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Cerrato Puts An End to Zorn Rumors

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Seeking to douse the raging fires of speculation, rumor and the uninformed guesswork of "unnamed sources," the Redskins went to the well for a bucket of clarity concerning questions about coach Jim Zorn's job security this season.

At the opening of his Friday morning radio show on ESPN 980, Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' executive vice president for football operations, stated unequivocally that Zorn "is the head coach of the Washington Redskins and will be the for the rest of this season and hopefully into the future."

Cerrato did not sugarcoat the issues facing this 2-4 team as it goes into a Monday night game at home against the Philadelphia Eagles. The offense, he said, "is regressing," fans are angry and owner Daniel M. Snyder "talks constantly about how disappointed he is for the fans."

Zorn led the Redskins to an 8-8 record last season but it started fast, with a 6-2 start, and ended poorly, with a 2-6 conclusion. The Redskins, however, want to succeed under Zorn and not an interim coach.

"I hired him, along with Dan Snyder," Cerrato said. "Sure, the frustration is high but the relationship within the organization remains the same. Later [on Friday], Dan and I will have our once-a-week lunch with Jim, just like Dan has done for many years with the head coach to get a rundown on the upcoming game."

The team initiated a number of changes over the past few weeks to get more offensive production. The key one revolves around Sherm Lewis, brought in as an offensive consultant but now the man who will call the plays, which was Zorn's responsibility and passion.

Zorn, who has struggled to accept the recent alterations, seemed essentially unmoved by Cerrato's declaration.

"I don't necessarily have a reaction to it because I am the head coach," he said. "I want to be here for the next 10 years. That's my story. I have a contract and it says what it says."

As far as this easing the strain on the players?

"If it comforts the players, awesome," Zorn said.

Eliminating this issue helps, linebacker London Fletcher said, because "as human beings, you hear stuff and it can get in your psyche."

Center Casey Rabach agreed.

"It has been talked about," Rabach said. "It may put some guys' minds at ease. If it does that, it's a good thing."

In three home games, the Redskins have scored touchdowns in only one of 12 quarters. They've declined over the past three weeks from 17th in scoring offense to 23rd to 27th. Quarterback Jason Campbell was benched at halftime of the 14-6 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and the young receivers drafted in the second round in 2008 continue to contribute little.

Lewis, 67, won four Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. He was offensive coordinator in Green Bay and later with the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions.

"He was on the staff of Bill Walsh, the inventor of this offense," Cerrato said. "He knows the offense backwards and forwards. We need a spark offensively."

The addition of Lewis and lightening of Zorn's load, Cerrato said, are proactive moves designed to bolster his position.

"Look at all the things we've done to help," he said. "You want him to do well."

It can seem like an odd way to help. The Redskins hired Zorn as offensive coordinator while they were still searching for a head coach to follow Joe Gibbs, who resigned with a year left on his contract.

Ultimately the Redskins gave Zorn the job, in part because they liked his familiarity with the West Coast offense and his tutelage of Matt Hasselbeck with the Seattle Seahawks. Now they don't want him to call plays.

The Redskins rank 25th in total offense and fifth in defense.

"If we can just match what the defense is doing, we can get on a roll," Cerrato said.

The Redskins locker room remains solidly in Zorn's camp as the head coach. Many players don't seem to fully grasp this shift of play calling to Lewis but they like and support Zorn.

So the management endorsement should put a stop to the daily round of questions about Zorn's future, at least for a couple of months.

"It's tough for him. It's tough for us," wide receiver Santana Moss observed. "I don't know if I could have handled it the way he handled it. You've got to give him a hand for that."

Anything the Redskins can do to erase a distraction is a good thing.

No team wants its players wasting their time speculating about what might happen if they fail to perform, especially when they genuinely like and care about the coach. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones followed exactly this tactic over the last couple of weeks, saying Wade Phillips would remain the coach through the season and that no change would be made.

Make no mistake, Washington is about two things -- politics and the Redskins. Not necessarily in that order. Both face media coverage that often operates in a shady world of "sources" who may or may not have an agenda as they pass "information" along.

The Redskins might not like the truth about their team and its season but Cerrato said they were particularly irritated by the endless rounds of rebutting "false rumors."

Consider the one that cropped up Thursday about Joe Gibbs returning to the Redskins as either club president or in some advisory capacity to choose a new general manager or coach. Gibbs' NASCAR team currently takes up most of his time.

"Just a rumor," Cerrato said. "I've never enjoyed four years like I did with Joe. What a great guy, great coach, great person. But Joe is so busy with the race team."

The report of Gibbs came from ProFootballTalk.com, which called it "a rumor making the rounds." Good sourcing there. Solid reporting. It included the information that Snyder and Gibbs had dinner together a couple of weeks ago in Charlotte, when the Redskins played the Carolina Panthers.

Let's clear this one up. Snyder had dinner with Gibbs. And with Sonny Jurgensen. And Sam Huff. And half a dozen other club officials. And about 20 executives from a major banking partner. In a big, noisy dining room. This was no clandestine one-on-one.

Did Gibbs and Snyder talk? Certainly. About what? Well, Gibbs and Snyder know. Anyone else would be just "speculating" as an "unnamed source."

For now, everyone at Redskins Park can take a deep breath. Cerrato's statement on Zorn's safety lifts the fog.

Maybe the future can be bright. Maybe not. But at least it's clear for the short term and that's good news for a franchise that desperately needs it.


Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on The Jim Zorn Show on WRC-TV on Saturday night, on Redskins Nation, airing twice nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, all in the Washington, D.C. area. Read his blog at redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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