Jim Zorn

Former Redskins Coach Jim Zorn Split the Team into “Christians” and “Ballplayers”

Jim Zorn
By Keith Allison (originally posted to Flickr as Jim Zorn) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Former Washington Redskins player Clinton Portis said coach Jim Zorn preached Christianity to the team and berated those who didn’t believe.

Washington Redskins’ former coach Jim Zorn divided the locker room based on faith, according to ex-player Clinton Portis.

He split the team into “Christians and ballplayers,” said the now-retired running back who was with the team for five consecutive seasons starting in 2007. If a player didn’t share Jim Zorn’s faith, if he didn’t sit and pray with him, he would be at the receiving end of speeches that were about how he wasn’t doing right.

Portis said he was a grown man, and without a police record to his name. He categorically maintained that he couldn’t have been told that he wasn’t “doing right” when he didn’t get into trouble.

“If I don’t get in no trouble, don’t assume the way that I live my life, don’t preach to me about what’s right. Because you’re not right, you’re a phony,” said Portis.

He adds that Jim Zorn’s attitude caused him to lose the faith of his players. In their first eight games, they won six before ending the 2008 season with eight wins and eight losses. Portis, for his part, rushed 1,478 yards that year, falling narrowly short of the 1,500-yard mark. Had he done so, it would have become the fourth time he did so in a single season. Of what he achieved, 700 yards came in just five weeks and he became the only NFL player other than OJ Simpson to achieve twice in his career the record of rushing a minimum of 120 yards in five games at a stretch. Clinton Portis actually led the whole of the National Football League in rushing that year before injuries slowed him down.

Their second season was more disastrous, with only four wins and 12 losses in total. Jim Zorn was fired the day after the season ended.

Chris Cooley, who played as a tight end for the Washington Redskins under Zorn, said Joe Gibbs, who was the head coach before Jim Zorn took over, asked players to have faith in each other while Zorn, who had brought in a West Coast offensive style to the team, asked them to have faith in his system.

When the offensive strategy didn’t seem like the best option, Cooley recalled how the conversation with Zorn would go: “‘Hmm, this doesn’t make any sense, Jim. Why are we doing this?’ [The answer] was, ‘This was how Bill Walsh did it.’ Much like saying, ‘Go to the Bible and read it.’ It was the West Coast Bible that he sold over and over and over again.”

Portis courted controversy in December 2008 when he criticized Zorn on a radio show, saying the coach was sending inconsistent messages and sarcastically referring to him as a genius. After the season ended, he said that he had a great relationship with Joe Gibbs, but did not share the same level of rapport with Jim Zorn.

Along with his wife Joy, Jim Zorn is actively involved with Pro Athletes Outreach, which aims to help professional athletes grow in their faith, becoming true disciples of Jesus Christ, and bring that light into their daily lives affect those around them.


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