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Thursday, February 5: The New Tight Ends Coach Does NOT Balance Rocks

Posted by Matt Terl on February 5, 2009 – 11:04 am

When the team announced the hiring of Liberty University offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim as the new tight ends coach, I immediately Googled his name to see what would come up. I knew he was an old acquaintance of Coach Jim Zorn’s, so — given Zorn’s wide-ranging collection of hobbies — the possibilities seemed pretty much limitless.

And when I came across a Scott Wachenheim who considered himself a learner in the somewhat bizarre-sounding field of rock balancing, it seemed pretty much a done deal that this was the new tight ends coach. Sure, the rock-balancing picture didn’t look much like his headshot at Liberty, but I was too blinded by the vision of a 2009 full of fascinating press conferences to care.

When I got a chance to speak to Wachenheim, those specific hopes were dashed. “It’s not me,” he said. “That’s some other guy. I don’t know him, I’ve never met him, and I don’t even think we’re related.”

This was something of a disappointment to me, but the rest of what he had to say made him sound like a promising NFL assistant coach (which, if I’m being honest, is probably not a field in which rock balancing or strange hobbies play much of a role).

What was appealing about coming to the Redskins?

“First of all, NFL football is football at its highest level, and if you are a competitor you always want to compete at the highest level against the very best coaches. So, to me that is the most appealing aspect: having the opportunity to test my abilities against the very best in the business.

“I’m also very intrigued and excited about working with Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, as well as Jim Zorn, whom I’ve known for 15 years.”

I know you worked with him at Utah State. Did you know him before then?

“I met Coach Zorn at Utah State.”

Coach Zorn has quickly developed a relationship here as an interesting guy. Do you share any of his hobbies?

“I don’t know if I share that much, but I do like to ride bikes. I’m not a mountain biker, I am more of a road biker. The things I do share with Coach are a love for God, a love for my family, and a love for coaching football. Some of his other hobbies … I probably don’t do near as many. I don’t have a whole lot of hobbies. Mostly is it football and my family.”

Have you had a chance to talk to any of the tight ends yet?

“I met with Chris Cooley when I was up there on my interview.”

He’s a pretty interesting guy in his own right. What was your impression from that conversation?

“Well, I just enjoyed Chris. His desire to be the best he can be. He was actually attending Utah State games when I was coaching the tight ends there. I coached Aubrey Thompson who his junior year had caught 49 balls and his senior year caught 52 balls, so we were just talking about that. We were just chatting and getting to know each other so we didn’t get into anything that I think would be blogworthy.”

Obviously, you’ve seen Cooley play. Have you been impressed with his performance on the field?

“Yes, he is very impressive. He is playing in the Pro Bowl this weekend. I believe he had 86 catches last year. I look forward to working with him and hopefully having a long relationship with him.”

Also online is a paper you wrote on the triple option. What can you bring from something like that to the team?

“Well it is kind of interesting, my career, because at times I have been where an option is a run play and at times I have been in places where the only option we have was an option pass route.

“So I have gone from one end where you are running a ball and one end where you are throwing the ball, so I have been at both extremes on that. But it was interesting, an interview on Mike Leach at Texas Tech, that they asked him what his offense is most closely related too and also June Jones who is now at SMU but was in Hawaii, and both of those guys are known for throwing the ball and both those guys said their offense is closest to triple option football.

“And the reason is both offenses are just trying to get the ball to playmakers in space, one-on-one versus the defender where again the offense has the advantage, so that is what I believe I can take from that offense, is just the thought process and the ideas of spacing to get your best players the ball in space versus, hopefully, a lesser athlete.

“But as far as the design of plays, I don’t ever see that coming to the NFL because the pounding the quarterback takes running that offense is not what you want to do and plus it is not the style of offense that is conducive to TV ad revenue.

“Again, it was a good learning experience for me. We didn’t run any of that offense here at Liberty. We were traditional pro style, West Coast passing attack, pro style run game here, so you won’t see any of that from me, but the ideas and learning from it will be ingrained in my mind forever.

“Kind of like taking a basic math class or something and moving on to engineering, you may not use that basic math but you use it as a background to help you move on in your future.”

So there you have it. He seems like a sharp, intense, bright guy with a variety of interests, very much in the Jim Zorn mold. The only thing he might lack is Zorn’s fondness for an offbeat anecdote at an unexpected moment. And then again, there’s this: at the end of the conversation, I asked him if I was pronouncing his name correctly.

He confirmed that it’s WOCK-en-hime, paused for a second, and followed up with this fascinating digression:

“My real last name should be Essinger. My father was adopted by his grandmother and her second husband and her second husband’s name was Wachenheim. My real grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side were killed in Auschwitz. My dad escaped through the underground. His mother handed him to a Christian underground worker as they were getting on the train to go to Auschwitz, so that’s kind of a unique story there.”

“A lot of this my dad found out later in life. He didn’t share this with me until later in life. I did meet my grandmother and her second husband a couple times going up, but not a lot. We lived in California and they lived in the Midwest.”

So, yes, I’d call that very much in the Jim Zorn mold.

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