So, as new general manager Bruce Allen (pictured) officially announced the firing of Jim Zorn Monday afternoon, he did not have his replacement with him at the Redskins' headquarters, nor did he hint about when that replacement would be there. Allen did talk about immediacy -- "Today starts the 2010 season,'' he said -- and about what the Redskins need in their next head coach, and more than anything else, he repeated variations of the statement he made earlier in the morning, hours after telling Zorn upon the team's pre-dawn return from the season finale in San Diego: "The status quo is not acceptable.''
However, while the hiring of Shanahan -- expected to be part of the package from the moment Allen replaced Vinny Cerrato as head of the football operation on Dec. 17 -- was not yet a done deal, Allen did say that the Redskins "will be aggressive'' in chasing their candidate, and pointed out that the assistant coaches' futures would be up to Zorn's replacement (which appears to be a bad sign for secondary coach Jerry Gray, who was interviewed for the job, but likely was only to satisfy the NFL's Rooney Rule for minority candidates).
Still, even before Allen stepped to the podium, another head-coaching vacancy had opened up, in Buffalo, where Shanahan reportedly had interviewed last month. Others are sure to emerge soon, since not even the coaches in the playoffs are necessarily safe. Owner Dan Snyder was not on hand for the announcement of Zorn's firing -- with reports surfacing that he had flown out on the team plane to Colorado to speak to Shanahan. (A later report in The Washington Post said that the same plane had landed in the D.C.-area with Shanahan aboard.)
Zorn went 12-20, losing 18 of his last 24 games after beginning his debut season in 2008 at 6-2. The Redskins went 4-12 this season, their worst record since their first post-Gibbs season in 1994, were last in the NFC East for the second straight year, and went winless in the division for the first time since that '94 season.
Not only had Zorn's firing been presumed for weeks, his exit had seemed preordained as far back as Week 3, when the Lions broke their 20-game losing streak against the Redskins. A week later, after another offensively-challenged victory over then-winless Tampa Bay, Sherman Lewis was brought out of retirement to be an offensive consultant in Washington, and two weeks after that, Zorn's play-calling duties were taken from him and handed to Lewis.
"We had been hearing in would happen for so long, I think it would have been a surprise if it didn't happen," quarterback Jason Campbell told The Washington Post of Zorn's' firing. "When something has been going on as long as this was, it really doesn't come as a shock. I mean, we all really expected it by now."
Campbell is the second-biggest question mark in the organization behind the identity of the next head coach; under current rules (with a salary cap for 2010), he is an unrestricted free agent. Allen refused to speculate on whether the Redskins would try to re-sign Campbell, and it is just as much up in the air whether or not -- after contract talks after last season went nowhere and the team chased both Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez in the offseason -- Campbell would want to come back.
While Redskins players were generally sympathetic to Zorn's plight, some did say that authority and accountability had been an issue -- and welcomed the possibility that they would return to the locker room.
"Discipline is one of the main things you've got to have in an organization; it starts at the top and goes all the way down,'' veteran running back Rock Cartwright told reporters. "We did lack some discipline on this team a little bit, and I think that was why the record was the way it was.''
Asked to elaborate, Cartwright said: "We had 'rule' guys and we had 'guideline' guys. 'Rules' guys, you have to stick to the rules; 'guidelines' guys, you go by your own guidelines and do what you want to do. When you've got a team sport, everybody's got to be 'rules' guys and be on the same page.''
In the statement, Snyder also pledged that the remaking of the Redskins' organization "begins today.''
Allen's very presence -- out of the blue, in a public sense, with three weeks to go in the season -- was the first sign that Snyder was acknowledging a mistake. It brought the routinely-maligned Cerrato's 10-year association with the franchise to an abrupt end, and it gave Allen, the former front-office head for winning teams in Oakland and Tampa Bay, that much time to watch the organization function up close.
What he saw four days after his hiring -- the Redskins were humiliated 45-12 at FedEx Field by the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, a game that included a fake-field goal play that failed horrendously and became a nationwide punchline -- made it clear that the changes would be far from cosmetic. Thursday, Allen avoided offering any details about who the Redskins would talk to, only that the next coach would be "a person who can lead the people we have in the locker room to levels they've never been to before,'' and would have "a passion about winning and a passion about football.''
Allen talked to the players as a group at team headquarters earlier this morning and said he did not hint at who might stay or go. "They just know that last place is not Redskins football; last place the last two seasons is not Redskins football.''
On the other hand, he pointed out, "We're 4-12 as an organization ... What I'm saying is, we can do better. I think the players can do better.''