One day this week, shortly before practice, a pair of turkey buzzards perched themselves high on two dying tree limbs overlooking the Redskins practice fields.
Even Mother Nature knows when the situation is bleak.
Inside the facility, the talk among players was getting bolder, and everyone was a target.
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Antwaan Randle El called the latest front office move “a little weird.” DeAngelo Hall disagreed with coach Jim Zorn’s halftime quarterback switch – “I don’t think that was the right move” – and Clinton Portis wondered when all the change would stop. For the truly offbeat, Rocky McIntosh decided this was the week to call the stadium music “ridiculous” on Twitter.
Carlos Rogers started the ball rolling last week when he said that all have some culpability for a season that has gone downhill fast, adding that “it starts with the ownership.” Jason Campbell echoed the sentiment this week, saying essentially that the franchise’s problems can’t be solved with a lineup change or by a giving an unretired Bingo moderator playcalling duties.
“We’ve got more issues than you can think of,” Campbell said. “They’re not going to be solved overnight, and they’re not going to get solved in a short period of time.”
Many fans apparently agree, and they feel the problem wears a suit and tie. A group near owner Dan Snyder’s box chanted “Sell the team” during Sunday’s 14-6 loss to the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs. The Redskins fell to 2-4 despite a soft schedule and are averaging only 13.2 points.
Other fans wore paper bags on their heads. One brought a photo of Snyder, captioned “Dumb.” The person next to him had a photo of front office chief Vinny Cerrato, captioned “Dumber.” One woman with had a poster that read “Black Sunday” – until security confiscated it.
Others have stopped showing up. Yes, technically there’s a sellout streak that dates to the 1960s, but there were tons of empty seats Sunday. Look for the fans wearing midnight green to overrun the place when the Philadelphia Eagles visit on Monday night.
“Disappointment and anger, there seems to be a lot of that out there right now,” Todd Collins said. “A lot of it has to do with expectations of what this team was going to do. … We just have to win. We need one badly right now.”
Longtime fans can’t remember such high levels or anger and apathy for one of the NFL’s most storied franchises. They feel Snyder is paying the price for hiring Zorn, a not-ready-for-prime-time coach who at times has looked overwhelmed. They puzzle over his unwavering loyalty to Cerrato, whose personnel decisions have yet to establish any confidence in his ability to assemble a winning NFL roster. They implore Snyder to hire a strong, autonomous general manager who can stand up to the owner and pragmatically address the team’s weaknesses.
Snyder and Cerrato have reacted to the losing by putting the squeeze on Zorn with extraordinary measures that, if anything, have hurt the team’s public image even more.
First, they coaxed longtime NFL assistant Sherm Lewis out of retirement as a consultant for the offense. Now, they’ve stripped Zorn of play-calling duties and given them to the new guy, even though he’s only been with the team for two weeks.
The changes have overtaken the debates over Zorn’s abilities as a head coach and made him into a sympathetic figure. A bye week follows the Eagles game, and few would be surprised if Zorn is fired and replaced by secondary coach Jerry Gray if Monday night turns into a debacle.
“I don’t know what a Dan Snyder coach looks like,” Zorn’s good friend, Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent, told KJR radio in Seattle. “And I don’t think Dan Snyder knows what a Dan Snyder coach looks like. That’s fairly obvious now, as he’s been through six head coaches in 10 years.”
Largent went on to say that Lewis calling plays was “a joke” and that the front office “went to the point of pulling out (Zorn’s) contract and saying ‘You’ve got to do what the owner tells you to do.”‘ He also said Zorn considered quitting.
Zorn and Largent are very close, and Zorn did his best to laugh off Largent’s comments in front of the cameras Wednesday: “Friends, they kind of get fired up for friends,” he said. “I’m going to have to go bust him.”
Gray, meanwhile, is getting star treatment. He’s now the spokesman for the defense instead of coordinator Greg Blache. The public relations staff didn’t cut short his session with reporters Thursday, as is now done regularly with Zorn and nearly every marquee player.
Gray said he’s not letting speculation about the head coaching job affect his focus, the way he felt it did when he was with the Buffalo Bills several years ago.
Still, he does want to be a head coach.
“If you get a chance to do that, you want to do that,” Gray said. “I understand that things do happen, but you’ve got to make sure you stay focused. I’m not letting this affect us.”
Meanwhile, Snyder and his brain trust are in lockdown mode. Neither Snyder or Cerrato have been willing to publicly discuss the changes or answer for the franchise’s overall ills. Lewis has been hushed up as well, ever since he revealed that he had been on his way to call a Bingo game when the Redskins summoned him out of retirement.
With the buzzards watching, the players can only wonder might happen next.
“We’ve had some changes here lately and they’ve come fast and furious,” Collins said, “so I don’t know what’s in store.”