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Zorn has come a long way

When his playing career ended, former Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn asked Seattle head coach Chuck Knox for a coaching job. Knox told Zorn to look elsewhere. Today, Zorn, a Seahawks assistant from 2001-2007, walks into Qwest Field as head coach of the

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By Scott M. Johnson
Herald Writer
  • Redskins head coach Jim Zorn talks with Washington quarterback Jason Campbell.

    Associated Press

    Redskins head coach Jim Zorn talks with Washington quarterback Jason Campbell.

SEATTLE -- His ascension from an unknown quarterback to a franchise's first star seemed to happen overnight. His promotions from assistant coach to offensive coordinator to head football coach took only about two weeks.
But the transitions in Jim Zorn's career have not always been so smooth.
Take his first professional jump after a 12-year playing career ended in 1987.
Zorn initially went to Chuck Knox, his long-time coach while they were both with the Seattle Seahawks, and asked for a job in the coaching profession. Knox balked, telling the ex-quarterback that he might make a good coach one day but that Zorn would need to take his first step on someone else's sidewalk.
Zorn did what any unemployed man would do: He started flipping through the want-ads, so to speak.
The 34-year-old former Seahawks quarterback reached out to something called The Idak Group, which helps place people in the workplace. The suggested careers that best suited his personality were as an occupational therapist and a museum curator.
The latter actually intrigued him.
"I laughed when I first saw it," Zorn said last week, "and then I started looking into what that was, and I had some tendencies (that leaned toward being a museum curator). But there's probably not enough action for me in that kind of a job."
The kind of action Zorn sought could only be found in one profession. So when, after a little more assistance from Idak, Zorn found an opening on the Boise State University staff, he jumped at the opportunity.
More than 20 years later, Zorn is near the top of that profession as head coach of Washington's NFL team.
"He's off to a great start," said Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, who was Zorn's boss from 2001 through 2007.
The Seahawks' original quarterback is back in town this weekend, and his Washington team (6-4) will face his former team at Qwest Field this afternoon.
Zorn has Washington in the thick of the playoff hunt in his first season as a head coach at any level. He has come a long way since the day that Knox sent him on his way.
During a coaching career that has included stops in six cities at both the college and pro levels, Zorn has had to work his way up the corporate ladder without much help along the way.
The only time his career as a player had a direct effect on a team hiring him as a coach was in 2001, when Holmgren took into account the 48-year-old Zorn's history in Seattle.
"This is Jim's place. I thought there was a certain something about him being able to come back here and coach," Holmgren said this week after listing several more important reasons why he chose Zorn to be the Seahawks' quarterbacks coach in 2001. "That appealed to me, and I thought it'd be good for the fans; it'd be good for everything."
Like he had done at several other stops -- his coaching career included Boise State, Utah State, the University of Minnesota, the Detroit Lions, two stints with the Seahawks and Washington D.C. -- Zorn impressed Holmgren with his knowledge of the game and his ability to communicate it.
Holmgren, who knew of Zorn but had never really met him, said that the 2001 job interview included some X's and O's work on a board with several Seahawks coaches looking on.
"I liked his enthusiasm," Holmgren said. "I liked how he approached things, his personality. You got a sense that he was really going to be -- and had been -- a very good coach."
Of course, there were other elements to Zorn as well.
"The hang-gliding and the sky-diving and all that stuff," Holmgren said, joking about Zorn's passion for the outdoors, "you find out about those things later on."
Seahawks quarterback Seneca Wallace found out about Zorn's idiosyncrasies shortly after arriving in Seattle in 2003. The assistant coach had an unconventional style that included broomsticks (to simulate the arms of oncoming defensive linemen), exercise balls (to be thrown at the quarterbacks during windup to get them ready for contact) and a Slip-'N-Slide (to teach them the proper technique of sliding at the end of a run).
But Wallace did not fully comprehend just how original Zorn was until he drove past him one night on the way to dinner. The 50-year-old Zorn was riding home from work, making the 12-mile trip on his bicycle.
A few days later, Wallace passed Zorn and his bike again -- this time on the way to downtown Seattle for a Sunday game.
"That's just him," Wallace said. "He's a different character."
Wallace added that he will always be grateful for Zorn's presence, saying that the assistant coach had a unique way of helping build a young quarterback's confidence.
As for how Zorn might come across to a new group of players?
"It's going to take people awhile to see how he is," Wallace said. "It might take a year to understand what type of guy he is."
Washington's players seem to have taken to Zorn pretty quickly -- despite his personality quirks.
"I wouldn't say he's two standard deviations outside the norm," guard Pete Kendall told The Washington Post earlier this month. "I think sometimes people want to make him out like that."
Whatever Zorn is off the field, he has been a pretty big success on it. Despite two consecutive losses and a stumbling offense, Washington is in position to challenge for another postseason berth -- which is something to which Zorn's former team can no longer aspire.
Zorn appears to have made it in the coaching profession, but he knows he hasn't arrived yet.
"I still have a ways to go," he said last week.
Story tags » Seahawks

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