The Washington Redskins front office capped a week of high drama Friday with an unexpected vote of confidence in coach Jim Zorn.
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“Jim Zorn is the head coach of the Washington Redskins and will be for the rest of this season, and hopefully into the future,” executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato said on his radio show.
The news follows a week of rampant speculation over Zorn’s job status that began when the coach was asked to give up his play-calling duties following a 14-6 loss to the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs. Zorn called the move “uncomfortable” and players expressed general concern over the state of the franchise, yet Cerrato and owner Dan Snyder remained silent and allowed the tension to build until Cerrato finally spoke up Friday.
“The frustration is very high, everywhere around here,” Cerrato said. “But the relationships internally within this organization, quite frankly, remain the same.”
The Redskins are 2-4 despite playing one of the weakest schedules in the league over the last five weeks. The offense, overseen by Zorn, has yet to score more than 17 points in a game and has twice failed to score a touchdown at home.
Zorn tried to take the news in stride.
“I don’t necessarily have a reaction to that because I am the head coach,” Zorn said. “I want to be here for the next 10 years. That’s my story.”
Players, tired of answering endless questions about their coach’s job, welcomed the news.
“That should relieve a lot of tension and a lot of stress,” quarterback Jason Campbell said. “We were the soap opera for the NFL the last two weeks, so hopefully it’ll calm down a little bit.”
“Jim Zorn is the head coach of the Washington Redskins and will be for the rest of this season, and hopefully into the future.”
— Redskins GM Vinny Cerrato
Added linebacker London Fletcher: “He’ll be the head coach throughout the rest of the season, and hopefully we can get this turned around and win some games around here so that we can ensure he’ll be the head coach next year. I’m happy for him. I’m happy to know we’ll have stability this year.”
Zorn said he was not concerned about the future and was “trying to live in the present.” Still, if Cerrato’s endorsement eliminates a distraction, he’ll take it.
“If it comforts the players — awesome!” Zorn said. “But I think our players are focused regardless of what the situation is. Whatever has to be said, I guess it has to be said, but we go on.”
Snyder and Cerrato hired longtime NFL consultant Sherm Lewis 2 1/2 weeks ago as an offensive consultant, and Lewis has now been promoted to play caller for Monday night’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Those moves were seen as an attempt to undermine Zorn, positioning the franchise for a possible coaching change during the upcoming bye week.
Cerrato offered a different perspective, saying the moves were done to help Zorn, who is in the second year of a contract that’s guaranteed for three years.
“Look at all the things that we’ve done to try to help,” Cerrato said. “You could have done other things drastically. No, you have confidence in him, because you want him to do well.”
Cerrato said he now hoped Zorn’s status is “totally crystal clear.”
“Hopefully we can just concentrate and focus on winning football games,” he said.
Cerrato had several axes to grind during his radio show. He chided the media for reporting “false rumors,” but did not explain why he waited five days to break his own silence about the play-caller switch or Zorn’s overall status. He also belittled what he called “off-the-wall” comments made by Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent, a close friend of Zorn’s who called the switch to Lewis “a joke.”
Cerrato referred to Largent as “his friend” instead of by name, then noted the four Super Bowl rings won by Lewis as an assistant coach with San Francisco and Green Bay.
“I don’t think ‘his friend’ has a one,” Cerrato said.
Lewis left the NFL after the 2004 season and was enjoying retirement in Michigan when the Redskins called, but Cerrato feels the 67-year-old West Coast offense expert is up to the play-calling task.
“You don’t forget how to ride a bike if you hadn’t rode your bike in four years,” Cerrato said.
Cerrato also described in detail the chain of events surrounding the play-calling change, apparently to dispel the notion the front office was trying to get Zorn to quit. Largent said Zorn was given such an ultimatum, and Zorn himself has said he complied “because I want to stay here and win.”
“I’m in the locker room and the owners come up to me and they ask me, ‘How do we score more points?’ ” Cerrato said. “And we’re coming off of — against the 32nd-ranked defense — we score two field goals and have seven first downs. So I tell them, I recommended to them that Jim’s plate is too full. He’s the head coach, he’s the offensive coordinator, he’s the quarterbacks coach, let’s take something off the plate to help him. So they said ‘OK, go talk to him.’ ”
Cerrato said he met one on one with Zorn at the stadium and suggested the switch. Zorn asked for time to think about it. When they spoke later on the phone, Cerrato said Zorn accepted.