Clinton Portis: Jim Zorn split Redskins between Christians and ballplayers
Former Redskins running back Clinton Portis said this week that one of the reasons head coach Jim Zorn lost the locker room was because of his religious beliefs.
Jim Zorn coached the Redskins for two seasons and after a solid 8-8 debut in 2008, things fell part a year later, when the team won just four games. His tenure in Washington is probably best exemplified in the futility of one failed play, the swinging gate.
But former Redskins running back Clinton Portis said this week that one of the reasons Zorn lost the locker room was because of his religious beliefs.
“Coach Zorn lost the locker room because he split the locker room between Christians and ballplayers,” Portis said during an interview with ESPN 980's Chris Cooley and Steve Czaban, via the Washington Post. “So if you didn’t believe in what he believed in, if you weren’t Antwaan Randle El — I’m saying it, I’m going to talk, I’m on the radio — if you weren’t Antwaan Randle El, if you weren’t the guys who sat and prayed with him and did everything the way they thought your life should be, you kind of got, ‘Well, you’re not doing right’ speeches directed toward you.
“I’m grown,” Portis continued. “I can do what I want to do. I don’t have a police record. If I don’t get in no trouble, don’t assume the way that I live my life, don’t preach to me about what’s right. Because you’re not right, you’re phony, you’re sitting here in my face telling me one thing and then you go behind my back and say something else.”
And that split didn't happen during that four-win debacle of a season. Cooley, who played for the team from 2004-2012, says it took place Week 13 of Zorn's first season, when the Redskins were 7-5, though Cooley didn't offer specifics.
“He didn’t do it with intent though," Cooley explained of Zorn's coaching style. "Jim Zorn didn’t come in with intent to say ‘I want Christians.’ But he sold his pitch, his sales pitch was ‘Believe in and have faith in my program.’ And it was basically a sales pitch to a Christian team. It wasn’t ‘We’re going to be smart, we’re going to adapt, we’re going to make sense.’ ...
"Plus, (former offensive coordinator) Sherman Smith did come in and give a sermon every single morning. … We’re all hyped about football, Sherman Smith would come in and say this is how we need to live our lives. We’re like, ‘Whoa, I’m fine once I leave this building, bro. I want to talk about football.’”
Czaban pointed out that Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs was also known for being religious
“But he didn’t force that upon you,” Portis said. “Coach Gibbs gave you the opportunity. ‘Listen, if you want to talk about it, you know I’m doing it the right way, come talk to me.’ ... Coach Gibbs had the locker room. Players would do anything for Coach Gibbs."
Ultimately, this comes down to one thing: winning. If Zorn had taken the Redskins to the playoffs, players would have put up with the other stuff. Losing changes all of that, whether it's religious beliefs, coaching philosophy or personality. And for Zorn, going 4-12 was the bottom line. He was fired and the Redskins hired Mike Shanahan, who lasted four seasons (three of which were losing efforts). And now it's Jay Gruden's turn in the dunk tank.
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