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Zorn Admits He Didn't Know Fair Catch Rule

Confusion, by the looks of things. (By John McDonnell - TWP)

I'm glad Jim Zorn has so much media availability, from his Sunday press conferences to his Monday press conferences to his Monday appearances on Comcast SportsNet to his Tuesday appearances on ESPN 980. But at some point, maybe it'd be better if he stopped talking. Because honestly, the more he discusses his blown replay challenge on that crucial fair catch disaster against the Panthers, the worse he sounds.

"Obviously, the big play of the game was the punt return," CSN's Chick Hernandez said during his weekly Monday sit-down with Zorn. "Randle El goes back there, and Byron Westbrook gets caught getting pushed into Randle El. And I'm watching with B-Mitch, he knows the rule right off the bat, he sees what's going on. What did you see, and on that sideline, did you know the rule immediately?

"Yeah, well, I knew most of the rule," Zorn responded. "But it turns out I didn't know one little phrase, and that was a passive player versus an active player. A player who's just standing there, he can't get pushed into the fair catch. But when two players are running like they're doing, and blocking or trying to not be blocked into the fair catch receiver, the fair catch is off. You can actually hit that guy. And so that's what happened. And I thought it was worth trying to challenge it to see if we could get that ball back, but to no avail."

Most of the rule! Look, I know that poor abused timeout ultimately didn't matter. But if you're the head man of an NFL team, I'm thinking you should probably know even the "one little phrase" part of the old fair catch rule. Because, see, it turns out that, say, a DeAngelo Hall knew the whole dang rule.

"When I was in Atlanta, we actually trained our guys--once you're engaged and the guy fair catches--to run [the opponent] into him," Hall told Larry Michael during the postgame coverage. "That's why [when] everyone was saying, 'Nah, he fair caught...' Nah, I'm over there telling everybody, 'It don't matter, it don't matter, you can push him right into that returner.' And that's the thing. That's why we need to get out the way."

So why, then, did Zorn challenge the call? Because he figured that even if Westbrook was legally blocked into Randle El, maybe the ball glanced off the Carolina player first, right? No. No no no no no. That's not why he challenged it.

"I knew it went off [Westbrook's] foot," Zorn told Hernandez, which nearly caused me to choke on my roasted pumpkin seeds. "I was trying to challenge the reversal of giving our receiver an opportunity to make a fair catch when signaled, no matter where it was on the field. Antwaan had to run up 14 yards to catch this thing, that's how short the punt was. You just don't blame anybody. It was just unfortunate, very unfortunate."

So to be clear, what he thought he was challenging was the reversal of giving his receiver an opportunity to make a fair catch when signaled. And here's what the official said after Zorn threw his challenge flag:

"Washington is challenging the ruling on the field that the ball touched his receiver."

Bzzzzz. Gong. Hsssss. Booooo. Thhhbbbbbbbt. Choose your method of vocal scorn here, but it had best be loud. Because Zorn and the official weren't even in agreement on what he was even challenging arggggghhhhhh /drives remote control through skull

"After reviewing the play, the ball hit the Redskins receiver, No. 34, in the foot," the official said after the review, even though Zorn apparently already knew that. "The ball belongs to Carolina, first down, Washington will be charged with a timeout." For some reason, he mentioned nothing about the reversal of any sort of opportunity.

Look, I couldn't be an NFL head coach, and you couldn't be an NFL head coach, and the guy sitting three seats down from you couldn't be an NFL head coach, and Steve Spurrier couldn't be an NFL head coach. But luckily, only 32 people actually have to serve as NFL head coaches. And maybe each of those 32 fellas should know the whole NFL rulebook, and should have a policy against mystery voodoo replay challenges over gaping voids of ethereal nothingness.

(For the record, Zorn also discussed special teams play during his session with Hernandez. "Our special teams is playing GREAT," he said.)

By Dan Steinberg  |  October 13, 2009; 7:57 AM ET
Categories:  Redskins  
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What an embarrassment

Posted by: nford2 | October 13, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

what's worse - that challenge by Zorn or Gibbs's double timeout gaffe vs. Buffalo two years ago? Both times - coaches not realizing the rules... ouch.

Posted by: putnam23 | October 13, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

"So to be clear", he is an idiot.

"Our special teams is playing GREAT,"

And delusional.

Posted by: Megskin | October 13, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Hey Steinz I would definitely be an AWESOME NFL Head Coach! Superbowl Baby!!!

Posted by: jonthefisherman | October 13, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

All I can do anymore is shake my head at this whole debacle of a team. It's so disappointing.

Posted by: JulzDC | October 13, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

well, lol, the QB coach can't know everything!
The (quasi)GM who hired him, should consider hanging it up...

Posted by: Max231 | October 13, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

At least Gibbs gets the benefit of the doubt for being in mourning. On Sunday, the only ones mourning were Redskins fans...

Posted by: lord_rockumus | October 13, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Eh...Zorn is just a fall guy here. I mean, Westbrook is a bubble player that probably shouldn't be on an NFL roster, who knows not to be around the damn ball on a punt return - that's day one stuff. Danny Smith DEFINITELY knows this rule. Special teams have been a let down all season.

Posted by: CapsFan771 | October 13, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Rather than continuing to yap on and on about a play that was in fact called correctly by the official, perhaps Zoron the Moron could take some time to review all of the bone-headed calls that he has been making since arriving here. The only call I want to hear from him now is a call to the airlines, booking a one-way ticket out of here as fast as they'll carry him.

Posted by: Vic1 | October 13, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Jim Zorn is coaching "Great!"


Posted by: whatyoutalkinboutman | October 13, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Jim Zorn is NOT Joe Gibbs! He will never get the benefit of doubt on such an embarrassing decision, period!

Posted by: JohnWWW | October 13, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

What do you mean Jim Zorn is not Joe Gibbs, Gibbs made the same gaffes his 2nd time around, no other coach wants this job, danny and vinny have screwed this team up that much that you can't give the coaching job away...bad personnel decisions and drafting is the reason we are in this mess, it will take 5 years to fix this, and only if a decent GM and coach are hired today. I love the skins, shame to see my team in such disarray.

Posted by: bigdummy1 | October 13, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I am absolutely amazed. Why is not the real problem being talked about? That is the fact that Zorn’s team is unable to score more than seventeen points per week. That’s not going to win enough games to get notice that one even exists. That miserly number of points (17) wouldn’t have beaten even Detroit. When one looks at the Red Skins’ payroll, one can only conclude that neither the owner nor the fans are getting their money’s worth. It’s not even close. This situation isn’t even fair to the players, who are playing well below the level of mediocrity even the most cynical would expect. A truly professional would be embarrassed.

I don’t play; but, even I am embarrassed. My greatest fear is that the Red Skins may be headed to, if they are not there already, the current era of eternal mediocrity, as have, evidently, the Nationals and Wizards. That leads me to this question, how can one city have so many teams, all of which are performing so far below expectations at the same time? What gives?

Posted by: vmonroe_valnesio | October 13, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

That's a lame freakin rule if you ask me. Yet Zorn should know it. I'm over 45 and that's the first time I've seen it happen. Having said this, Westbrook should never have been that close to the ball when it's not in the hands of the runner. If you can't see what's happening get out of the way.

Posted by: richs91 | October 13, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

To the coach's benefit, there are tons of NFL rules. I would assume that most coaches are not "walking NFL rule books".
I have been playing and following football for years, and I didn't know that rule either. When a player calls for a fair catch, that action should override ANY other action. That rule needs to be changed. Furthermore, let's not try to make bufoonery of what JZ did, our beloved 3 time Superbowl Coach, (Joe Gibbs), also had a gaff with the rules... it happens to the best of them.

Posted by: Hlynchmaster | October 13, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

YOu know what the heck did Zorn do in the offseason? You'd think he would have spent some time going over things exactly like this.

Zorn is clearly in over his head. Thanks Dannyboy.

Posted by: Jaymand | October 13, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

The Redskins are really not trying very hard to keep me as a fan. How does someone that is suppose to be the leader of the team not know the rules or at the very least someone that works on the team should have known the rule. This is incompetency at its best from the owner down.

Posted by: Vince24311 | October 13, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I onnce read a comment from a longtime umpire that he was required to pass a 300 question, intensely specific rulebook test. He scored 298 and dared any manager in the big leagues (especially the ones who liked to argue the most) to do as well or better. None took him up on it. I doubt any could get close, anymore than I think any NFL coach could with an NFL rulebook. I think coaches know the general rules, maybe more than the average fan, but once you get into the real chapter and verse stuff, forget it.

Posted by: | October 13, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

what's worse - that challenge by Zorn or Gibbs's double timeout gaffe vs. Buffalo two years ago? Both times - coaches not realizing the rules... ouch.

Posted by: putnam23 | October 13, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Is this a serious question? Obviously, Gibbs' double timeout gaffe was worse--or had a bigger impact on the game--depending on how you're measuring worseness.

Btw, I'm still bitter the refs didn't use appropriate discretion when Gibbs asked if he could take a 2nd timeout. It's a judgment call and refs often will let a coach know the rules, though they aren't required to. But given that our best player had just been murdered the previous week, you'd have thought that maybe the ref would use some discretion and explain to the coach that you can't call 2 timeouts in a row anymore (you used to be able to).

Putnam, I am really hoping you will declare the season "over" right now, as you did immediately following the The Gibbs' gaffe (which was preceded by 4 straight wins and a playoff berth). It worked before, maybe it will work again.

Posted by: Barno1 | October 13, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

this season is over

Posted by: jpfterps | October 13, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

This isn't intended as support for Zorn but isn't the job of the special teams coach to ensure that his players know what the hell to do in those situations?

When Hall mentions practicing that in Atlanta, I'd imagine it was the special teams coach running those drills/exercises and it wasn't the head coach.

Yes, Zorn should know all the rules and the challenge was a waste but isn't Smith culpable for not teaching his special team players such important nuances?

Posted by: imageaid | October 13, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Zorn is a quirky idiot. Really he is. Sure he's likeable but hopelessly out of touch and out of his depth. T

Posted by: tundey | October 13, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Ok...for a coach who clearly admitted he didn't know the rule...and to add more to I was watching the game and during this particular play...the refs did go to JZ and explained to him the situation prior to him throwing the red flag...what a freaking waste of a timeout...this gaffe is far worse than Gibbs' vs Buffalo...on his behalf, he had been away from football for so many years...on the other hand, JZ didn't have any breaks in his job...I know he's never been a HC...but he has been in the NFL for quite a while...anyways, my predictions...hate to say this...but it looks like another L in the column vs the winless Chiefs...Zoron will lose his job...and ole Danny boy really needs to looks at FIRING CERRATO...

Posted by: dpena75 | October 13, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Fire Cerato, Fire Zorn, Fire Danny Smith, oh and cut Westbrook for being stupid enough to be allowed to be pushed around like a rag doll!

Posted by: joeboggs | October 13, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Zorn doesn't know the rule, fine. Danny Smith doesn't know the rule, fire his a** in the tunnel leaving the field.
For all that we hate about Dan Snyder, the guy does spend to win. How about hiring someone to memorize the rule book, and what is and is not challengeable. That being their only job. How about taking a ref and offering him double his salary to be a rulebook\challage consultant. Gibbs was awful at this too by the way. Not knowing the rules or having someone in your ear who does on a professional football staff, which consists of 19 people, is inexcusable. Stein is right about us not being to be nfl coaches, but it seems as though every other week I screaming at the TV to keep your red flag in your pocket. I also think you should be penalized a timeout if you throw the challenge and the play is not reviewable. Don't waste our time.

Posted by: timchadwick | October 13, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Man we becoming famous for all the wrong reasons....,195479

Posted by: gatsu | October 13, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Like all these bozos hired by snyder and cerrato, this coach is in way over his head at this level---the redskins will be lucky to win 4 games this year. A total embarrassment, again.

Posted by: Socialistic | October 13, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Stop this ride - I need to get off.

Posted by: hessone | October 13, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like DeAngelo Hall should be coaching special teams. Why aren't we pushing players into the return man?

Posted by: dclifer97 | October 13, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

What a putz!!!!!! Seriously, this guy is a head coach! Please! Someone find us a Head Coach, a REAL GM and a new owner!!

Posted by: FIREJIMZORN1 | October 13, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Once again, Jim Zorn is the only person alive who can see a great upside to a large, deep sinkhole!

Posted by: bbmcoachk | October 13, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone else noticed that when some of the caps players went to the skins-bucs game that the caps have not won a game since...maybe losing is contagious...Im sending an email to the wizards to let them know that it would be a bad idea to let anyone from their organization go to one of the skins game for the precaution of not getting "loser syndrome"

Posted by: kickass10101 | October 13, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Funny. But when you challege something th whole play gets reveiwed even a potential fair catch interference. Now I don't like Zorn but this article just seems to bash him for no reason.

Posted by: ryan_conaway | October 13, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

I feel sorry for Zorn. Not only is he dysfunctional, he is also delusional.

Posted by: scmonty1 | October 13, 2009 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Wow, I've never heard anyone pile on so much over a used time out. So they would have had 1 timeout left, it wouldn't have mattered. They could have had 3 and it wouldn't have mattered, the couldn't stop Carolina at the end of the game.

You're starting to sound a little childish with the cheap shots at Zorn. Give it up already.

Posted by: 6-2StackMonster | October 13, 2009 8:10 PM | Report abuse

You mean Zorn didn't confer with Danny Smith on what was the best course of action? Did anyone on this team know the rule?

Wake me when there is actually news to read.

Posted by: richs91 | October 13, 2009 9:34 PM | Report abuse

Fire them all. Fire, fire, fire. Hehe. Yeah,fire. -Beavis

Posted by: richs91 | October 13, 2009 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Why is Jim Zorn the coach of the Redskins?

Posted by: lauther266 | October 13, 2009 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Lack of confidence. He heard the official put words into his mouth, and let it happen. Come on, Z-man! Don't get shook now. If you apply for your next job with an 11-11 record as a head coach, I think you'll pretty quickly get another QB coach job.

Posted by: WorstSeat | October 14, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

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