Clinton Portis: Christianity divided the locker room under Jim Zorn
Former Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis has never been afraid to speak his mind. On Monday, Portis appeared on ESPN 980 where a discussion about Jay Gruden’s grip on the locker room soon turned into an interesting revelation about former head coach Jim Zorn’s coaching style.
Portis was brief when he opined that Gruden has not and will not lose the locker room, and he instead expanded on how Zorn lost his team during his first season as head coach in 2008.
“Coach Zorn lost the locker room because he split the locker room between Christians and ballplayers,” Portis said to co-hosts Steve Czaban and Chris Cooley. “So if you didn’t believe in what he believed in, if you weren’t Antwaan Randle El — I’m saying it, I’m going to talk, I’m on the radio — if you weren’t Antwaan Randle El, if you weren’t the guys who sat and prayed with him and did everything the way they thought your life should be, you kind of got, ‘Well, you’re not doing right’ speeches directed toward you.
“I’m grown,” Portis continued. “I can do what I want to do. I don’t have a police record. If I don’t get in no trouble, don’t assume the way that I live my life, don’t preach to me about what’s right. Because you’re not right, you’re phony, you’re sitting here in my face telling me one thing and then you go behind my back and say something else.”
Cooley, who also played under Zorn, added some more context to Portis’ claim.
“He’s not wrong, and this is exactly what I was going to say,” Cooley added. “He didn’t do it with intent though. Jim Zorn didn’t come in with intent to say ‘I want Christians.’ But he sold his pitch, his sales pitch was ‘Believe in and have faith in my program.’ And it was basically a sales pitch to a Christian team. It wasn’t ‘We’re going to be smart, we’re going to adapt, we’re going to make sense.
“Literally any time there was anything that came up on offense that was ‘Hmm, this doesn’t make any sense, Jim, why are we doing this?’, it was ‘This was how Bill Walsh did it.’ Much like saying, ‘Go to the Bible and read it.’ It was the West Coast Bible that he sold over and over and over again. Plus, Sherman Smith did come in and give a sermon every single morning. … We’re all hyped about football, Sherman Smith would come in and say this is how we need to live our lives. We’re like, ‘Whoa, I’m fine once I leave this building, bro. I want to talk about football.’ ”
Later in the interview, Portis made sure listeners didn’t misinterpret his original statement — just because he brought in someone to give a sermon every day doesn’t mean that Zorn was a preacher himself.
“But he didn’t force that upon you,” Portis said. “Coach Gibbs gave you the opportunity. ‘Listen, if you want to talk about it, you know I’m doing it the right way, come talk to me.’ ”
However, for those players who preferred a head ball coach who put the football program first, Zorn wasn’t it. Both Portis and Cooley played under a head coach who provided an excellent contrast to Zorn.
“Listen with Coach Gibbs, you were who you were, and that was okay,” Portis said of former Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs. “He just wanted you to come and work hard, that’s what he wanted. As long as you worked hard.”
“I’m fine with praying in moments of turmoil,” Cooley said. “But the way Joe Gibbs sold his team was to football players and guys believing in each other, not believing in a system and a coaching base with it. … [Zorn’s system] was designed around the way a religion is designed: faith.”
Leave it to Portis and Cooley to turn a conversation about Gruden into a discussion about the role of religion in the locker room and the first Jim Zorn name drop in years. Zorn was fired from the Redskins after going 4-12 during the 2009 regular season. It was just his second season as Washington’s head coach.
(h/t Washington Post)