- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2008

Had the Redskins’ coaching search gone on much longer, Dan Snyder might have just raffled the job off at the next Fan Day. He certainly couldn’t have come up with a more unlikely winner than Jim Zorn, who came to Washington thinking he was going to call the offensive plays but now has been handed the keys to the kingdom.

“Quite miraculous,” Zorn said yesterday at his public unveiling.

You can say that again.

“I haven’t had a chance to talk to Mike [Holmgren, his former Seahawks boss], but I’m sure he’s going to say, ‘Oh … my … God.’ ”

Aren’t we all?

Snyder repeatedly referred to his 32-day talent hunt as a “process” — just as a root canal, I suppose, can be described as a “process.” As time went on, though, it seemed more like a full-fledged panic attack.

Bill Cowher, the only sure thing out there, stuck to earlier pronouncements that he wasn’t ready to return to coaching.

Seattle assistant Jim Mora opted to remain with the Seahawks as Holmgren’s heir apparent.

Steve Spagnuolo, the Frank Lloyd Wright of the Giants’ Super Bowl winning defense, also decided the grass wasn’t necessarily greener in Ashburn.

Jim Fassel’s candidacy, meanwhile, received such a negative reaction from Redskins Nation that it might have scared off Dan the Man.

That left Zorn, who had impressed the brass during his interview for the offensive coordinator spot but had never been any more than a position coach in the NFL.

Happy Valentine’s Day … five days early.

It never should have gone down this way. Indeed, in what other organization has it ever gone down this way? (Maybe that’s what Joe Gibbs meant when he told his successor, “There’s no other franchise like this.”)

What came through in this “process,” loud and clear, was the Redskins’ total lack of preparation for Gibbs’ departure. And frankly, there’s no excuse for it. Coach Joe was in his mid-60s (and battling diabetes) when he returned to the sideline. He was a threat to retire again at any time — especially after this season, the most emotionally draining of the four because of the murder of Sean Taylor.

Part of being an owner/general manager, which is basically what Snyder is, is to plan for the unforeseen. Dan should have been keeping a running list in his drawer of The Coaches I’d Definitely Want To Interview If Gibbs Ever Left. And when Gibbs did leave, the “process” should have been in full swing the very next day.

Instead, Snyder said, “We were all surprised, saddened, by Joe’s decision. [But] we scrambled very quickly, came up with a list of 50 candidates and narrowed it down to 10.”

This is meant to impress us, this lengthy list of potential coaches. But, really, 50 candidates?

“I said we’d be thorough,” Snyder said.

Well, one man’s “thorough” is another man’s “indecisive.” While Dan and first lieutenant Vinny Cerrato were thinning the list, the Dolphins (Tony Sparano), Ravens (John Harbaugh) and Falcons (Mike Smith) were all going through their processes, obviously much more streamlined, and hiring new coaches. That’s never good, either, to be picking through the rest of the league’s leftovers. Imagine if seven clubs had been looking for coaches, as was the case last year. Snyder might have been forced to recycle Jack Pardee.

This is how you wind up with an almost 55-year-old quarterbacks coach as your head man. Of course, it’s not the only reason for it. Clearly, the Redskins job isn’t the plum it used to be — and the owner has a lot to do with that, too. When Mora would rather take over the Seahawks in a year than ascend to the throne of Gibbs, Allen, Lombardi and the rest, it speaks volumes about how the Washington organization is perceived around the league (e.g. more trouble than it’s worth, thanks to a micromanaging owner and an, uh, unusual personnel setup).

The same goes with Spagnuolo, who signed an extension with the Giants without any guarantee of succeeding Tom Coughlin. Snyder also figures into the picture there because he was the one who sent assistants’ salaries into the stratosphere by paying Gregg Williams (and later Al Saunders) $2 million a year. It’s much easier for Spagnuolo — and Mora, for that matter — to bide their time if they’re going to be compensated so well.

Let’s face it, the competition for coaching talent has never been keener in the NFL. Teams are doing a better job of hanging on to valued assistants by throwing more money at them or promising promotions down the line. All the more reason Redskins One should have been in the air, picking up a Preferred Candidate, the day after Gibbs called it quits.

And now, a month later, Snyder is rolling the dice with Zorn, the long-ago Seahawks QB, who — the Redskins can only hope — will grow into the job. Friends like erstwhile teammate Steve Largent call Jim the straightest of shooters. “He speaks the truth,” the Hall of Fame receiver said, “and he doesn’t play games.” To which Washington special teams coach Danny Smith, who was on the Detroit staff with Zorn, added, “He came up the hard way in the coaching ranks, and I think there’s a lot to be said for that.”

Holmgren, after all, started out as a high school coach — much further down the ladder than Zorn’s first gig at Boise State. Besides, Jim said, it’s not like he hasn’t had other chances to be a coordinator before Washington came calling.

“One thing Mike has taught me, though, is that not every situation is right for you. He’s talked about turning down opportunities for family reasons, organizational reasons. Those things I kept in the back of my mind. But I was really excited to be interviewed here.”

Still, you wonder whether he really knows what he’s getting into. You wonder whether either side in this drawn-out “process” does.

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