The Washington Redskins hired Jim Zorn as their coach Saturday night, a surprise ending to a month-long search for a replacement for Joe Gibbs.
The former Seattle Seahawks quarterback was promoted to head coach Saturday night two weeks after being hired as the offensive coordinator, bringing an end to a secretive process that tried fans’ patience and produced a new coaching favorite every week.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports that Zorn’s new contract is for five years and approximately $15 million. Zorn will be introduced at a news conference at noon Sunday.
“I’ve always dreamed of being a head coach with a franchise rich in tradition like the Redskins,” Zorn said in a statement released by the team. “As a player who had to fight Redskins teams at RFK as well as at our home field, I know about the history of this franchise as well as the passion of its fans. I won’t let you down.”
Zorn was the Seahawks’ quarterbacks coach for the last seven years, helping develop Matt Hasselbeck into a Pro Bowl player, but he had never been a coordinator for an NFL team until the Redskins came calling. Now he’s making the jump to head coach.
“We’re proud that our search was diligent, thorough, and resulted in today’s announcement,” owner Dan Snyder said. “Jim’s track record and reputation as a player, great teacher, and as a coach makes us confident that they will translate to success for the Redskins.”
Zorn becomes the sixth coach under Snyder, who bought the team in 1999, and he ends a string of high-profile coaching hires by an owner who had developed a reputation for hiring top names at a top price. Snyder’s last three coaches were Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Gibbs. None had a cumulative winning record, although Gibbs took the Redskins to the playoffs in two of his four seasons before his resignation Jan. 8.
Zorn’s hiring came after Snyder held marathon sessions with a variety of candidates. Two prominent names, Jim Mora and Steve Spagnuolo, withdrew from consideration to remain with their own teams. Jim Fassel had multiple interviews, but fans were seething when word got out that the former New York Giants coach was a possible finalist.
Others who didn’t fit the bill for a variety of reasons included Steve Mariucci, Ron Meeks, Pete Carroll and Jim Schwartz. Redskins assistant Gregg Williams had the support of many players, but he had been unsuccessful in his previous stint as a head coach in Buffalo and was fired after meeting four times with Snyder about the job.
Meanwhile, during several of the interviews, candidates mentioned Zorn as a favorable possibility as an offensive coordinator to replace Al Saunders, whose offense had been a disappointment for the last two years.
In the statement released by the team, Snyder — who has been widely criticized during the coaching search — went into detail to explain how Zorn ended up with the top job.
“We knew of Jim’s stellar offensive reputation, so we hired him as coordinator, but we also suspected he would be a strong candidate for head coach,” Snyder said. “After our first six-hour interview with him, I told Joe [Gibbs], ‘This guy would make a terrific head coach.’ But we stayed true to our commitment to interview every candidate.”
The Redskins had to wait until the Super Bowl was played to interview their final candidate, Giants defensive coordinator Spagnuolo. After Spagnuolo announced Thursday that he’d rather stay with the Giants — who gave him a new three-year, $6 million contract — Snyder said he invited Zorn to lunch.
“I told him we were considering him as the next head coach, and asked if he wanted to move forward. Without hesitation he said ‘absolutely,’ and that’s all I needed to hear,” Snyder said. “We spent two days taking Jim through the same interview process as every other candidate. Those sessions only confirmed my earlier comment to Joe: Jim Zorn will be a terrific head coach.”
In his new role, Zorn will have plenty of guidance. Snyder kept most of Gibbs’ staff intact, including veteran assistants Joe Bugel and Greg Blache. Blache was promoted to take charge of the defense after Williams was fired.
“Those guys have been around,” Gibbs said from the garage area at Daytona International Speedway, where his team was preparing to compete in Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout exhibition race. “So what they did is continuity-wise, they kept the coaching staff and the support group and the training group and everybody, so he’s in a real solid [situation].”
Zorn takes over a team that went 9-7, snatching the NFC’s final wild card berth on the last weekend of the regular season, before losing to Seattle in the first round of the playoffs. The team is also well above the salary cap, although it has already started to address that problem by opening contract renegotiations with some of its highest-paid players.
The offense will undergo an overhaul under Zorn, who is expected to install a version of the West Coast attack. He will also have to sell himself to players who have expressed disappointment that the job didn’t go to Williams, who has been hired as defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Zorn is a longtime local favorite in Seattle. He was the franchise’s original starting quarterback in 1976, played nine seasons with the team and is in the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor. He returned as an offensive assistant from 1997-98 and again as quarterbacks coach in 2001.
He also coached in college for nine years as a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator at Boise State, Utah State and Minnesota. In between his coaching stints in Seattle, he spent two years coaching quarterbacks with the Detroit Lions.