- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

In the days after he was the surprise choice to coach the Washington Redskins, Jim Zorn got sage advice from his previous boss, Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren.

The message: Be Jim Zorn, not Mike Holmgren.

“Stay true to who you are and don’t try to be anybody else,” he told Zorn.

Recalling that conversation after practice Wednesday, Zorn leaned to his right and said: “I’m a little off to the side. … I’ve been trying to live [Holmgren’s advice] out but not make it so obnoxious and weird that I can’t be the head coach.”

One of those weird-isms has become the coach’s chief Zorn-ism this year: “staying medium.”

He stressed it after the Week 1 loss against the New York Giants and after each of the Redskins’ four consecutive victories. He brought it up after the defeat to the Steelers. And now mired in his first losing streak as a head coach and preparing for a game against one of his coaching mentors, Zorn has stayed resolute.

“He’s practicing what he preaches,” left guard Pete Kendall said.

Excited about returning to Seattle? Absolutely.

Concerned about the offensive power outage the last two losses? Definitely.

In the dumps about a month of subpar execution by his offense? Hardly.

Zorn, who worked seven years for Holmgren, soaked up everything about playcalling, team management and how to get through a 16-game wringer. Now running his own team, he has tried to carry himself the same way Holmgren does but also display his own personality.

“I want to make sure we do it the way I believe it should be done, not the way somebody else thinks it should be done,” Zorn said. “I’ve tried to establish for myself, not rules, but consistencies that I want to stand on and stand for in front of our team, with the media, with the owner and make sure I don’t have to backpedal and say, ‘I didn’t mean that.’”

For the first time this season, Zorn is dealing with the issue of “staying medium” in a time of struggles. Things went so well during the four-game winning streak, he spent his time tempering the euphoria. Now it’s about not portraying panic.

“Distraction can creep in either way,” Kendall said. “You get into a losing streak, particularly late in the year and the season seems gone and people get distracted with holiday plans or offseason plans. If you’re winning consistently, it’s easy to get distracted by the pats on the back and additional media requests instead of having time to focus on how you’re winning.”

Zorn said there’s a delicate balance to staying on message during periods of success and failure.

“When you win four in a row, you get this sense that you’re on this buildup and you continue to build up and feel good about what you’re doing,” he said. “The workweek is a little bit easier and a little less stressful. The mistake is, if you continue on that track and miss out on some of the details you should take care of, you’ll get beat in a second. I don’t think we’ve got that distracted from the wins that we didn’t prepare well.

“We can see why we’re not winning, and what happens then, you probably examine it too much and get too introspective and that can be a mistake, too, because you can’t continue to push your players forward.”

Players said Zorn set the tone Wednesday with a clear message during the team meeting (It’s time to start winning again) and showing his normal enthusiasm during the walkthrough (high-fiving players).

“It’s not time to get down,” receiver Antwaan Randle El said. “Coach Z has that even keel - not too high or too low during the week and it’s the same for him within the game. It’s even keel but you always have a sense of urgency after a loss. We have [urgency], but you can overexaggerate it or get so down about it.”

Said special teams co-captain Rock Cartwright: “When you lose two straight, you’re more on edge and desperate for a win, but I think he’s handled things very well. He knows what’s at stake and what needs to happen.”

What needs to happen is for the offense to return to the form it showed in Weeks 2 through 5 and if it does, it will come at the expense of his former team. But Zorn said it shouldn’t be about him and Holmgren.

“I don’t want to show our team off to make me look good,” he said. “I want our team to go out and play well and for them to be elevated. I don’t have to be elevated.”

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