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Worst moments of the Zorn era

(By Toni L. Sandys - TWP)

I noted before, in discussing his best moments, that Jim Zorn was unique, quirky, honest, interesting and refreshing. He also turned out to be a bad NFL head coach. And so, presenting the six worst moments of the Zorn Era. I'm not including things such as Chris Cooley exposing his genitals on the Internet, Vinny Cerrato neglecting the offensive line and Steelers fans invading FedEx Field; these worst moments have to be on Zorn's personal docket.

1. The Sherm Lewis Promotion: When Sherm Lewis took his playcalling from him -- the thing Jim Zorn had been specifically hired to do -- you had to hope, deep in your heart, that Zorn would say 'Thanks for everything, Dan and Vinny, but I'm outta here.' Sure, there was money on the line. Sure, we all like money. And sure, ownership probably wanted him to resign, so by staying I guess he was sticking it to the man.

But he could have gone out on his terms, guns blazing, unbowed. Instead, he waited and waited and waited, a delicate shuddering pile of creme brulee, until the hammer finally fell and smashed the stuff all over the locker room walls. You admired his professionalism and his persistence in staying, I suppose, but you still wish he had just said nope, I can't take this.

"It was strongly suggested to me after the game, with a meeting I had with Vinny in my office at the stadium, that I make a play-caller change," Zorn said at the time. "I tried to soul-search....There's a lot of people involved....Sometimes we have to do things that are my comfort level isn't there. If this is something that we're all going to try to do to win, I want to try to do that."

Nah. It just smelled bad from the jump, and it forever crushed the idea of Zorn the Maverick, who played by his own rules.

2. The Portis Confrontation: As his first season spiraled out of control, his star player, Clinton Portis, went on the radio and called Zorn out. He was asked what adjustments the team needed to make -- with the playoffs still a real possibility -- and he said this:

"We got a genius for a head coach, I don't know, I'm sure he on top of things. He's got everything figured out. Hey, that's up to him. All I can do is when he calls a play is go out and try to execute to the best of my ability."

That's close to revolt. You wanted to hear Zorn come down. You wanted to hear him say, at the least, that Portis wasn't helping matters. Instead, he said this.

"Well, any time you don't go in, that's the way you feel," Zorn said. "And he is a big part of our offense and he's sitting on the bench, he's got to feel like he's benched, I don't blame him for that."

Sure, players respected and liked Zorn. Sure, they played hard for him. Sure, we loved Zorn for not acting like a typical NFL head coach. But this firmly established that the players had more control here than Zorn, and that really manifested itself this season. After he was fired, several players made reference to this sad fact.

3. The Maroon and Black: There was a culture problem throughout Zorn's tenure, and it cropped up immediately. He was talking about his family in that introductory news conference back in February of 2008, and then he said this.

"They all got their gear all ready, and so they're gonna be all colored up in the maroon and black and yellow."

Every single person who wrote about his hiring mentioned this the next day. Every one. Yeah, it's petty and silly, but he could not have possibly thought of a worse way to start, absent wearing a temporary Cowboys tattoo on his cheek or showing up for his press conference in chaps. And Bruce Allen on Monday said he wants a coach "who embraces the Redskins history." That seemed to be a retroactive comment on Zorn.

4. The Swinging Gate: I didn't really think that fake field goal at the end of the first half during the blowout loss to the Giants was the worst thing in world history. But it led to immediate mocking by the Monday Night Football announcers, and then a full 24 hours of Internet mocking from some of the country's most popular Web sites. Any time you help make your team a national punchline, it counts as a bad moment.

And Zorn's explanation of the failure didn't help.

"it was good defense," he said. "It was really good defense. That's what hurt that play."

5. The Sonny Spat: Both men insisted after the fact that there were no hard feelings whatsoever, but for Zorn to take on a popular Skins legend as his team was sinking into the morass gave you little hope that things would turn around. This was, you'll recall, after the narrow home win over the Rams, which felt as much like a loss as any win I can recall. Washington recorded just three field goals, one after a failed halfback pass into the end zone.

"Third down, I'm the quarterback, and you call the halfback throwing the ball for me, I'm calling time out or calling an audible," Sonny Jurgensen said during a postgame interview. "I'm not letting the halfback throw it. That's what you pay me for."

"Well then, I would have to take you out of the game," Zorn countered. "As soon as you called time out, I'd say what's wrong with my play, because...."

"It didn't work!" Jurgensen interrupted.

There was a long pause.

"No, but I called it to work. All right?" Zorn said. "We called it to work. It didn't work."

It was awkward and uncomfortable, and the fans all sided with the announcer over the coach.

6. The Antwaan Randle El Reversal: Perhaps no single personnel decision of the Zorn Era infuriated fans, media members, random earthworms and so on as Zorn's steadfast loyalty to the ineffective Antwaan Randle El as his punt returner.

"As a coach, you've just got to have the comfort level. That's why I had Antwaan in there," Zorn said this year after Randle El fumbled a crucial punt. "You know, I had a comfort level, and it proved to be a little of a backfire, but that doesn't mean he's not gonna catch the next 10 in a row. It's just at that particular moment, it was a bad deal."

But the absolute worst moment of Zorn's ARE fascination came after he had promised the world that he was moving away from his longtime returner. On Monday of that week, he said "You're still going to see Antwaan out there, but it'll be a little more flipped as far as the involvement." On Tuesday he said the returning situation had changed and "I'm starting to interject with other guys." And on Wednesday, after Randle El visited his office, Zorn said "Nothing has changed. That's how I would bill it. There's no difference."

To turn such a seemingly simple situation into a three-day adventure that ended with "nothing has changed" seemed to typify the Zorn Era.

By Dan Steinberg  |  January 4, 2010; 3:03 PM ET
Categories:  Redskins  
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The funny thing about the swinging gate was the Giants, even after calling timeout, still didn't defend the play properly.

If Hunter takes the snap and throws immediately to the guy in motion he probably scores since there were more Skins/blockers then Giant defenders.

Posted by: SteelHop | January 4, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

one thing that always left a sour taste in my mouth: comparing redskins-cowboys to seahawks-raiders.

it seemed like every time someone brought up how important the game is to washington, dc, that was his response...i mean, let's be serious.

Posted by: bacaje | January 4, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

In the spirit of change, can I humbly suggest that Sonny Jurgensen be committed to an old folks home?

Posted by: RapmasterAC | January 4, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Any list of worst moments for Zorn has to include him flapping his arms and jumping up and down during the Lions game. If there were a picture of ineffectual in the dictionary, that would be it. It also explained why he stayed medium, because when he tried to go large, that was the result.

Posted by: DocHolliday1906 | January 4, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Maroon and Black the first and worst moment of the Zorn era by far! At that moment I knew we were toast...

Posted by: coachtanahan | January 4, 2010 10:26 PM | Report abuse

I really thought, while Zorn seems like a nice guy, his legacy is one of just taking it from folks. Whether it was Snyder, Cerratto, Portis, Haynesworth, ARE, etc. Zorn never seemed to stand on his own and say "This is my team... I'm running this". Thus, he needed to go. Portis never practiced but played. Haynesworth mouths off gets kicked out of practice-starts.

As for the worst moment... I'm going with the mystery of ARE on the punt returns... that was the most painful thing to watch and should be investigated as a form of torture.

Posted by: HollywoodPlayboy | January 4, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

New coach, new uniforms.


Posted by: MikeLicht | January 5, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

"In the spirit of change, can I humbly suggest that Sonny Jurgensen be committed to an old folks home?"
I don't know about the home, but can we at least acknowledge that Sonny is one of those Snyder advisors who happily undermines players (Campbell) and coaches (not-Gibbs) he doesn't like?

When people complain about The Danny taking advice from his inner circle and interfering with his front office and coaching staff - well, Sonny is part of that unaccountable inner circle that gives Snyder bad advice.

Posted by: hubcap | January 5, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

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