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Zorn in an awkward spot

May 22, 2008, 10:01 PM EST

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Bob Molinaro, Washington Redskins reporter for the Virginian-Pilot in Tidewater, did a Q&A with Jim Zorn when the Skins were down in Virginia Beach for their annual Beach Blitz.

Certainly, nothing earth-shattering was revealed in the interview. I did, however, find one of Zorn’s answers interesting because it pointed out a challenge that he faces that most other rookie coaches don’t have to deal with.

Here is the exchange:

Will your system make Campbell a better quarterback?

I just cringe answering a question like that, because it might imply that the staff before me failed, and that’s not it at all.

Usually, when a new coach takes over he doesn’t have to tiptoe around making sure that he doesn’t say anything that could be interpreted as a knock on his predecessor. Sure, you don’t want to go around slamming the guy you replaced, but by the same token you don’t have to be guarded in any implied criticism.

However, most new head coaches aren’t replacing legends with busts in Canton, Ohio. In fact, Zorn is in a spot where few, if any, have been before.

He’s replacing Joe Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls here in his first run. While his second run wasn’t as successful, he helped get the Skins back on the right track. On top of all that, he’s a better person than he is a football coach.

Now, many who followed the team through the glory years and the more recent so-so comeback—present company included—have had some critical things to say about the way Gibbs coached in his comeback.

But that would be vastly different from Jim Zorn coming in and going negative on Coach Joe. We have been here, watching every play of every game, following every event from week to week, month to month, year to year. We’ve earned the right to take issue with the Hall of Famer.

Zorn, on the other hand, has been hanging out on the Left Coast for most of the past few decades. He hasn’t been here so he hasn’t built the credibility to be critical of what Gibbs did and didn’t do.

And, no doubt, behind closed doors, Zorn occasionally wonders, “What the hell was he thinking?” when watching film. Every once in a while he’s talking to a player who was here last year and wants to say, “He wanted you do it that way?” And, behind closed doors, Zorn might let such comments pass through his lips.

That doesn’t mean that Zorn thinks he’s smarter than Gibbs or that he knows more than Gibbs. Different coaches have different ways of getting things done and it’s natural that what one coach thinks makes perfect sense would have another coach rolling his eyes

But in public, talking to reporters, he has to be very careful not to let anything slip. For the next several months, well into the season, Zorn will continue to “cringe” every time he gets a question that involves an answer that could be phrased in a way that might be considered to be a knock at the way Joe Gibbs did things.

Zorn is just starting to live down the “maroon and black” gaffe. He doesn’t need to make another verbal misstep. It’s obvious that he’s being consciously careful not to.

  1. nomadskin11 - May 23, 2008 at 6:16 AM

    Good call Rich.
    I really appreciate your takes on all things Redskins.
    As for this issue, I am extremely pleased that Zorn seems to respect what Gibbs meant to this team, and I like his direct but thoughtful approach with the media.

  2. Rich Tandler - May 23, 2008 at 9:07 AM

    Thanks, nomad. Right back at ya, I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

    It’s going to be fun to watch Zorn grow into the job. He seemed to be a fish out of water at his intro presser and he’s learned a lot since then. His initial reaction is to be straight honest, which is good, but a head coach has to have a filter between the brain and the mouth.

  3. Anonymous - May 23, 2008 at 3:05 PM

    Rich,

    I’m a big fan of your work – I find you to be among the most objective Redskins watchers, and I appreciate that.

    My question for you is, how well is Zorn handling the administrative challenges of being a first time head coach (who of course wasn’t even a coordinator previously). I see him working with Campbell as a de facto QB coach, but is he exerting enough overall control over the team as a head coach? Is it too early yet?

    These are observations I don’t see being made yet in the media, so I’m curious, especially because it is IMHO Zorn’s biggest challenge in his new job.

    Thanks,
    Chris (aka redman on Exremeskins)

  4. Rich Tandler - May 23, 2008 at 9:09 PM

    Thanks for the kind words, Chris.

    It’s too early to say how well Zorn is handling the job from an admin standpoint.

    I do question his decision to be the QB coach, although all offensive-minded head coaches spend a disproportionate amount of time with their QB’s. I also suspect that offensive assistant Chris Meidt will help with the QB’s.

    Hopefully, Zorn is soliciting advice from the likes of Bugel (former head coach) and Blache (very experienced) to get advice and evaluations of how he’s progressing.

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