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First-time head coach Zorn takes Redskins reins

ASHBURN, Va. -- Always the energetic left-hander, Jim Zorn had an upbeat but nervous start to his coming-out event with the Washington Redskins.

The new coach got the team colors wrong. He paid tribute to an assistant the team recently fired. He lacked the polish of his predecessor, Joe Gibbs, who sat watching from the second row during the news conference Sunday in the Redskins Park auditorium.

Not too surprising, really, given that Zorn himself said it was nothing short of "miraculous" that he was standing where he was: a few feet behind the team's three Super Bowl trophies, essentially making the jump from quarterbacks coach to head coach because none of the candidates on owner Dan Snyder's initial list worked out. The 54-year-old Zorn was taking the first step in finding out what it really means to take a such a big job in a Redskins-crazy town.

"I look at these three trophies," Zorn said, "and it's quite intimidating."

Zorn signed a five-year contract Saturday, ending a monthlong coaching search in which he was originally supposed to be an interesting sidebar. The Redskins hired him as an offensive coordinator two weeks ago, luring him away from the Seattle Seahawks, then decided late last week to interview him for the head coaching job after New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo withdrew from consideration.

Snyder also interviewed Jim Mora, Jim Fassel, Steve Mariucci, Ron Meeks, Pete Carroll, Jim Schwartz, Redskins assistant Gregg Williams and others. Some had pulled out of the running, and, rather than choose from the rest, Snyder decided to give Zorn a shot because the owner said he had been impressed during Zorn's interview for the offensive coordinator position.

Zorn, called away from Redskins Park to Snyder's house for lunch on Thursday, said he gasped when the owner asked him if he was interested in the head coaching job.

"I was a bit taken back, if you will," Zorn said. "I wasn't speechless, because my first words were: 'Certainly, I'd like to do that.' It was a bit shocking. After that I got my game face on and tried to get after it."

Zorn, the sixth Redskins coach since Snyder bought the team in 1999, realizes he suddenly has a lot of work to do. He needs to put together an offseason calendar. He needs to get to know his coaches -- most of the assistants are already in place -- as well as the players.

He said he plans to hire an offensive coordinator but will work hands-on with the quarterbacks and could still end up calling the plays in what will be a version of the West Coast offense. He tried to put to rest any doubts about quarterback Jason Campbell: "He's the starter," Zorn said.

It's also clear he's expecting a lot of help. Asked about defense, he said: "I'm going to leave that alone" in the hands of defensive coordinator Greg Blache. Asked about the daily fires a head coach has to put out -- which often distract from the actual job of coaching -- Zorn said: "I'm hoping I don't have to put out every fire."

"I'm hoping there are going to be enough people in place in a supportive role that they can put out the fire before it gets to me," Zorn said. "Because I want to coach. I'm not here for fluff. I want to lead and I want to motivate."

Zorn doesn't have the title of team president -- as Gibbs did -- but Snyder said the coach will have an important role during free agency and the draft.

"Our coach has the final say on the roster, has the final say in the draft room and free agency," Snyder said. "If they don't want 'em, we don't bring 'em in."

Zorn referred to the Redskins' colors as "maroon and black" instead of burgundy and gold. He raised a touchy subject when he said the decision to start 10 men on defense in the game following safety Sean Taylor's death was "pretty awesome."

That decision was made without Gibbs' knowledge by Williams, who has since been dismissed. Zorn was quick on his feet, however, when the lights started to malfunction late in the news conference.

"Too much energy going on in this room," he said.

The Redskins were quick to point out another NFC East coach who skipped a step to take a top job. Andy Reid was the Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach when he was hired as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999. Reid has since won five division titles and took the Eagles to the Super Bowl four years ago.

Both Zorn and Reid are part of the family tree of quarterback coaches who have worked under Seahawks and former Packers quarterbacks Mike Holmgren. Others include Jon Gruden, Marty Morninweg and Steve Mariucci.

Zorn also draws some comparisons to the man he is replacing. Gibbs was barely known in Washington -- an offensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers -- when he was hired in 1981. Of course, the Redskins would be thrilled if Zorn can achieve even half of what Gibbs did in his first term: four Super Bowl appearances in 12 seasons.

Before that, he might need a thicker skin. Also in the audience was Hall of Fame receiver and former Congressman Steve Largent, who, like Zorn, is a legend in Seattle. Largent, who still lives in Washington, said the fans in the nation's capital are quite different from those in the Pacific Northwest.

"They don't turn negative on you like they do here," Largent said. "Jim'll have to adjust and know that."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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