It doesn't get any more intense. 2nd year NFL coach. Wildly unrealistic fan expectations. Historic winning tradition. Petulant Tom Cruise-loving egomaniac owner at the helm.

Hello

Jim Zorn - see ya, wouldn't wanna be ya.....

2008 must have felt like a dream for Zorn. His head still swimming from a frantic and unexpected courtship culminating in his first head coaching gig, Zorn’s opportunistic Redskins floated ethereally and effortlessly to a 4-1, then 6-2 start in his inaugural season. Like a high school freshman who finds himself fumbling clumsily with the buttons on a varsity cheerleader’s blouse, one got the distinct feeling Zorn had no idea how he’d ‘gotten there’ or through what act of God he was accomplishing such glory.

For Redskins fans, forever measured and calm in their assessments, it was a beautiful thing. We’d stumbled onto Gibbs, the young, driven, obsessive, winning version, reincarnated. Never mind that NFL history abounds with tales of Fool’s Gold and One-Hit-Wonders. Redskin’s fans are nothing if not delusional. Clearly the 2008 Redskins were a Super Bowl juggernaut. Any fool could see it. It was an enjoyable, but perhaps unfortunate start for the golly-gee Zorn, who if truth be told, probably shares more temperamentally with another Redskins coaching legend, George Allen, than he does Gibbs.

A blazing hot start for the 2008 Redskins only fueled unrealistic expectations for a Redskins team that reasonably should’ve been expected to fight and claw its way to a .500 season. Zorn came to DC knowing the grocery cart was only half-full (whether Zorn himself would have any input into the shopping list is a conversation we'll leave for another time). He had a productive and talented, if potentially volatile, workhorse in Clinton Portis. When not blurting out idiotic sound bytes to eager media hounds (pun intended), Portis, along with rock-solid stalwarts Chris Cooley and Santana Moss, had been the driving force behind Washington’s playoff drives in recent years. Zorn would benefit from a solid, and seemingly improving defense that, even without the punishing terror known as Sean Taylor, would keep the Redskins in every game from start to finish.

But Zorn inherited plenty of challenges as well - an offensive line on the downside of its best years that struggled to stay healthy, shaky special team’s units, and a still-young quarterback trying to learn yet another offensive playbook requiring skill sets it was not entirely clear he possessed.

So when these surprising Redskins, led by a young upstart coach, stumbled, rumbled, and bumbled their way to the NFC East lead, it was clear to the Redskin’s faithful that balance and harmony had returned to the Universe, that ever so familiar glory must be just around the corner.

Reality is a harsh bitch.

She came knocking on the 2008 Redskins door in week 9 in the form of a humbling Monday night home spanking by eventual Super Bowl champs, Pittsburgh. Things got a lot tougher after that precipitous fall back to Earth. Injuries took their toll. Teams now had film on Zorn’s offense and were game-planning him. And Jason Campbell looked at times, well, like a rookie quarterback. The Redskins won only 2 more games in 2008, even managing to drop games to the hapless Bengals, and the less than dominant 49ers.

The truth is, the 2008 Washington Redskins finished exactly where they should’ve finished. In a rational world, a place where we obsessive-compulsive Redskins fans struggle to survive, no one could’ve expected anything different from a first year NFL head coach with zero experience, with a young QB, a new offense, and a new defensive coordinator. In a normal paradigm, 8-8 represents achievement under those circumstances.

I love Jim Zorn. I think he deserves credit. Lots of it. Firstly, Zorn had the cajones to take the job, no small thing given his sparse resume, and the expectations and pressure he was willingly walking into. Lets face it – whether you subscribe to the view of owner Daniel Snyder as the Pat Fisher belt-buckle wearing owner’s owner willing to spend anything to produce a winner, or the controlling, cut-throat bastard of an owner who on arrival threw 20 year employees out of Redskins Park, changed the stadium name, and tried to buy his way to a championship – I’m guessing he’s not the easiest guy to work for.

Perhaps, as Snyder’s most cynical critics suggest, Zorn got the job because Snyder figured he could control him. If so, my gut tells me he picked the wrong man. We learned a few things about Jim Zorn last season, but above all things we learned he’s going to do it his way, that the inmates will not run the asylum, and that rookie head coach or not, Jim Zorn is no shrinking violet.

So into the Pressure Cooker we leap.

The 2009 season ticks closer. We’re going to learn a great deal this Fall. We’re going to find out if we have a quarterback, a real quarterback, in Jason Campbell. For his soft-hearted and generous advocates, there can be no more excuses. It’s time for Campbell to step up and be ‘that guy’, or we’ll see a new face behind center in 2010, perhaps one with a quintessential QB name. And we’re going to learn what kind of an owner Daniel Snyder really is. The Gibbs II era hangs like a fog obscuring final assessment of who and what our owner has become. Bringing back the legend was wonderful – but it was also the most risk-free decision Snyder ever made. In 2009, the fog lifts.

Gibbs gone, the question remains, has Snyder learned what it takes to produce a consistently successful franchise? Will Zorn, despite an above-average if not stunning inaugural season, be given the chance to grow and learn? Or will Dan Snyder hop to the hottest, sexiest alternative in 2010. Bill Cowher? Chucky Gruden? Hey, maybe Jim Fassel will still be available. Will the Redskins grow a successful franchise strategy based on sound, patient, and long-range decision-making, or revert back to throwing cash and free agents at problems they can’t seem to overcome with a solid plan and perseverance?

I don’t know.

But I can’t wait to find out.


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