Portis, Zorn settle differences at meeting
ASHBURN, Va. -- The rookie head coach and the flamboyant running back reached a smiling truce Wednesday, with Clinton Portis announcing that he's "cool with everything" and that he has no plans to sever ties with the Washington Redskins.
Portis and coach Jim Zorn held a 10-minute meeting early in the day to discuss Portis' blistering comments made during a radio interview Tuesday. After practice, the two strong personalities took turns explaining what happened -- with the caveat that, as Portis put it, "We both got egos."
"It was something on my chest that I needed to get off," Portis said. "I had some stuff built up. I was itching to air it out. After we talked, we're on the same page."
Miffed over his lack of playing time in last week's 24-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Portis used his radio airtime on WTEM-AM to accuse Zorn of sending mixed messages. He also sarcastically called Zorn a "genius," spoke of the possibility of severing ties with the organization and said of the coaching staff: "I don't think they know what they want me to do."
The searing words threatened to become Zorn's first major locker-room crisis heading into Sunday's must-win game against the Cincinnati Bengals. It doesn't help the coach's case that the Redskins (7-6) have lost four of five to fall to last place in the NFC East or that Portis -- Washington's second all-time leading rusher -- is a favorite of owner Dan Snyder.
"It's all about losing," Zorn said. "Winning doesn't bring all of this out. Losing does. You know what remedies all this? Winning."
The issue boiled down to communication. Zorn felt Portis should have approached the coaching staff before going public with his grievances. Portis implied the whole issue would have been avoided if Zorn had spoken to him Monday.
Regardless, they both appeared ready to put their tiff aside.
"We're not going to sever ties," Portis said. "I'm a Washington Redskin. I love Mr. Snyder. Mr. Snyder loves me, that's my man. He kept me around. Coach has got an appreciation for me. I think it was just the aggravation of losing four games. Everybody wants to win."
Portis, third in the NFL in rushing with 1,260 yards and considered a possible league MVP early in the season, had only 11 carries for 32 yards against the Ravens and was taken out of the game after the first drive of the second half. Zorn said Portis' lack of practice was starting to reflect in the running back's performance -- particularly in the passing game. So the coach went with backups Ladell Betts and Mike Sellers.
Portis has barely practiced for several weeks because of knee, rib and neck injuries, although he has yet to miss a game. Ironically, he was able to practice Wednesday because he played so little against Baltimore.
Portis vigorously defended himself in the radio interview, saying he knew the offense as well as just about anybody and that he had attended every meeting and watched every practice -- even when he wasn't physically able to participate.
On Wednesday, Zorn said Portis expressed "legitimate concerns" over the running back's role in the passing game, but the bigger issue was the forum Portis used to vent.
"If you need to go public, first take it to the head coach, first take it to the position coach, first take it to the offensive coordinator," Zorn said. "Believe me, we're all willing to talk to anybody. I believe there's a protocol. I shouldn't have to try to seek that out."
Portis understood Zorn's message, but he also warned that he's not about to curb his outspoken nature.
"I going to speak my mind," Portis said. "And it's going to cause trouble now and then."
The episode is a test for Zorn in his formative first year with the Redskins. The coach is brutally honest when assessing players in public, a change of pace from former coach Joe Gibbs.
"He's learning," quarterback Jason Campbell said. "There's things he's trying to adapt to. Us as players, we're trying to adapt to him also."
Zorn said he explained to his players that his public comments aren't meant to be manipulative.
"I'm trying to be transparent to those guys so that they can trust what I say and how I live and how I fight and how I compete," Zorn said. "That's really what I want."
Zorn said the episode gave him no worries over his job security, either.
"I'm ready to be here for a long time," Zorn said. "We're trying to build a foundation here. We're trying to build something with substance here, not just a little toothpick house with little glass walls."
Portis had the ultimate case-closed line, when asked if he thought his remarks would be a distraction to the team.
"A distraction from what? We done lost four out of our last five games," Portis said. "So if it's a distraction, what else can we do? We can't do nothing but win."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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