People wondering what the hell is going on in Washington with the public execution of Scot McCloughan’s career should probably just look to the top of the organization. This is nothing new for the most consistent man on the planet, Skins owner Dan Snyder.
Take Jim Zorn.
In 2008, Snyder hired Zorn, a longtime assistant with no head coaching experience, as head coach after a disastrous headhunting excursion where top candidates withdrew from consideration and one guy who appeared to want the job, Jim Fassel, got rejected when fans took to message boards and threatened a civil war once word got out that the ex-Giants coach might be hired.
Zorn got a five-year deal worth a reported $15 million.
Then Snyder got buyer’s remorse. He reportedly started turning on Zorn because the coach feuded with the owner’s pet, running back Clinton Portis. In any case, Snyder was interviewing prospective replacements for Zorn by early 2009, and fell in love with Mike Shanahan, the ex-Broncos coach who despite two Super Bowl rings was unemployed.
But, again, at the time, Snyder already had a head coach. If he fired Zorn, and the initial reports outlining the finances of his contract were accurate, Snyder would be on the hook for about $9 million.
Snyder’s two previous head coaches, Joe Gibbs and Steve Spurrier, had resigned and left lots of the owner’s money on the table rather than stick with the famously dysfunctional organization. So he knew that if could get Zorn to follow suit and resign, Snyder could keep all the leftover moneys for himself.
Coincidentally or not, Snyder spent the 2009 regular season publicly and privately humiliating Zorn in a clear campaign to oust the coach. Among the lesser indignities: Snyder was reportedly requiring Zorn to have lunch with him each Friday to explain the schemes for the upcoming game and even what plays would be run. Mike Wise’s amazing 2011 chronology of Zorn’s undoing by Skins management for the Washington Post was highlighted by one crazy episode from September where, during a night of drinking after a loss, Snyder forced his top assistants to join him on his private jet and make a midnight flight to Denver to try to get Shanahan to agree to be his next coach.
Around the same time, Zorn, who served as the primary play caller, was told that he had to let somebody else take those duties. Team lawyers lectured Zorn that under his contract a refusal to let another coach call plays would be construed as insubordination.
The private humiliations became public ones when those duties were handed over to Sherm Lewis, a retired former Green Bay Packers coordinator who, before Snyder hired him, was working as a bingo caller at retirement communities in Michigan. Snyder’s chief stooge, Vinny Cerrato, verbally undressed Zorn on the team bus after a loss to Philadelphia in Week 11, and from then on players knew they had a lame-duck coach.
Zorn held out despite the shamings, and got paid to leave at season’s end. Snyder’s reputation as the ringmaster of the top circus in the NFL was cemented.
Now we’re seeing more of the same. McCloughan still has two years left on the reported four-year deal he signed in 2015. His deal reportedly gives him final say on such things as all roster matters. Yet he’s not going to be present at the NFL Combine, and didn’t sit with the rest of the Skins braintrust at the Senior Bowl—where the team barred him from speaking to the media.
They want him gone. He won’t be around next season. The only question is how much Snyder will owe him when he goes.