- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2008

The first day of NFL training camp is Christmas in July for football fans. You get to unwrap all your new presents, when they seem so fresh and full of fascination and promise - and before they get damaged.

Sunday, when the Washington Redskins open training camp, fans will have a special present to unwrap: new coach Jim Zorn.

Let’s face it: Zorn probably wasn’t on your Christmas list. But sometimes it is the gift you didn’t expect that you enjoy the most.

I think Redskins fans will enjoy the gift of Jim Zorn - at least until the games start. After that, who knows?

Folks didn’t queue up for this gift. No one was competing for the services of Jim Zorn as a head coach - not even the Redskins. Not, that is, until Zorn became the best, and only, option available to owner Dan Snyder after other candidates dropped or fell out of the running.

But this unknown is at least something new Snyder is offering Redskins fans. His previous three coaching hires were known quantities, even if they didn’t always turn out as expected. At least there were expectations.

There certainly were expectations when Marty Schottenheimer opened training camp in July 2001. He had a record as a no-nonsense, fundamental kind of coach.

On the eve of training camp, in fact, the new coach declared, “The focus needs to shift to fundamentals, details.” He certainly delivered that. His tenure was a functional present for fans, but it sure wasn’t much fun.

Redskins fans thought they knew what to expect when Steve Spurrier opened training camp in July 2002: fun-and-gun, baby, based on the coach’s success at the University of Florida and his colorful personality.

“[Schottenheimer] took a lot of fun out of the football. It’s sad that took place,” defensive end Bruce Smith said. “There’s a new life here. A new spirit with Coach Spurrier.”

Yes, sir, baby, remember Osaka? That was fun. But it turns out Spurrier wasn’t the gift that kept on giving. He didn’t deliver as expected, but again, there were reasons for expectations.

Then Snyder gave Redskins fans the gift that dwarfed all others, one they wouldn’t have dared to put on their Christmas list because it seemed too much to ask: the return of Joe Gibbs.

Redskins fans - the players, too - thought they had found another Super Bowl under the tree.

“The city’s on fire. The team’s on fire,” cornerback Fred Smoot said before the first day of training camp. “Everybody’s real excited about Joe Gibbs being back. You judge a team by the leader. We’ve probably got that leader that we’ve been looking for.”

Gibbs tried to deflect the expectations.

“What all of us here now are focused on is not those Super Bowls - it’s the future,” Gibbs said on the eve of training camp. “I’ve been embarrassed a little bit by all the attention and everything. But the good thing about sports, that quickly goes away if you don’t do well. I’m going to get mine pretty quick, I would imagine.”

Well, he did get his. By the end of the fourth year of his five-year contract, the Redskins, while getting to the playoffs twice, had a 30-34 record. It is safe to say that the Gibbs hire didn’t meet anyone’s expectations.

Zorn, though, presents a whole different case. He initially was hired as the offensive coordinator and, as the last man standing, got the job as the head coach.

There would be little upon which to base expectations even if Zorn still were just the offensive coordinator - he never had held that position before in the NFL.

So there obviously exists a fear that, because he has never before been a head coach, Zorn may not know what he is doing.

Beyond that, there is no record that gives reason to expect either the best or the worst out of Jim Zorn.

Enjoy the clean slate. That, at least, is a gift that you haven’t gotten before.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide