- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Washington Redskins certainly would feel better these days if they had somehow pulled out a recent series of agonizingly close losses and entered Monday’s game against the New York Giants riding a five-game winning streak.

But, say those familiar with the thinking of Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, that still wouldn’t have been enough to save the job of coach Jim Zorn - even if the Redskins now stood at 7-6 and just a game out of a playoff berth.

Zorn’s fate was apparently decided after the Redskins’ stunning 14-6 home loss to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6, a defeat that prompted Snyder and Cerrato to take playcalling duties from the coach.

So if Zorn has been a dead man coaching for nearly two months, who will take his place next season?

A half-dozen Redskins veterans said there has been no speculation among the players about a replacement for Zorn, but it’s certainly a hot topic everywhere else.

Immediate speculation centered on big-name coaches - just the type of hire favored by Snyder, who previously brought in proven winner Marty Schottenheimer, college wizard Steve Spurrier and Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs.

Plenty of coaches of that caliber are available: Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren, Tony Dungy and Brian Billick won a combined seven Super Bowls from the 1996 to 2006 seasons, and all currently are out of the NFL.

Most of them, however, seem unlikely to join the Redskins.

Cowher rejected Snyder’s overtures last year and reportedly has said he won’t accept a job with the Redskins.

Gruden and Dungy have indicated they plan to stick with their current jobs as television analysts.

Holmgren seems likely to take a job as the front office boss with the Seattle Seahawks or Cleveland Browns. And in any case, he likely wouldn’t want to take the place of Zorn, his former assistant with the Seahawks.

Shanahan, dismissed by the Denver Broncos after last season, is more likely to be receptive to a Snyder overture.

But Shanahan, who won Super Bowl titles with the Broncos in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, is sure to have plenty of other suitors.

The Buffalo Bills already have discussed a job with him. The Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears and Houston Texans all are potential suitors.

There also are personal connections at play: Shanahan’s son, Kyle, works as an assistant coach for the Texans. Jay Cutler, Shanahan’s last quarterback with the Broncos, now starts for the Bears.

Unlike other candidates who would want final say over personnel, Shanahan might be willing to retain Cerrato.

Shanahan served as offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers from 1992 to 1994, when Cerrato was the club’s director of college scouting, and the Broncos and Redskins made big trades when Cerrato was advising Gibbs in 2004 and 2005.

What Snyder would do if Shanahan or another high-profile coach demanded the ouster of Cerrato, his longtime right-hand man, is unclear.

Snyder fired Cerrato at Schottenheimer’s request in 2001 but was so unhappy that he fired the coach and rehired Cerrato even though the Redskins won eight of their final 11 games that season.

Whatever happens, Snyder certainly doesn’t want a repeat of the circuslike hiring process that followed Gibbs’ surprise retirement in January 2008.

Snyder tried to woo Cowher and Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll. He interviewed former playoff coaches Jim Fassel, Steve Mariucci and Jim Mora Jr. He pursued coordinators Steve Spagnuolo, Jim Schwartz and Ron Meeks. He also talked to Redskins assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams, the presumed favorite, before firing him.

After a frustrating month, Snyder finally turned to Zorn, whom he had hired as a first-time offensive coordinator just two weeks earlier.

Snyder, after getting burned by Zorn, is hardly likely to go after a hot assistant again. And after the disastrous Spurrier experiment, he’s unlikely to pursue another college coach.

So who does that leave?

A choice of Billick, Fassel and Russ Grimm, the former Redskins great and current assistant head coach with the Arizona Cardinals.

All have drawbacks.

Billick produced three losing seasons in his final six years with the Baltimore Ravens.

The potential hiring of Fassel by the Redskins in 2008 inflamed fan Web sites, and he’s been out of the NFL since Billick fired him as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator in October 2006.

Grimm has failed to land a head coaching job in several tries and, like Zorn before he joined the Redskins, never has called plays.

Billick won the 2000 Super Bowl with the Ravens thanks to a terrific defense. But neither he nor the others really fit Snyder’s profile.

Still, as was the case when Snyder was left with Zorn by default, that’s just the kind of coach for whom he might have to settle.

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