Redskins put offense in Lewis' hands
ASHBURN, Va. -- From calling Bingo to calling plays, Sherman Lewis is taking over the favorite part of Jim Zorn's job.
The seriousness of the decision to do this is that we lose cohesiveness in our team. Now where's the cohesiveness in six points a game? See what I mean? So I'm hoping this is a positive.” -- Jim Zorn
With a pained expression, Washington Redskins coach Zorn announced Monday that the front office "strongly suggested" that he yield his play-calling duties to a consultant hired only two weeks ago. While he didn't say he was given an ultimatum, Zorn said he would comply with the request "because I want to stay here and win."
"Sometimes we have to do things that are uncomfortable," Zorn said.
Zorn received the news in a meeting with front office chief Vinny Cerrato at the stadium following Sunday's 14-6 loss to the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs. The Redskins (2-4) are averaging 13.2 points and have failed to score a touchdown in two of their home games.
"The reason I can comply with this is simply because of the lack of scoring," Zorn said. "I want to win, too. If this has to be done this week, if this is going to be the key, I'm certainly willing to give it a try. Because we're 2-4 and to not score in the last few weeks, the way we have not scored, is very frustrating."
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Barely a fortnight ago, Lewis was enjoying retirement in Michigan, calling Bingo games at a senior center and delivering Meals on Wheels. He previously spent 22 years as an NFL assistant before retiring after the 2004 season. The Redskins lured him back into football as a consultant for the struggling offense.
And now -- Voila! -- he's the play caller.
"This is not an easy thing. ... I feel for Sherm because he's been here for two weeks," Zorn said. "We're going to give him as much help as we possibly can to get a spark out of our offense. ... My comfort level is somewhere between one and 10. It's not at 10, but it's something that I'm going to have to grow into."
Several players were taken aback by the notion of trusting such a vital role to someone not yet thoroughly familiar with the roster.
"I don't think it's an ideal situation," quarterback Todd Collins said. "Generally you have some play callers work with a quarterback for years and years. This is going to be a quick change for us, but it seems like drastic measures are called for when we haven't been playing so well on offense."
Receiver Antwaan Randle El called the move to Lewis "a little weird."
"Some guys weren't even kind of sure who he was," Randle El said. "But that's just because they didn't get around and try to talk to him. But again it just kind of goes back to shaking things up."
Zorn noted that the move has the potential to hurt team chemistry.
"The seriousness of the decision to do this is that we lose cohesiveness in our team," Zorn said. "Now where's the cohesiveness in six points a game? See what I mean? So I'm hoping this is a positive."
Lewis will sit in the upstairs coaching box to call the plays, starting with next Monday night's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Zorn will relay Lewis' calls to the quarterback. Zorn said he'll retain control over big decisions -- such as whether to go on fourth down -- but that he won't veto Lewis' play calls.
"I wouldn't do that to Sherm," Zorn said.
The Redskins weren't offering much more insight Monday. Cerrato declined comment through a team spokesman. The spokesman also said Lewis was in meetings and unavailable for comment.
That left Zorn by himself at the podium, looking like a coach twisting in the wind. If the team continues to struggle, a foreseeable next step would be his dismissal, with one of the defensive assistants taking over as head coach and Lewis handling the offense.
Zorn, however, said the season is still salvageable. If nothing else, he should be able to focus more on game management. Wasted timeouts and sloppy two-minute drills have become a mainstay during his 22 games in Washington.
Zorn is the third consecutive Redskins head coach to relinquish play calling because of a stagnant offense, although he's the first to have it essentially stripped by the front office. Steve Spurrier handed the reins to Hue Jackson for a couple of games in 2003, and Joe Gibbs brought in Al Saunders to run the offense after the 2005 season.
For Zorn, the move is a particularly harsh blow because he feels he had a knack for calling plays. The chance to take that role for the first time in the NFL was one reason he relished coming to the Redskins in the first place.
"I'm sure he's not happy with it," Collins said. "He came here and he wanted to call the plays, and now it's taken away from him."
Zorn said he had to do a "soul search" Sunday night before saying yes to Cerrato. Changing the play caller certainly wasn't at the top of his to-do list for the week.
"I have confidence in my play calls," Zorn said.
Zorn at least still gets to decide who is playing quarterback. He said he hasn't decided whether to go with Jason Campbell or Collins against the Eagles. Collins led two drives that ended in field goals for the Redskins' only points against the Chiefs after Campbell was benched at halftime.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press