Grins replace grim as new NFL coaches find success off the beaten path
Washington's Jim Zorn has biked on trails that skirt cliffs, snowboarded before that became the domain of the pierced and the tattooed and...
Seattle Times NFL reporter
Washington's Jim Zorn has biked on trails that skirt cliffs, snowboarded before that became the domain of the pierced and the tattooed and doesn't have all that many unspoken thoughts.
When it comes to NFL coaches, Zorn is very much part of Generation Next along with Miami's Tony Sparano, who's been known to chest-bump his defenders coming off the field and whose team has repeatedly used a formation in which the quarterback lines up at receiver and the running back takes the snap.
It's a refreshing change in a profession where it wasn't all that long ago that grumpiness was being confused with greatness and the diaspora of Bill Belichick disciples turned NFL franchises into fiefdoms ruled with iron fists and tight lips. Coaches spouted the same one-game-at-a-time clichés and did their darnedest to make sure every game was decided by a score of 20-17.
Then something interesting happened this offseason. Four first-time coaches were hired as teams decided new and novel beat a trip to the recycling bin to fetch someone like Jim Fassel.
More than halfway through the season, every one of those four first-time coaches currently stands 6-4 and hip-deep in the playoff chase. Atlanta has won two more games under Mike Smith than it did all of last year, and Baltimore has won four of its last five with John Harbaugh while Zorn and Sparano have shown that a cookie cutter isn't the only way to shape an NFL coach.
Zorn is a coach who's as thoughtful as he is painstakingly thorough. His answers to reporters often take minutes, and his most pronounced moment of frustration in a news conference came because he couldn't understand what series of plays a reporter was asking about.
"It was my fault," he said later.
And in a profession where most coaches strive to be as transparent as obsidian, Zorn is actually interested in offering explanations.
He came to Washington steeped in Mike Holmgren's play-calling protocol, but he kept the rushing strategies implemented under Joe Gibbs. He accommodated his offense to the existing personnel instead of the other way around.
Sparano showed he was just as flexible with his playbook. That explains the wildcat formation, which was imported from the Southeastern Conference and implemented out of the desperation of an 0-2 start.
"We thought we needed to maybe do something a little bit different," Sparano said, "something our offense could just kind of put their arms around and get excited about."
Miami was returning from a loss at Arizona in its second game of the season when the Dolphins decided to try something quarterbacks coach David Lee used last year at Arkansas, snapping the ball to a running back who could then take it himself, hand off to another running back or throw it.
In Miami, it forced defenses to account for both Ronny Brown and Ricky Williams on the same play. Brown receives the shotgun snap, and he can run with it or hand off to Williams or throw it. Teams like the Seahawks have struggled to get their arms around that proposition.
Sparano comes from the same Parcellsian coaching tree that begat Belichick, yet there he was running off the sideline in Miami two weeks ago, chest-bumping his defenders after a fourth-down stop sealed the Dolphins' two-point victory over Seattle.
"I can't be held accountable for my actions at that point," Sparano said afterward. "But I think I might have chest-bumped somebody, yeah."
That's something that's not included in the guide to being a conventional NFL head coach. Then again, after this year's impressive crew of coaching debuts, that manual may need to be rewritten.
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-2364
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
"Iron Man 3" kicks off a summer blockbuster season that will see hundreds of speeding, squealing, exploding, airborne, rolling and smoking vehicles in...
Post a comment