For the first time in a long while, the expectations for the Washington Redskins, at least by their own fans, aren't overzealously through the roof. This season the Skins come into the year without an imported Hall of Fame head coach a la Schottenheimer, Spurrior or Gibbs. They have invested in no outrageous off-season spending on large names aside from the need based trade for Jason Taylor, and for the first time in recent memory they used the early rounds of the draft to attend to the teams needs.
Yup...they're starting to look like a functional football team. No longer do they seem to the outsiders in the league like the primo Danna spoiled brats who get what they think they want and not what they need. No longer does it seem like they are trying to bypass the hard work that goes into building a winning franchise. Now it looks as if they are finally pulling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty. That's right, the Skins have a new face; the underdog.
Perhaps it is the aura of the personality of the new head coach. After the much adored Joe Gibbs surprisingly retired after the 2007 season, it looked as if the Redskins would continue their trend of finding the best coach money could buy. There were rumors of drawing Bill Cowher out of retirement, pulling Pete Carrol out of Southern California, and even an attempt to steal the man that won the Giants a Superbowl, Steve Spagnuolo. It's not clear whether the Redskins restrained, or just couldn't pull off a deal, but no matter the reason the result was the same, a relative nobody in Jim Zorn had become the head coach of the richest franchise in all of sports.
Unlike the recent coaches of Redskins past, Zorn comes in with no previous track record. He had won no National Championships in college or Superbowls in the NFL. Zorn in fact has never held a job above quarterbacks coach and there are no expectations for his success. Other teams will try to take advantage of his inexperience, sports pundits will continuously count out his team, and every mistake he makes will reflect on Dan Snyder's reputation for hiring him, not his own.
This gives Zorn a swagger the team desperately needs. For the first time since the original Gibbs era, the Skins have a coach with nothing to lose. After Gibbs lost his first five games in 1981, it was owner Jack Kent Cooke's blind faith in him to make the right decisions that allowed him to go 8-3 the rest of the season. Maybe Dan Snyder has learned that if he infuses confidence in a coaching regime instead of buying it, the team can grow around those coaches. Zorn has absolutely nothing to lose, hopefully he'll coach like it, and his team will play like it.
So while this season plugs along, it will be a different experience for the Redskin fan, and with it the Redskins players. Perhaps the fear of losing won't get in the way of the guts it takes to win. Instead of conservative slot routes and nickel coverage perhaps the team will have the guts to air out the football and send in the blitzes. Now with the pressure of matching expectations formed from a legendary Hall of Fame coach, the skins can grow into a team that may form a new one.