Thursday, August 19, 2010

History Will Not Be Kind to the Jim Zorn Years

We'll always have Z-Shades

The way things went down at the ragged end of 2009 you just knew the whole idea in owner Dan Snyder's mind was to wipe it away as fast as possible and move on and he did, in a big way. The problem for Dan Snyder though is that, like a bad breakup ex girlfriend in the same social circle, Jim Zorn popped right back up down the road in Baltimore, as a result Redskins fans, love or hate Jim Zorn, are not going to get the chance to move on any time soon.

First get into the Wayback machine for a one graf review of 2009:

A crappy team and managerial infighting bred fan unrest and the Burgundy Revolution, the team was actually removing fans and threatening cancellation of season tickets for articles of clothing and paper signs. Then with three games to go, all three turned out to be losses, shadow general manager Vinny Cerrato quote resigned unquote and in less than two hours was replaced by Bruce Allen, son of Redskins legend George Allen, as real actual general manager. Head coach Jim Zorn was marched all night from San Diego then dispatched at dawn, we had butterfiles for 24 hours as Mike Shanahan was spotted in town then BAM it was over, time to close the door on the Jim Zorn Era.

And that era is going to be remembered as the true bottom of the barrel, amateur hour in Ashburn, a two year slow burn of incompetence that left the team, its players, its fanbase and its history in blasted wreckage.

It all started in the muddled coaching search after Joe Gibbs left in January 2008, the team spent 32 days into February looking for a coach and making the team a league laughingstock, into this moment shadow general manager Vinny Cerrato was promoted to Executive Vice President of Football Operations.

Jim Zorn was hired as offensive coordinator largely on perennial candidate Jim Fassel's recommendation, though at the time I thought it looked more like the rubber stamp of a guy that would have done anything to get a head coaching job. After chasing off all the other respectable candidates and taking Steve Spagnuolo's advice not to consider lack of coordinator experience as a black mark on Jim Zorn's resume, Redskins management interviewed Zorn for the job and by all accounts Vinny Cerrato, who would be system-connected to Jim Zorn from Bill Walsh through Mike Holmgren, became a big Jim Zorn fan and the deal was done.

Well we all know how that worked out, 6-2 then 2-6 in 2008, by the start of the 2009 season Jim Zorn and Vinny Cerrato were not speaking, that whole second Jim Zorn year was a series of Inception-like bad dreams within bad dreams, while the season collapsed in extreme slow motion on the next level down the fans and the team were at war, and on the next level below that Dan Snyder was interviewing for every position on the team, including that of Vinny Cerrato, Dan's confidant and bulletproof guy for a decade.

Now it is all in the rear view and Redskins fans have reason to hope, even if just for hope's sake. So what are the big takeways of the Jim Zorn era? Many of them are obvious and do not require advanced degrees to discern: A players hire A players, B players hire C players; Management, coaching and players need to air differences indoors; As a rule do not interview an assistant for his boss's job; Leave the fans alone, they are the conscience of the team; Building and maintaining a roster really is hard; If you do not believe in a guy, let him go that moment, do not string anyone along.

I think I could go on and if you have a good one liner takeaway from the Jim Zorn debacle, drop it in comments.

In the aftermath, a year and a half after he was hired and seven months after he was fired I have a view on the whole thing: It could have worked.

It was not really Jim Zorn that was the problem, yes he was inexperienced and yes he was unable to motivate a veteran team with a lot of big contracts and not enough hungry youth.

The problem lay in the management atmosphere. A guy like Jim Zorn can succeed if he has defined boundaries and a strong support infrastructure, make a play yard for the guy and let him be him, make good roster and contract decisions, back up the guy in public and give him time to get it together.

Andy Reid and Jon Gruden, they had some success moving from analogous positions to head coach and they had the infrastructure to make it work. In the new generation of wunderkinds, every Josh McDaniels and Raheem Morris is not going to light it up out of the gate, I will bet the ones that do have the support of a real football organization around them. For two years the Redskins did not when they really needed it and it sank everyone.

Nota bene, Jim Zorn and Dan Snyder have not talked since coach Zorn was fired and he is not certain if they will talk Saturday. Remember kids, every year the Redskins do not play the Ravens in the regular season, they play in the preseason so we will be treated to this awkward fest annually for as long and Jim Zorn is in Baltimore which I hope is a long time.

Jason Campbell and Jim Zorn: Gregg Trott / Getty Images from here.




In a nutshell, The Jim Zorn Era: "If the coach doesn't fit, try and make him quit. But if he doesn't have an ego, he probably won't go."

Crazy Canton Cuts


the Cerrato Era should be even less kind