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Tail of Two Cities

Let’s go back a year or so, to October 20th 2008, the day Mike Nolan was fired as Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers and Mike Singletary was promoted to Interim Head Coach of that storied but recently downtrodden franchise.

At the time, the 49ers were 2-5 and coming off back to back poundings by teams we Skins fans know all too well, the Eagles and Giants. They lacked identity and will. They were on track to be the 3rd best team in a 4 team division considered so weak that many wondered if any of the teams in it could complete for the Pac 10 title, much less a division title in the NFL. They were saved from being last in the NFC West only by the helpless Rams.

Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, our burgundy and gold clad heroes, at 5-2, were enjoying a renaissance under new Head Coach Jim Zorn with his seemingly inspired “Midwest” offense that featured a rejuvenated Clinton Portis putting up big enough numbers that he was making everyone’s short list for NFL MVP. The Redskins were flush off road wins against Dallas and Philly, wins that were much more dominating than the scores indicated, and a come from behind home win over the Saints, a favorite of many in the preseason to rep the NFC in the big dance to come on Feb 1 at the Big Sombrero in Tampa Bay.

My, how things have changed in only a year.

If you had gone into hibernation on Oct 20th last year so that you knew nothing of the intervening 375 days and I told you that since that point one of these teams had gone 8-7, beaten the other in last year’s season finale and was even now a game back of the lead in it’s division behind the team that went to the Super Bowl from the NFC, I doubt very much you would think I was talking about the 49ers.

I mean, how absurd to consider that, right?

This team hadn’t won more than 7 games in a season since 2002 and had only broken .500 twice this decade. Three times since 2002 they had won 5 games or less. They play in the division every other division wants to see come up on the schedule. The NFC West was so bad last year that 6 teams not making the Playoffs from other divisions would have won it or tied the record that did win it.

Next to this we have our beloved Redskins who since that fateful October day in 2008 have posted a less than pedestrian record of 5-11, losing many of those games to teams in the middle of ugly loosing streaks themselves. Teams like the Bengals (2008 version), Lions, Chiefs and Panthers have all “gotten healthy” against the Skins in the intervening time.

So what changed football fans?

The answer is everything and nothing.

Think a head coaching change means little when you don’t change anything else? Look at last years 49ers and think again. The only real change made last year was firing Nolan and promoting Singletary. That changed almost nothing in terms of the organization but it changed everything on the sidelines. In his first game as Head Coach Singletary not only benched his starting TE Vernon Davis at the end of the 3rd quarter, he publicly sent him to the showers and then stopped just sort of crucifying Davis in the post game interview.

Singletary is passionate. Very passionate.

About the game.

About his team.

About winning.

In short, he is anything but “medium”.

He is not about coddling players. He demands their best effort and would appear to rather play a less talented guy who is willing to give 100% all the time, practice or game, then a more talented guy who thinks 75% is good enough.

He is old school. Run the ball and stop the run. Impose your will on the other team. Dominate them. Break them.

In short, he appears to be the prototypical NFC East coach that any long time Redskin fan recognizes and loves.

He is backed up by a legit General Manager in Scot McCloughan who appears plugged into his Head Coaches vision of what kind of football this team should play.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Zorn preaches about “staying medium” in good times and bad. He sticks with what failed the previous week. Veterans who don’t produce are kept in line up because those behind them are deemed “unready”, regardless of talent level. He blames execution as the cause of on field production issues and, until very recently, shifts blame for the teams issues off onto others.

He has made numerous play calling gaffs this year. Actually, I would argue that he made them last year too but when bad calls work no one complains. Everyone should remember the 4th down call late in a game we were leading early in the year where he called the slant to Moss. Every person who knows anything about football was thinking run to take time off the clock but Zorn called the pass, hit it and got the first down. He was brilliant right? Had we missed that, turned it over on downs with time left we would have read the same things we are reading this year about the sweep right in the End Zone that resulted in a Safety, the 4th and Goal in Detroit that we didn’t get and the halfback option that failed.

If any of those plays work, he is brilliant or inspired. Of course, they are still bad football decisions but since we all love success we overlook it when it works.

And of course, there is the issue of who is backing Zorn up. At the moment, it is pretty clear that no one is backing him up. Of course, even if Vinny had his back I think it might be fair to say that most Redskins fans would say that no one was backing Zorn up. Vinny is the guy who just this week said he delivered to Zorn a “playoff caliber” roster when, at this point, it is clear even to some Aboriginal folks in the Australian Outback who have never seen a football that this is just not the case.

So what is the difference between these two teams?

One word comes to mind.


San Francisco has it at the moment and Washington simply does not.

Singletary was born to be a leader. Zorn, as nice as he is, simply was not.

The Front Office of the 49ers is giving Singletary the room to be that leader while the Front Office of the Redskins is breaking Zorn down in public and eroding any ability he might have had to be that guy here.

And all this emanates from an even higher place…ownership.

The Yorks, owners of the 49ers, are getting it right.

Two guesses what the means Dan Snyder is doing in Washington…
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