Unproven the Way to Go: Skins Continue Trend, Find Former Seattle QB as Coach

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The Redskins named Jim Zorn as their head coach, completing a tiring and thorough search that concluded with the shocking choice to finding a successor for the legendary Joe Gibbs.

“I’ve always dreamed of being a head coach with a franchise rich in tradition like the Redskins,” Zorn said in a team news release. “As a player who had to fight Redskins teams at RFK as well as at our home field, I know about the history of this franchise as well as the passion of its fans. I won’t let you down.”

Washington and owner Dan Synder A.K.A. Mr. Moneybags inked the 54-year-old Zorn to a five-year deal. “We’re proud that our search was diligent, thorough, and resulted in today’s announcement,” owner Dan Snyder said. “Jim’s track record and reputation as a player, great teacher, and as a coach makes us confident that they will translate to success for the Redskins.”

Zorn, a former Seattle quarterback, was the Seahawks’ quarterbacks coach for the last seven years. The Redskins hired him to be their offensive coordinator, his highest coaching position until now, on Jan. 26 while continuing their look for a leader on the sidelines.

Snyder and his advisers decided on Zorn after finishing the last of their first round of interviews with New York Giants defensive whiz Steve Spagnuolo earlier this week. The owner had to wait until the Super Bowl was played to speak to Spagnuolo, who took his name out of the list for the open position Thursday and signed a new three-year contract with the Giants.

Zorn was one of many candidates interviewed by Snyder in a slow, private journey that began after Gibbs left Jan. 8 and included day-long interviews taking place at Snyder’s home. Most of the contenders’ names eventually became public. Spagnuolo, Jim Fassel, Steve Mariucci, Jim Mora, Ron Meeks, Pete Carroll, Jim Schwartz as well as Redskins assistant Gregg Williams were all thought to be ready enough for the pressure-filled challenge of being the next coach. While Zorn’s job was supposed to be set in stone once he accepted the role as offensive play caller.

Zorn becomes the sixth coach under Snyder, who bought the team in 1999, and he ends a run of big-name, head hauncho coaches by an owner who had shown a reputation for giving in to elite, household names at a legit price. Snyder’s last three coaches were Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Gibbs. None had a successful stint as hoped or expected, though Gibbs took the Redskins to the playoffs in two of his four seasons.

Determined to make the right choice, Snyder was looking for just the right man to meet his high and lofty expectations. “We knew of Jim’s stellar offensive reputation, so we hired him as coordinator, but we also suspected he would be a strong candidate for head coach,” Snyder said. “After our first six-hour interview with him, I told Joe (Gibbs), ‘This guy would make a terrific head coach.’ But we stayed true to our commitment to interview every candidate.”

After Spagnuolo withdrew, Snyder said he called Zorn and told him he was being considered for the head coaching job. “We spent two days taking Jim through the same interview process as every other candidate,” Snyder said. “Those sessions only confirmed my earlier comment to Joe: Jim Zorn will be a terrific head coach.”

Although Zorn is essentially making the jump from quarterbacks coach to head coach, Gibbs said the Redskins’ veteran assistants will be able to help with the transition period. Most of the Gibbs’ staff has been retained. “Those guys have been around,” Gibbs said from the garage area at Daytona International Speedway, where his team was preparing to compete in Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout exhibition race. “So what they did is continuity-wise, they kept the coaching staff and the support group and the training group and everybody, so he’s in a real solid (situation).”

Zorn takes over a team that went 9-7, grasping the NFC’s final wild card berth on the last weekend of the regular season, before losing to Seattle in the first round of the playoffs. The team is well above the salary cap, although it has already started to treat/cure that problem by opening contract renegotiations with some of its highest-paid players.

The offensive system will start over with a change under Zorn, who is expected to bring in former great Bill Walsh’s famous West Coast style. Zorn was a longtime local favorite in Seattle. He was the franchise’s original starting quarterback in 1976 and played nine seasons with the team. He returned as an offensive assistant from 1997-98 and again as quarterbacks coach in 2001.


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