The news that Jim Zorn was being fired with immediate effect from the Washington Redksins will have come as a shock to very few, not even Zorn himself. After having been stripped of his right to call plays in October and rumblings about interviews for the non-vacancy taking place under his nose, it will have probably been a blessed relief when he was told that it was over. A relief for Zorn, sure, but also a relief for the D.C. fans who had to endure a rotten run under the beleaguered head coach, one that saw them lose eighteen of their last twenty four games. No, Zorn will not leave behind many friends and fewer fans as he moves onto pastures new, although I would expect a prolonged hiatus after prolonged exposure to such toxic failure.
Of course, Zorn was always a risky appointment and in truth it is just one in a series of wretched appointments from the owner Dan Snyder since he took over in 1999. Not one of his coaches ended their tenure with a positive winning ratio and many spent most of their time trying to implement radical changes in playing style that left the team directionless and unrecognisible from season to season. When Snyder made the announcement regarding Zorn’s future he himself said that he had to “accept responsibility for mistakes that I have made” of which there were many. He seems to be someone who lacks fundamental understanding of the nature of the game. How else can you explain his inability to grasp the concept that having your offensive and defensive co-ordinators having the same ethos as your head coach is one of the fundamentals to success? Yet in 2006 he appointed the former Chiefs offensive co-ordinator on a huge contract despite the fact that the head coach, Joe Gibbs, wanted to play a completely different way. Naturally this lead to problems on the field and it showed with their inconsistent form.
He has also authorised huge payments to free agents simply so he can be seen publicly to have “got his man” yet rarely have these players delivered on the field in a manner befitting their paycheque. To boot, it has caused dressing room disharmony if the insider reportage on the sports pages is to be believed. He is someone all too keen to use his considerable financial standing to take shortcuts to success, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a problem if the shortcuts all too often didn’t take the franchise down some cul-de-sac before simply having to turn around again and go back to the beginning of the journey. With such sense of direction you’d have to say that Dan Snyder is no more a true footballing mind than he is a taxi driver.
However the announcement of Mike Shanahan should be met with scenes of rapture and it represents the best decision Snyder has yet made since he was put in charge. Perhaps more importantly is the absolutely explicit statement that Shanahan will have the “ultimate authority” on all footballing decisions, something that implies – as many suspected – past coaches were not afforded this luxury. Indeed, it is not just a matter of going from someone with little coaching pedigree to bringing in a former Superbowl winner, although that in itself would be cause for any fan to start getting optimistic. But it is not this alone that should give Redskin fans fuel for wild dreams of glory. It is what Shanahan embodies – for he is, in the purest sense, a builder.
Put aside what he did as offensive co-ordinator for 49ers, which is no small feat considering they are heralded by many as the greatest offense of all time. But when he came into the head coach spot at the Broncos in 1995 there was still plenty to do. But his eye for talent, his ability to get the best out of his players, and the relationship he enjoyed with the legendary John Elway all played their part in creating one of the most successful NFL teams. Their achievements read like statistical pornography for anyone who loves the game – A record of 46 victories for 10 losses in a three year span, back to back Superbowls, an NFL record for first quarter points that still stands to this day, a string of individuals delivering huge rushing and receiving yardage… He has taken names that no-one had heard of and late round draft picks and turned them into world-beaters. At the end of his tenure, the wheels may have come off a little bit, but all good things have got to come to an end and had he left on a high, maybe in 2006 after they beat the Patriots, then things may have been a little different, he would come to Washington with more of an aura. But make no mistake – he is a winner and knows exactly what is required to turn the franchise around.
Having already instilled his son as offensive co-ordinator bodes well too. His former team, The Texans, might have blown hot and cold but as a student of his father’s teachings he will be relishing the opportunity to put it into practice with a head coach he knows will be on the same page. It is the foundations on which another great NFL offense can be built and you would expect clashes to be kept to a minimum.
So, with Snyder now set to take a back seat and the appointment of a real leader it simply comes down to one question – how long it will take before the Redskins are marauding the play-off plains? Maybe a season could be too soon, the five year contract belies the size of the task in hand… For me though the smart money has to be on D.C. being serious contenders sooner rather than later though. History shows us by two seasons a Shanahan team will be running at full steam and I’m sure when that time comes he will receive all the plaudits. And while every line written will be doubtlessly true and deserved, the real congratulations should go to Snyder. It takes a big man to recognise a bigger man is required to succeed. It may have took a while, but the Redskins have found someone worthy to be their chief.