Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sheep Go to Heaven

Goats go to Cleveland

Someone had to go in Baltimore, after the Ravens defense gave up a long drive and score to seal the Steelers win over the Ravens in the AFC Division playoff round, after receivers Derrick Mason and TJ Housmandzadeh both dropped passes in the final moments, Ravens team leadership huddled up and... decided to fire the quarterbacks coach.

That would of course mean former Redskins head coach Jim Zorn is once again out of a job.

As the firing became news over the past two days there have been two distinctly different threads on why it had to happen, both originating from the Baltimore Sun's Ravens Insider blog. One thread says they were unhappy with coach Zorn's self-admittedly unorthodox teaching methods.

And it is true, coach Zorn approaches the job of coaching quarterbacks truly from the inside, as a former NFL QB that achieved a measure of success under difficult circumstances in Seattle, coach Zorn is projecting himself and his experience onto his students, there is very little out of the Standard Coaching Manual in coach Zorn's approach. Think about it:

The slip and slide (with video), the pad drill (photo), flying yoga balls, get smaller in the pocket not larger, slow down time, if you do not buy into coach Zorn's methods he probably seems pretty corny.

Now look at his success in Washington. In 2007, Jason Campbell's third pro season, his first full season as Redskins starting quarterback and his second year with Bill Lazor as quarterbacks coach, Jason threw eleven interceptions and fumbled thirteen times in thirteen starts, twelve full games. Jason was pretty widely considered at that point a questionable decision maker in the pocket, toss in ball security problems and you have a recipe for a short term NFL starter.

Jim Zorn arrives in 2008 after a long and drawn out selection process, and amidst the optimism of a 6-2 start is another bit of good news: Jason Campbell has shown remarkable improvement as a quarterback in just one year. Take a look at a couple of things from Jason's final 2008 numbers:

  • No interceptions in the first six games, a 2008 total of six in sixteen games, Jason cut his per game rate of interceptions from 0.9 in 2007 to 0.4 in 2008, a year over year drop of 55%.
  • Seven fumbles in sixteen games, down from thirteen in thirteen starts, a per game rate drop from 1.0 per game to 0.4 per game, nearly a 60% drop.
I did at the time and still do attribute this improvement directly to the tutelage of Jim Zorn, professional development from which Oakland is now benefiting, with their perennial commitment to a downfield passing game, Jason Campbell will be a good fit there.

Now let us look at coach Zorn's time with Baltimore. In 2009 Joe Flacco was in his second year and already a two time playoff quarterback, and while I will argue Joe benefited from Jim Zorn's coaching, we can agree Joe maybe had less headroom for improvement. In 2010 Joe continued his progression as a professional, his passer rating went up along with his touchdown passes, his interceptions went down and he only fumbled once more than in all of 2009.

Was this all due to Jim Zorn? Not necessarily, maybe not even likely, just looking at it though, at minimum coach Zorn held serve and did not allow his pupil to regress, and at best he contributed materially to Joe Flacco's maturity.

You have to ask yourself, does it matter what are the methods if the Sunday finished product sells?

The other thread in the firings story is that the Raven organization, presumably specifically head coach John Harbaugh, was worried about coach Zorn being or becoming quote insubordinate unquote. Insubordination of course is a serious accusation, it means the person in question cannot or will not follow orders or has his own agenda at the expense of the team's or team leadership. Not a team player is the kind of thing you say about someone when you to damage their standing in their profession as they head out the door.

Here in Washington, Jim Zorn was anything but insubordinate. In fact he went much too far in order to keep his job and please his bosses: Acquiesce to consultants, relinquish playcalling authority, basically submit to all ownership demands because they brought a lawyer into the room and said you have to.

As Tony Almeida pointed out last night, the philosophy and insubordination issues may well be one and the same, one story creating team cover for the other. John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron may have cornered coach Zorn and said basically, come on dude, get with the program, we do not want to be known as the team that throws yoga balls around and calls it practice.

The coalescing conventional wisdom in all this appears to be that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, himself a former Redskins quarterbacks coach under Norval Turner, and quarterback coach Jim Zorn were not compatible, perhaps it is a personality matter, perhaps it is a legitimate
difference of philosophy, Cam comes from the Don Coryell slash Joe Gibbs slash Norval Turner coaching tree while Jim Zorn is straight Bill Walsh slash George Seifert slash Mike Holmgren west coast offense.

Whatever it was, the end result is Cam Cameron has more authority over the Ravens offense and Jim Zorn is out of a job.

And Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is not happy about it. According to the Baltimore Sun, Joe met with owner Steve Bisciotti and coach Harbaugh and advocated for Jim Zorn, lauding his teacher for what coach Zorn had done to help Joe with his game, and left the meeting thinking the team would retain Jim Zorn next season.

They did not and have now opened a legitimate rift in the team, Joe wondering aloud if the starting quarterback's opinion matters for anything. I guess it is a good thing for the Ravens that this happened in January and not July, still plenty of time for it to blow over, and Joe Flacco is a professional.

As for Jim Zorn, stories are already emerging that he will wind up as Pat Shurmur's offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach in Cleveland, reuniting Jim Zorn with Mike Holmgren, the man that passed him over as Seahawks coach of the future in favor of Jim Mora, who by the way was fired after one season.

Good luck on your next endeavor coach Zorn, I wish things had turned out differently for you in Washington.

Jim Zorn: AP Photo from here.




While I thought that Jim Zorn was a disaster at head coach, I think that a good amount of that wasn't really his fault. I also think he is a great quarterbacks coach.