- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

Dan Snyder’s choice of former Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn to coach the Washington Redskins was greeted with derision in some quarters because Zorn had never run an offense, let alone coached a team.

But Snyder’s gamble on Zorn isn’t out of line with what his fellow NFL owners have done in recent years. It just didn’t fit in with Snyder’s previous hires: consistent winner Marty Schottenheimer, fabled college coach Steve Spurrier and Hall of Famer/Redskins legend Joe Gibbs, all of whom had many years of head coaching experience before Snyder’s millions lured them to Washington.

Just this offseason, for example, Atlanta hired Mike Smith, Baltimore hired John Harbaugh and Miami hired Tony Sparano.

Smith had been Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator for five years but at 48 had never been a head coach. Sparano, 46, had been only a position coach in the NFL. His head coaching experience came at Division II New Haven. Harbaugh, 45, had never risen above position coach at any level. Zorn, 54, hasn’t been an NFL coordinator, but he did serve in that capacity at Division I-A Utah State.

The pattern was similar the previous three years. Of the seven coaches hired in 2007, five — Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt, Atlanta’s Bobby Petrino, Miami’s Cam Cameron, Oakland’s Lane Kiffin and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin — had never previously run an NFL team. None was older than 45.

And although Cameron was fired, Petrino bombed before resigning and Kiffin was a bust, this year’s jobs all went to neophytes.

There was even more turnover in 2006, when seven of the 10 new coaches were first-timers. Three of those seven — Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy, New Orleans’ Sean Payton and the New York Jets’ Eric Mangini — have joined Tomlin in already making the playoffs once. That hasn’t happened yet for 2005 newcomers Romeo Crennel of Cleveland and Mike Nolan of San Francisco. The third hire of 2005, Nick Saban, headed back to the college ranks after just two years without reaching postseason.

All told, 19 of the 24 coaches hired over the last four years have been newcomers with an average age of 46.7.

Compare that with the previous four years, when just 12 of the 25 hires were newcomers with an average age of 49. The veterans included Gibbs and fellow Super Bowl winners Dick Vermeil and Bill Parcells, all already in their 60s when they were hired.

An era with so much roster turmoil because of the salary cap and free agency would seem to call for a more proven coach. But NFL owners and general managers have decided this generation of players responds better to younger, fresher voices.


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