WASHINGTON — Jason Campbell spent five seasons in Washington.
But it wasn’t until his final season quarterbacking the Redskins that the circus truly arrived, when Sherman Lewis, previously enjoying retirement calling bingo, was hired mid-season to spark Jim Zorn’s abysmal offense.
Zorn had begun his second — and final — season coaching the Redskins to a 2-4 record when he was forced to cede control of play-calling duties.
From the Associated Press, Oct. 20, 2009:
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.”
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.
“I just remember when [Lewis] came in, we sat down, we talked,” Campbell recalled. “He told me, ‘I’m here to just kind of look at your offense, see if I can help you all in getting to the next phase of your passing game. We’re just inputting some things that we used to do when I was coaching.’
“I was like, ‘Hey, that’s fine’ and everything. And then the next thing I know, we had an off-day on Tuesday, and then I come in on Wednesday and then that’s when the chaos starts.”
The Redskins never even had so much as a bye week to implement the poorly timed transition.
“We didn’t have a bye week and the game was Sunday,” Campbell said. “Then all of a sudden Coach Zorn was kind of upset and Coach Sherman Smith was upset, and Sherman Lewis was like, ‘Hey, I didn’t ask to be put in this position.’ He was like, ‘I honestly thought I was coming here to be a consultant, to help.’ And he was like, ‘I’ve been asked to take over calling the plays and take over calling the offense.'”
“So, Jim Zorn, with this all being new to him, and he’s just now getting going being a coordinator and being a head coach, it’s kind of like a big pill to swallow,” Campbell explained.
The friction was evident from the beginning, Campbell says, “There was no kind of talking on the field between them.”
“Later on in the year, things got a little bit better,” he said. “But in the beginning, you could feel the friction. But, at the same time, Coach Lewis didn’t ask for the friction; Coach Zorn never asked for the friction; but it was there, and you were kind of like in the middle.
“I’ll be calling the plays,” Lewis informed Campbell on a Friday, just a few days before game day. “Just tell me what you like and what things you don’t like and what feels comfortable.”
“I’m just trying to put you in a good situation the best that I can,” Lewis added, according to Campbell. “I understand it’s short. You don’t really know me. I know about you, but I don’t really have an opportunity to work with you over spring and summer. This is just, it’s sprung on us right now. We’re in the middle of the season.”
Asked how Lewis relayed plays to Campbell during games, the retired NFL quarterback explained their elaborate process: “See, the thing is, he would call the plays down to the sideline, and then someone else would call the play into me.”
“He was trying to learn our terminology as much as he could,” Campbell said of the new play-caller. “He was a West Coast guy a little bit himself, so some of the stuff sounded familiar and everything. We kind of worked it out the best that we could, but no one in the public knew all this stuff was going on because we kept it in house, we tried to be professionals about it.”
“That’s one thing I commend all three of those coaches [for],” he said. “Going through that and knowing that we didn’t let it get out-of-house where things really could have gotten ugly. But at the same time, you look back at it when you’re not playing no more and you’ve moved on with your life, and you’ll be like, ‘Man. You only have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play this position, and play this sport, at a high level,’ and you look back at it like… to have to deal with all that, it just wasn’t right.”
The Redskins finished that season 4-12 and Zorn was not brought back.
Campbell never had the opportunity to get comfortable with any offense he was taught, as new offensive coordinators was the norm during his time in Washington, something he still thinks about today.
“If Eli Manning changed coordinators one time,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, you’ve got to give him time. This is Eli’s first year with a coordinator.’
“I’m like, ‘I had to change coordinators all the time, and I’d have to relearn and read plays.’ But it feels like, for some players, if they have to change: ‘Oh man, we’ve got to give him some time to learn this, time to learn that.’ Where, when it happened to me, it was, ‘Man. You’ve got to adapt quick and be ready to go.’ It wasn’t, ‘You played with the same system, or some head coach, for a long time.'”
“I just didn’t have that opportunity,” he said. “But I can kind of use the things I’ve gone through to help younger kids. Like, ‘Look. You’ve got to be able to adapt to change. You never know when change is gonna happen. And then when change does happen, you’ve got to adapt or you fall back.’ And I was like, ‘You’ve always got to push yourself to not look behind, but just keep looking forward, no matter the situation.'”