Jim Fassel deserved better than what he got from the Washington Redskins. And what he got was the shaft.
"This is a shock to me," he said after the team hired Jim Zorn as head coach.
You're not alone, Jim.
|Jim Fassel believes his dismissal from nearby Baltimore convinced the Redskins not to hire him. (Getty Images)|
"I wasn't looking for just anything," Fassel, head coach of the Giants from 1997-2003, said Saturday night. "I was looking for the right fit, and I thought this was the right fit because I knew Dan (owner Dan Snyder). It's a long, twisted story."
That is an understatement.
Instead of choosing someone with a track record, the Redskins waited one month to choose someone who not only hadn't been a head coach but who never served as a coordinator. You can look it up: Zorn spent the last seven seasons as Seattle's quarterbacks coach.
It is unclear what happened, though Fassel thinks he has an idea. He believes there were "forces" working behind the scenes -- with Fassel singling out Redskins vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato -- that began to promote Zorn at his expense.
The motivation is unclear, though Fassel said he believes his firing by Baltimore ultimately convinced Snyder not to hire him. Fassel -- who met three times with Snyder -- was the Ravens' offensive coordinator in 2006 but was jettisoned after six games when he and coach Brian Billick disagreed on how to fix what was then the league's 28th-ranked offense.
The Ravens went on to finish a franchise-best 13-3, with Billick applauded for taking over the play-calling from Fassel. But Billick would struggle a year later and get fired -- largely because of the team's offensive shortcomings.
That explains what happened in Baltimore. It doesn't explain what just happened to Jim Fassel.
"At the end of the day," said Fassel, "Dan wanted to make a big splash, and I think he was worried about the Baltimore thing. He worried about the public relations (fallout), and he didn't know which way to go.
"I heard someone say there are no more George Youngs or Jim Finks in this league, people who really know the game. And I think that happened here. I don't think Dan surrounded himself with enough football people."
Maybe. But Jim Zorn?
A month ago you could've produced 25 names Snyder might've considered for the opening created by Joe Gibbs' resignation, and I guarantee that Zorn's would not have been among them. It wasn't that he was buried down on the list of candidates; it's that he wasn't on anyone's radar, period.
And he still wasn't after the Redskins hired him as their offensive coordinator, a move seen as a precursor to Fassel's hiring. Fassel interpreted it that way, too, and was not fazed when the club told him to wait until it met with Spagnuolo about the opening. After all, he said, when he was asked to list his top three candidates for offensive and defensive coordinators, Zorn was his first choice on offense and Greg Blache his runner-up to Rex Ryan on defense.
"If the Giants had lost to Dallas (in the playoffs)," he said, "I think this would've been over a week ago, and I would've been the head coach."
But while the Redskins waited on Spagnuolo, Fassel believes, they convinced themselves to go in another direction. And the more they talked to Zorn, he thinks, the more they started to believe he was the better choice.
Only Snyder and Cerrato know for sure, and I didn't speak to either Saturday night. But there is something wrong about keeping someone on the hook for three weeks, which Fassel was, then tossing him aside for a coach he helped hire with the understanding he would run his offense.
In fact, Fassel said when Zorn's name first came up he spent an hour-and-a-half on the telephone with him before notifying the Redskins that Zorn would be perfect for the job -- and, no, he wasn't talking about the head-coaching vacancy.
"Someone said to me that Jim Zorn has three jobs he hasn't done now," Fassel said. "He's a head coach, and he's never done it. He's an offensive coordinator, and he's never done it. And he's calling the plays, and he's never done it."
Experience counts for plenty in this league, and look no farther than Super Bowl XLII. Both head coaches were on their second tours, with Bill Belichick getting a chance with New England after failing his audition in Cleveland, and the Giants' Tom Coughlin fired by Jacksonville.
In fact, three of the four head coaches in this season's conference championship games had previous head-coaching experiences with other NFL clubs, with the Chargers' Norv Turner working on his third tour of duty.
"If you want to play the percentages you play with guys you know you can count on," Fassel said.
Jim Fassel should have been one of those guys, but maybe his son Mike was right when he told him he didn't have a good feeling about the Washington situation and that this "was not a good deal."
It wasn't for one guy, I know that.
"There was something going on behind the scenes, there's no question about it," Fassel said. "I thought things were falling my way, then, suddenly, this happens. It's strange."
It's a lot more than that.