Redskins meet with Shanahan after firing Zorn
January 4, 2010
ASHBURN, Va. – The Washington Redskins moved quickly in their pursuit of Mike Shanahan on Monday, flying in the former Denver Broncos coach on the same day the team fired Jim Zorn.
Shanahan and wife Peggy landed at Dulles International Airport near Redskins Park in mid-afternoon and were driven away in a limousine to meet with owner Dan Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen. Snyder planned for Shanahan to stay overnight at the owner’s house in Maryland, and a formal hiring announcement could come as early as Tuesday.
Shanahan’s arrival was the highlight of a long, eventful day as the Redskins sought a new direction after a 4-12 season. The first move came in the pre-dawn hours, when Zorn was dismissed during a meeting in his office with Allen after the team’s cross-country flight following a 23-20 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
“It’s real clear that we’re going to be aggressive,” Allen said. “What we’re looking for in a head coach is somebody who can lead these men that we had in our locker room this year to levels they’ve haven’t played through before.”
Shanahan won two Super Bowls in 14 seasons with the Broncos. He was fired a year ago after Denver missed the playoffs for the third straight season.
Shanahan would be expected to bring his son, Houston Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, with him to Washington. While the Redskins weren’t making any announcements about a hiring, Texans coach Gary Kubiak spoke as if a Shanahan tandem in D.C. was virtually a foregone conclusion.
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“Obviously it looks like Mike’s coming right back in the business here real quick, and I know it’s something he’s always wanted, to work with his son,” Kubiak said. “I’d be the same way.”
Zorn went 12-20 over two seasons and lost 18 of his last 24 games after a 6-2 start in 2008. The Redskins struggled early this season despite a weak schedule and finished with their worst record since 1994.
“The status quo has to end,” Allen said. “We have to change the way we’ve been doing some business. … Last place two years in a row is not Redskins football.”
Zorn’s replacement will be Washington’s seventh coach since Snyder bought the team in 1999. The Redskins are 82-99 on his watch, missing the playoffs in eight of 11 seasons.
“No one in the organization is satisfied with our record over the last two years,” Snyder said in a statement released by the team, “and I am sure that Jim would concur with that statement. It has been painful for him, too. I certainly accept responsibility for mistakes that I have made.”
Zorn’s dismissal had been expected for months. The front office stripped him of his play-calling duties in late October, and Snyder interviewed assistant coach Jerry Gray for the job weeks ago, according to the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors minority hiring in the NFL.
Neither Snyder nor Zorn was made available to reporters.
“Everybody’s playing the waiting game now,” running back Rock Cartwright said while he and his teammates cleaned out their lockers.
Shanahan made the playoffs in half of his 14 seasons in Denver, although he had only two losing seasons – 6-10 in 1999 and 7-9 in 2007. His greatest successes came early, with back-to-back Super Bowl titles after the 1997 and 1998 seasons with running back Terrell Davis and quarterback John Elway.
His career regular-season record is 146-98, including 138-86 with the Broncos from 1995-2008 and 8-12 with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1988-89. Shanahan’s playoff record is 8-5.
“I think it’s safe to say we all need a guy who’s done it before, who’s been to the big games,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “It’s kind of hard to envision yourself trying to get somewhere when the person who’s talking to you has never been there personally. That’s probably the only thing that I want. I want to go to the Super Bowl.”
That’s an indirect slap at Zorn, who often appeared overwhelmed and not fully in charge in two distraction-filled seasons. Zorn was a last-resort choice in 2008 after a monthlong search during which, for a variety of reasons, Snyder would up not hiring any of the names on the owner’s original list. He had hired Zorn as an offensive coordinator, then promoted him to head coach two weeks later even though Zorn had never previously been a head coach or coordinator in the NFL.
Zorn at first was charming and a bit corny, leading cheers of “Hip! Hip! Hooray!” in the locker room during the team’s fast start. But his play-calling – supposedly his strength – and game management were often lacking, and the Redskins were under the 20-point mark in 20 of his 32 games. He also wasn’t a strong leader, a trait some players abused by going over the coach’s head.
“I think there’s been a lack of communication, and I think that cost us a little bit,” Cartwright said. “Guys feel like they could go to someone else instead of talking to coach Zorn. I just know that some guys had more say in some things than other guys.”
It didn’t help that the front office didn’t give Zorn a solid roster. The offense line was aging and lacked quality depth. Jason Campbell was undermined by attempts to acquire other quarterbacks. Former first-round picks Carlos Rogers and LaRon Landry have been disappointments. Running back Clinton Portis looked worn down by years of wear and tear. Injuries to several key players compounded the problems, and 12 players finished the season on injured reserve.
The new coach, Snyder and Allen therefore have a monumental rebuilding task ahead of them. The Redskins will have the No. 4 overall pick in the draft, but the Redskins need more than one college stud to right the ship.
“Maybe some of our greatest improvements,” Allen said, “is our players who are already on our roster playing better.”
– AP Sportswriters Kristie Rieken in Houston and Howard Fendrich in Ashburn, Va., contributed to this report.