|Jim Zorn made his head-coaching debut as the Redskins defeated the Colts in the 2008 Hall of Fame game.|
CANTON, Ohio -- As coaching debuts go, Jim Zorn's was fairly solid.
Yet Zorn's execution from the sidelines, as well as his players' execution on the field, was reasonably sharp. The Redskins won, 30-16, and there was reason for the rookie coach and his team to feel there was something -- as small as it might have been -- on which they could build.
Consider what was working against Zorn. Although the game didn't count, it was played before a national television audience. Most the Redskin players who saw action were youngsters, many of whom won't make the final roster. And the coach on the other side of the field only happened to be Tony Dungy, one of the very best in the business.
If Zorn was feeling any jitters, he wasn't showing it. He looked extremely comfortable, as if he had been guiding an NFL team for years.
The Colts wasted no time trying to outfox him, with an onside kick on the opening kickoff. But the Redskins recovered at the Indianapolis 45-yard line. Three players later, they were in the end zone. In a matter of 77 seconds, Zorn -- who also serves as the Redskins' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach -- had the first touchdown of his head-coaching career, a 20-yard pass from Jason Campbell to a wide open Antwaan Randle El.
"I was excited to be able to score on the first drive," Zorn said. "There was nothing more remarkable than that."
Here's a possibility: In a first preseason game, the four Redskins' quarterbacks completed all but three of 22 pass attempts (the first three Washington quarterbacks were a combined 19-for-21). Rookie Colt Brennan stole the show by going 9-of-10 for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
Zorn was especially pleased with what he saw from his starter, Campbell, who was 5-for-5 for 61 yards and a touchdown.
"I think he had poise in the pocket," Zorn said. "I thought his tempo was good and his accuracy was pretty good."
Zorn's poise was equally impressive, as it has been since his first day on the job.
Despite replacing a Hall of Fame coach, Joe Gibbs, Zorn has been able to quickly put a favorable stamp on the Redskins' training camp. A former NFL quarterback (who spent most of his playing career with the Seattle Seahawks), he often likes to throw in practice for fun. Early in camp, when both Campbell and backup Todd Collins were struggling, there were some semi-joking comments from sideline observers that Zorn might actually have had the best passing arm in practice.
His practices are crisp and generally seem more organized than those that Gibbs ran. Zorn is 12 years younger than Gibbs, yet his youthful exuberance makes it seem as if he is about 30 years his junior.
The players also have embraced Zorn's unorthodox training methods. Some examples:
»His quarterbacks throw silver medicine balls at each other to simulate being hit by defenders, which isn't allowed in practice.
»He uses a slip-n-slide for quarterbacks to simulate sliding (as quarterbacks coach with the Seahawks, Zorn had Seattle Mariner first baseman John Olerud come to practice to teach his quarterbacks proper sliding technique).
»His special-teams players knock down volleyballs out of the air to simulate the act of downing a punt.
»On exceptionally hot practice days, he has mesh-covered canopies under which players can stand on the field when they aren't involved in a play. This, by far, has been his most popular innovation.
Still, it was a shock when Zorn was named the Redskins' head coach. The Redskins initially hired him as their offensive coordinator. Team owner Daniel Snyder and Redskins executive vice president-football operations Vinny Cerrato interviewed multiple candidates. Then, one day, Zorn received a phone call from Snyder asking him to come to Snyder's house. Zorn showed up in a T-shirt and jeans. When Snyder told Zorn that he was being formally interviewed for the head-coaching job, he returned home to put on a suit.
Then he got the job.
Expectations for first-year coaches tend to be modest. Gibbs had the best rookie year of any coach in Redskins' history, and that was 8-8 in 1981. What the team will do under Zorn this year is anyone's guess, although he at least has a decent starting point.
Any ordinary preseason-opener would have been special for Zorn. But Sunday night's took on an added level of importance.
"This is a special game that we get to start out with, the Hall of Fame Game," Zorn said. "And to see two Redskin Hall-of-Famers go in (Art Monk and Darrell Green) and then have so many fans here, it is pretty incredible. It is like a home game."
For Zorn, however, his first appearance on the sidelines of FedEx Field -- on Aug. 9 against the Buffalo Bills -- will be the next major step of his young career.
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