Friday, August 27, 2010

Brothers of the Legacy, and My Defense of Jim Zorn

There was a very good show on Comcast SportsNet called Brothers of the Legacy. It chronicled the friendship of two Redskins legends, Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff. It was very good. One thing that struck me was something Sonny said about the one year that coaching legend Vince Lombardi was the head coach of the Redskins. Sonny said, "Lombardi, of the nine head coaches that I had, he was the only coach that simplified the game, instead of trying to complicate the game. It's executing plays. And that's what impressed me about him from the very get-go. Boy, this is a simple system, and it's successful, and why isn't everyone doing this?" I immediately thought of the last two years of the franchise under Head Coach Jim Zorn. Now... by no means whatsoever am I trying to compare Zorn to Lombardi. However, I was and still am a fan of the Z-Man. While I don't completely disagree with those who say that he was probably in over his head as a Head Coach, I do not believe he ever got a fair chance to demonstrate whether or not he could make it. From Day One, he was set up to fail.

A little background, for those who don't know: In the NFL, owners hire General Managers to manage the franchise, as owners generally know whatever business made them their money, and are fans of football. The GM, who knows football, then hires a Head Coach to run the team. Together, the GM and Coach hire a coaching staff, look at the personnel, cut players, bring in free agents, draft players from college and develop and implement offensive and defensive schemes. In the Zorn era (after Joe Gibbs resigned), owner Dan Snyder released heir apparent Greg Williams (who went on to be Defensive Coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Saints) and hired Greg Blache to run the Defense. He hired Jim Zorn (a QB coach) to be Offensive Coordinator. This was with Vinny Cerrato already in place as the de facto GM (I forget his actual title... EVP in Charge of Football Operations or some such nonsense). Then, he went in search of a Head Coach. Given his (apparently well-earned) reputation for interference, and his haphazard method of building a staff, he was unable to find anyone willing to step in to the top spot. So, he took a chance, and hired Zorn, who had helped build schemes for the Offense in Seattle, but had never been anything but a position coach, to be Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator and QB Coach. Many people harped on the fact that Zorn had three titles as a reason for his failure, but many NFL Head Coaches run the Offense, and Zorn had an Assistant who helped with the QBs, so I don't put much stock in that.

As I watched the team struggle through ten wins and twenty losses under Zorn, I listened to various fans and analysts expound upon the many reasons why they thought Zorn was inadequate as a coach. I don't think I ever heard anyone hit on what I believe to be the true primary cause of our woes. "It's executing plays," Hall of Fame QB Sonny Jurgensen said about the success of the team under Lombardi. Of the scheme, he said, "[T]his is a simple system, and it's successful." Vince Lombardi, a man who is thought of by many as the greatest Head Coach in the history of NFL football ran a simple system... and the players executed it. I can't even remember how many dropped passes, missed tackles and missed blocks I saw over the past two years. I can't count that high. I don't need to. The point is that the players played sloppy. They didn't execute. That is the true failure of Jim Zorn -- he wasn't able to motivate the team. Even that wasn't entirely his fault, though. It is common knowledge that many big name players (who shall remain nameless) had a direct line to owner Dan Snyder. How can a Head Coach maintain discipline when players can go over his head? He can't. People also point to the team's 6-2 start under Zorn and subsequent 2-6 record in the second half of the 2008 season, and say, "It was Zorn's system. By that point, everyone had figured it out." In my many debates about Zorn's tenure with the team, I have told people, "You could have ten basic plays, but if you run them well, you will win." Hyperbole? Perhaps. But my point is exactly the point that the legendary Sonny Jurgensen makes about the even more legendary Vince Lombardi. It's executing plays. For the past two years, the Redskins haven't been doing that. So a man with no experience is put into a losing situation with no support, and isn't able to succeed. Does that make him a bad coach? I don't think so.