For the Washington Redskins' rookie Head Coach Jim Zorn, this must be getting old. The first test, opening night against the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, didn't go well. "Didn't go well" may be a bit of an understatement, but the reality is that he likely got an "F" on his very first test.
And because it went so poorly, he was immediately faced with another test: How would he handle team adversity and the extreme criticism that followed that loss?
He passed that test, with resonance, in fact, by being just as open, straight forward, honest, and yes, just as "goofy" as he was before the season started. His demeanor didn't change. His apparent confidence was apparently...well, REAL confidence.
This brought the next test: How does he handle the team through this early adversity, and can he fix what was so obscenely broken?
Big A+ on that one. And with a dramatic come-from-behind, fourth-quarter win over the high powered New Orleans Saints, thank you very much.
First win, and the team seemed to take incredibly large steps forward in only 10 days. But the problem is, that created another test: A little success, but was it for real or just getting lucky with a wounded Saints team?
Another A+. This time, a win over another relatively strong opponent (just going on the consensus most folks had at the time), the Arizona Cardinals. And once again, the team showed dramatic improvement from that opening-night loss.
Zorn's young quarterback, Jason Campbell, looked very uncomfortable against the Giants, but in a little over six quarters of football, Campbell appeared to have awakened within Zorn's offense.
And then, this is getting crazy, right, a trip to Irving, TX for another divisional matchup against the consensus "best team in football," the Dallas Cowboys (who also just happen to be the Redskins' biggest rival).
Well, Zorn, here goes.
Another A+! He may have even gotten a little extra credit on this one folks (how about that "Hip, Hip, Hooray!" cheer?! Is this dude fun or what?!). Campbell and Zorn didn't just go into Dallas and win; they won impressively.
Controlling the ball for more than 38 minutes in the game, Campbell was able to move the ball with comfort, running back Clinton Portis was able to run the ball well, and defensive coordinator Greg Blache's troops were able to slow down and stop the powerful Cowboys offense when they had to.
This has got to be about it right? It can't get worse can it?
What? There's more? Oh yeah, there's more.
The next test comes in several forms. With the win in Dallas, loads of accolades have been heaped upon the coach and the team. Lots of new requests for interviews, more media at the press conferences, and everything just becomes "more".
Zorn and the Redskins are suddenly on the map. The NFC East, widely considered the best division in football, is not just a three-team race anymore; the 'Skins must be dealt with.
How does Zorn handle so much attention? Can he stay focused? Can he keep his team focused?
These are simple enough questions, but there is an added complication. The next test is being given in Philadelphia. Another divisional rival.
The football Gods must have been peeing themselves from laughing so hard when they set up this schedule. I can hear it now: "Zorn, what kind of name is that, let's see how he likes ALL THREE DIVISION ROAD GAMES IN THE FIRST FIVE WEEKS OF THE SEASON. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!".
Yeah, I know, not very nice was it?
The Philadelphia Eagles are likely a bit ticked off over a loss to the Chicago Bears that they probably don't think should have happened. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb seems to be back to his old efficient and explosive self.
Brian Westbrook, the Eagles' dynamic playmaking running back, didn't play against the Bears. Westbrook has been a Redskins' killer for the Eagles, and he may return for the showdown with the Redskins.
These tests actually seem to get Zorn excited. He is a one-of-a-kind professional head coach. In professional football, honesty is not exactly the most common public trait. But Zorn just doesn't seem to know any other way to go about his job.
Zorn and the Redskins started studying for this next test on Monday, even though players had Monday off, most of them made their way into Redskin Park to get a head start on film study, a little extra time on the weight room, some time in the training room, or to meet with a coach or two.
In the NFL, cramming is the only way to study for the weekly tests, and having completed the "quarter point" in the season with a 3-1 record (most expected it would be the other way around, 1-3, at best), Zorn has passed more than he has failed, with flying colors.
Good luck, Zorn. You'll need it to keep this up. The tests don't stop in the NFL until February, so get used to it.
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