- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2008

Dan Snyder talked about it, Joe Gibbs endorsed it and the Washington Redskins players practically begged for it last month when Gibbs unexpectedly retired for a second time: continuity.

  • TWT Video: Jim Zorn takes over

  • Keep the same assistants, the same system and hire Gibbs’ replacement from inside Redskin Park. Add a couple of pieces to the roster, get a few injured players back from rehabilitation and try to take the next step in 2008.

    Obviously, that didn’t happen.

    But following Jim Zorn’s introduction as coach yesterday, the Redskins still talked about continuity.

    “We set that as our goal, and we accomplished it,” Snyder said after the press conference. “I have a nice, satisfied feeling about that, and we all feel good about that.”

    The Redskins’ continuity angle is tricky.

    Snyder may be both right and wrong. On the one hand, he did keep some things stable, such as the defensive system and several of the position coaches. On the other hand, a new coach from a different team and a new passing game is a big change.

    Snyder’s accomplishment is that he is sitting halfway between everything-is-the-same and everything-is-brand-new, which may be the right decision.

    The Redskins’ goal 33 days ago was to find the right coach whose philosophy would mesh with an experienced coaching staff, which would in turn speed up the transition and give the Redskins the greatest opportunity to return to the playoffs.

    Step one was the retention of all but three assistants Jan. 26. This particularly maintained things on defense.

    Gregg Williams was out, and Greg Blache was in. Blache signed on with a mandate not to overhaul the system. The Redskins’ defense that played so well in 2007 essentially will play the same system in 2008, albeit with a different man at the controls and possibly some new players.

    “The main reason why I accepted the position was continuity — staff, players and scheme,” Blache said. “There’s no need to change. We were a good defensive unit. There are some areas we need to clean up, but that’s not the scheme.”

    On offense, bringing back coaches at the receiver, tight end and offensive line positions, the Redskins said, means most of the players won’t have to start over and would speed up the transition to a new coach.

    “The transition will be a lot easier for [Zorn] because there’s so much continuity,” front office chief Vinny Cerrato said. “The players aren’t coming here wondering who their [position] coach is. They know who it is and feel comfortable with them. There will be a new man talking and a new passing game, but there will be a lot of things they’re comfortable with.”

    Zorn embraced the idea of not having to hire an entire coaching staff personally. He committed to leaving much of the running game the same.

    “That’s one of the things I’m very excited about,” he said. “It would have been pretty difficult for me to start from square one and put my staff together. We’re already getting into the combine and free agency and all of those things. It’s going to be much more comfortable for me in this situation than it would be starting from scratch.”

    Step two was playing copy cat.

    The Redskins looked at the examples set by San Diego, Dallas and Pittsburgh last season. In 2006, all three teams made the playoffs and then underwent a coaching change. The Redskins’ situation was similar this offseason — they reached the playoffs and then had to search for a coach.

    The Chargers (Norv Turner), Cowboys (Wade Phillips) and Steelers (Mike Tomlin) all went outside the organization to hire a new coach. As did the Redskins once it became apparent Williams was not the answer.

    But like last year’s three teams, the Redskins kept the majority of their staff. San Diego, Dallas and Pittsburgh all made the playoffs this season. The situation that most resembles the Redskins’ is Pittsburgh, where first-year coach Mike Tomlin was hired after just one season as a coordinator. Zorn has no NFL coordinator experience, save for the last two weeks that won’t count.

    “I acknowledge the fact a lot of things are in place and they were put in place by [Gibbs and Snyder],” Zorn said. “I’m coming into a really good situation. I know that and am grateful for that because a lot of coaches would be in a struggling situation that would be impossible to put together in one year.”

    Step three is the toughest part — executing a plan.

    The front office remains without a general manager title, but Cerrato’s promotion to executive vice president of football operations means he only has to answer to Snyder.

    “The way we do personnel will be the exact same way,” Cerrato said. “Everybody will be involved in the decision making.”

    Zorn won’t swing as big a stick as Gibbs did in shaping the 53-man roster, and neither will Blache have the kind of power Williams did for the first few years of his stay in Washington. For the first time, the bull’s-eye is on Snyder and Cerrato and not the coach.

    Snyder didn’t call hiring Zorn a gamble, but it’s a risk. A first-time coach working with an experienced staff. A front office whose mode of operation is still a mystery. And more new stuff for quarterback Jason Campbell.

    “We’ve positioned the franchise to move forward in a transition mode from Coach Gibbs to Coach Zorn,” Snyder said. “But I think this is a smart move that gives us the best chance to win in the long term and in the short term.”

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