the 10th and final person to interview to be Gibbs’ successor.

Ultimately, Zorn became the choice for three reasons:

1. Spagnuolo stayed with the Giants.

2. Zorn received rave reviews for his work with Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

3. He wasn’t Fassel, who was spurned twice for the job and it would be shocking if he got another top gig.

And quite possibly, the Redskins may have backed into the best candidate for the job, somebody who can discover an offensive consistency that was missing during Gibbs’ four seasons and command the immediate respect of the veteran defensive players who saw their leader (Gregg Williams) sacked after several interviews.

But like most coaching hires, it all depends on the quarterback. And for Zorn, his stamp on the Redskins will be Campbell’s development. As it should be — that’s how he got the job.

“He played the position, so it helps,” Hasselbeck said during Super Bowl Week in Arizona. “He’s a realist on things, good and bad.”

Zorn played nine seasons for Seattle and faced all of the great teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

If he wants to make a point to Campbell, he can pop in tape from the 140 games he played. If Campbell asks to see some of Zorn’s finest moments, he can watch some of his 111 touchdown passes.

“Playing experience like Jim’s is an enormous advantage for a head coach,” Gibbs said. “Every move he makes, every play he calls, is based on the foundation of having actually played in real time and in the face of real opponents.”

It will be up to Zorn to tailor a system that suits Campbell. That doesn’t necessarily mean a West Coast-exclusive playbook that would somewhat negate Campbell’s downfield ability.

Although Zorn won’t have nearly as much personnel power as Gibbs, he will have a hand in several key offseason decisions:

• Offensive coordinator. The Redskins now have one and possibly two openings on the offensive staff. Zorn should call the plays this year, but he needs to find a coordinator and quarterback coach who fit with Campbell.

• Shawn Springs. He wanted to return if Williams were hired. Now, his bad feelings from last offseason have probably resurfaced. The Redskins need to keep him on the roster because of Carlos Rogers’ knee injury.

• Todd Collins. The career backup famously went 3-1 as Campbell’s replacement and is a free agent. Al Saunders’ departure will factor in Collins’ decision, but if Zorn wants a capable veteran behind Campbell, he may want to bring Collins back.

• The 21st draft pick. The Redskins went with defense with their first-round picks (except for Campbell, which was the team’s second first-round selection) in 2004, 2005 and 2007. Zorn is an offensive guy, but he also will find out a pass-rushing defensive end is needed.

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