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Monday, January 4, 2010
Zorn kept his dignity intact

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

Jim Zorn
Jim Zorn was 12-20 during his two seasons as head coach of the Washington Redskins.
Jim Zorn could've been fired at any point from December 2009 through Monday morning and no one would have been all that surprised. In truth, he was the accidental head coach. Dan Snyder and his henchman, Vinny Cerrato, bumbled around so long after the retirement of Joe Gibbs that they ran out of viable candidates.

They hired Zorn to be the team's offensive coordinator, and I wish we could have seen how he operated in that capacity. Instead, Snyder made the knee-jerk decision to elevate Zorn to head coach. He was also put in charge of the quarterbacks, which was honestly the only position he was truly qualified for.

Zorn seemed a little overwhelmed from the start, but his quirkiness endeared him to his players, and to some extent, the Skins' fan base. And when the Redskins started the '08 campaign 6-2, it briefly looked like Snyder had stumbled into the right decision. Of course, we all know what happened after that. The Redskins collapsed in the second half of the season and they didn't recover in '09 despite the arrival of All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.

Zorn was one of the most likable head coaches I've been around. He frustrated his public relations staff at times by spending inordinate amounts of time with bloggers and anyone else who requested an interview. He wasn't capable of providing canned answers because it wasn't in his make-up. He was a cerebral guy who had other interests outside football, such as wood carving and mountain biking. Zorn and his teenage son went mountain biking with President George W. Bush at one point, and I remember the coach beaming as he recalled the outing.

But Snyder and Cerrato quickly soured on Zorn. By the end of September, there wasn't much communication between Zorn and management. He had to know his days were numbered -- especially when Snyder stripped him of his play-calling duties in October. That's when everyone would've understood if Zorn had quit and walked away from this mess. That's exactly what I think Snyder and Cerrato had hoped he would do. But he stuck around and suffered a string of indignities in the name of loyalty to his players and his pocketbook.

Snyder will have to write Zorn a check for $2.4 million in 2010. It turned out that he and Cerrato couldn't shame Zorn into walking away from the money. From a coaching standpoint, you have to hand it to Zorn that his players continued to fight each week. The only time down the stretch the Redskins didn't show up was the 45-12 loss to the Giants. And that came after a tumultuous week during which Cerrato abruptly resigned and was replaced by new general manager Bruce Allen.

To the end, Zorn was hopeful that he'd be given another season. He came across as incredibly naive in those moments because we all knew where this was heading. But the former Seahawks quarterback somehow kept his dignity throughout this entire ordeal. And that doesn't seem like such a small thing.

It would be easy to blame the past two seasons on Zorn. That's what Redskins management would prefer you do. But in reality, this man never really had a chance to succeed.