The four NFL head coaching changes that have taken place this offseason have conjured up minimal buzz, thanks to the unusual absence of recognizable big-name hires. Tony Sparano to the Dolphins invoked the expected Sopranos jokes — something America saw coming even weeks before the Cowboys’ O-line coach officially entered the market — as well as additional Bill Parcells chatter (apparently he’s pretty good at “turnin’ things around.”)
John Harbaugh’s hiring in Baltimore will be a lot more interesting in a few years, after he’s proven himself as one of the preeminent head coaches in the league.
Mike Smith was hired to take over the Atlanta Falcons, and it’s safe to assume that you, like the rest of us, had probably forgotten all about him until now.
Then there’s Jim Zorn, the epitomizing emblem of the 2008 rookie head coaching class. His transcript showed a solid B in the no-name prerequisite (if his last name didn’t start with the letter Z, he’d have gotten an A like Joe Smith….errr Mike Smith in Atlanta). Zorn’s credentials were impressive, but only at a second-tier level (in other words, he has no significant NFL leadership experience). And, like his three fellow first-year head coaches, Zorn is working for a free-spending owner.
According to America, therein lies the problem. Redskins owner Dan Snyder is one of those eccentric individuals who people know well enough to judge, but not well enough to understand. That’s not a righteous anti-judgmental lecture — it’s a way of explaining how some of Snyder’s managerial methods over the years have been so bizarre that outsiders can accurately judge them as fallacious without even exploring the arcane logic hidden deep inside them.
On the surface, Snyder is mercurial. But from an armchair psychologist’s point of view, he is remarkably easy to figure out. Simply put, he likes two things: power (besides Alan Alda, who doesn’t?) and a quick fix. Snyder is the man sitting at the head of the table who, upon recognizing the table’s loose leg, either sends someone to retrieve his duct tape or orders a whole new dining set.
Everything that Snyder does satisfies one of his two cravings. The massive free agent signings in Washington over the years? Quick fix. Hiring Joe Gibbs and an eclectic array of all-star assistants to coach those free agents? Same thing.
Turning calendar pages in deciding upon a head coach to replace the retired Gibbs, only to coronate the former seneschal from Seattle? Power surge.
And so Snyder has his yes-man in Zorn. That yes-man inherits a pre-picked coaching staff — an unmistakable sign of his limited jurisdiction within Snyder’s organization — that was originally thought to be for Jim Fassel (who, by the way, joined the rest of the country in lambasting the Redskins’ hire). Zorn’s himself has pointed out that his approval rating is already below 50 percent. Others have pointed out that his chances of winning the uber-competitive NFC East next year are significantly smaller than that.
It’s easy to see why so many analysts have derided Zorn’s situation (some have even gone so far as to say they feel sorry for the guy). But such thinking is erroneous.
In fact, Zorn has stumbled upon great fortune. Here’s why: a.) he holds one of the 32 most prestigious coaching jobs in professional football, b.) he’s getting paid $3 million a year, c.) he is taking over a talented team that reached the postseason in two of the past three years, and d.) he has absolutely nothing to lose. If Zorn fails in Washington, the football universe will blame Snyder. If he succeeds, then the restrictions on his power naturally abate.
Zorn can also smile in knowing that he won’t have to win-over an influential group of gregarious veteran personalities like the man now in charge of that underachieving Ravens bunch a few towns over.
He can be thankful that he isn’t strapped with football’s version of dating an emotionally shattered, recently divorced single mother of four, like that no-name who is picking up the bird guts and scattered feathers down in Atlanta.
Zorn can also feel lucky that his potential replacement is not already on the staff (Snyder fired respected defensive coordinator Gregg Williams after deciding that Williams was not the right man for the head coaching job). The subject of those lame Sopranos jokes is coaching under the three-time retired Bill Parcells, which means he doesn’t have that luxury. Remember what happened last time a Miami sports franchise had an unproven head coach and a legendary coaching figure calling the shots from the front office? Stan Van Gundy does.
Jim Zorn is not walking into the best of situations in Washington. But at the same time, for $3 million a year, it’s not that bad.