hail to the chief

(photo by Brian Murphy)

I know this is going to come as a shocker, but rookie head coach Jim Zorn is not Joe Gibbs. None of this is groundbreaking, but to recap – he doesn’t have the Hall of Fame credentials, his friends call him “Z-Man,” and he looks like he’d be more comfortable in shorts with a surfboard, rather than running an NFL franchise. I’d go as far as to say that if Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck wasn’t considered a Pro Bowl quarterback, then Zorn would simply be known as the inappropriate coach who brought a Slip n’ Slide to practice.

Redskins fans almost universally agreed Zorn was a solid choice as the young and upcoming offensive coordinator when he was brought on board in February, but weren’t nearly as convinced two weeks later when he won the Redskins reality show and earned the chance to run the biggest team in town. When he began talking about opening the offense up and rumblings of five-receiver sets started making the rounds, more than one skeptical ‘Skins fan invoked the name of the ol’ ball coach, Steve Spurrier.

While it’s still really early in the game, I’m here to tell you that things might not be as gloomy as the pessimists portray. During minicamp, I was interested to see what changes would be implemented by the new regime. Little things like names on the backs of jerseys to help the rookie coach didn’t bother me. Neither did the lack of NFL referees on site, although they’ve been a staple of Gibbs’ camps for years. And yes, while Zorn still looks as though he could easily spend an afternoon jamming to Bob Marley with proverbial pothead Ricky Williams, he just might make it as one of the 32 NFL head coaches.

Very early on, those of us on the sidelines couldn’t help but notice the confidence and authoritative tone with which Zorn speaks during practice. He’s not a disciplinarian in the mold of a Marty Schottenheimer (he’s much more likely to have players use video games than the Oklahoma Drill), but he’s very much in command of the situation, in the way a veteran quarterback commands a huddle. When rookie wide out Devin Thomas cut one way and Sam Hollenbach’s pass went another, Zorn met Thomas en route back to the huddle.

“That was a good throw right there, but you were still in college,” the Z-Man said.

No wasted words. No sugar coating. At that moment, only one of the guys in the conversation seemed to be a rookie.

Later in practice, veteran cornerback Shawn Springs picked off an errant pass and pitched it back to fellow cornerback Fred Smoot, who juggled the ball for a few steps before tackle Jon Jansen sent him flying. Immediately, Zorn came flying in and ripped into both defensive players, essentially saying, “Cut the crap. We don’t do that here.” More than any other minicamp moment, this is what I’ll remember. As one veteran writer put it, “I guess the inmates won’t be running the asylum around here anymore.”

The purpose of this entry is not to suggest that Jim Zorn is going to be better than Joe Gibbs, with his three Super Bowl rings. It’s simply to point out the stark contrast between the two individuals and to suggest that maybe, just maybe, taking a chance on this promising young first-time coach could end up working out for a Redskins franchise in search of stability, over the long run.

1 comment

  1. Gabe Ortiz
    May 8, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    nice write up …

    It’s pretty amazing to hear about zorn’s being so tough. I would have never guessed it. In fact, I was afraid he would not garner the respect of the players because he would be too laid back.

    you nailed it with your veteran QB analogy … makes a lot of sense.

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