- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008


A first-time visitor strolling through the grandiose confines of Qwest Field, the Seattle Seahawks’ impressive stadium only a deep pass away from the emerald waters of Elliott Bay, may peer at the dividing line between the upper and lower levels and notice the franchise’s Ring of Honor.

There are 10 names there, the second of which is that of Jim Zorn, who was the franchise’s first quarterback and is now the coach of the Washington Redskins.

Zorn played for the Seahawks from 1976 to 1984 in a place decorated not so poshly as this; Zorn roamed the hard turf fields of the dilapidated Kingdome, where great slabs of cold concrete and “The Wave” were accouterments to his playing career.

But if those who know him best answer sincerely, at least a part of them would have to admit they believe Zorn could once again don an NFL uniform and reignite a career that helped a fledgling organization establish itself.

It’s not so much an impressive physique that would allow Zorn to turn back the proverbial clock. It’s more a boundless youthful exuberance that belies his 55 years.

Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, under whom Zorn was the Seahawks’ quarterbacks coach for the past seven years, often jokes about Zorn’s penchant for riding his bike to work, particularly on game day, when he’d have to cross one of the floating bridges from his home on the city’s east side and meander his way downtown.

When Zorn took the job with the Redskins, Holmgren warned him that it was going to be far more difficult to commute on two wheels from Northern Virginia to Landover.

“What impresses me about Jim is he still thinks he’s 18 years old,” Holmgren said. “That’s kind of how he operates: riding a bike to the games, watching them warm up before the games. He absolutely believes that if his ankle wasn’t so wrecked, he could still play. He laughs easily. He’s smart. He’s young. He’s young at heart. He has a bundle of energy.”

Holmgren talks about Zorn hang gliding and sky diving. Redskins running back Rock Cartwright says Zorn consumes a caffeinated drink before games to focus his attention. Zorn tells a story of once finding a dead coyote on the road, bringing it home in a bag and skinning it so his family could have a pelt.

And then there was the Slip ‘n Slide. Holmgren has always told his assistants to try to come up with new football-related drills that will keep the players interested throughout the long season.

So Zorn contacted Mariners first baseman John Olerud and asked him to help teach Matt Hasselbeck and the team’s other quarterbacks how to slide properly when scrambling. He brought the Slip ‘n Slide to practice, watered it down and received odd stares from everybody else on the field.

“He said, ‘You’re going to look over there, and you’re going to see us doing this,’ and my first reaction was, ‘Why are we doing this?’” Holmgren said. “And he really said, ‘Well, Matt, when he decides to slide, he’s really just a train wreck, so we have to kind of get him used to it.’ The players had fun doing it. I applauded his creativity and trying to think about how to improve the position.”

In a world of secretive, serious personalities, perhaps it is Zorn’s unorthodox approach that has permitted him to make the unconventional move from a position coach directly to a head coach. And perhaps it is his humble naivete and forthright demeanor that prevent others in the profession from begrudging Zorn what he has achieved.

In fact, there are those in Seattle who now pine for Zorn as Holmgren prepares to retire after this season. That certainly was not the case in January, when the future Hall of Famer announced he was taking a self-imposed sabbatical from the game and that 2008 would be his 10th and final season as Seattle’s coach.

In fact, Zorn never even was really on the radar as a replacement. Sure, he was well-respected for what he had accomplished with Hasselbeck, molding him into a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback. But he never has been held in the same lofty esteem as his top receiver, Hall of Famer Steve Largent, perhaps the best player in franchise history.

Zorn had been contacted by the Redskins to be their offensive coordinator, after which he approached the Seahawks about filling that role for whomever the new coach would be. They could not give him an answer, so he moved on to the Redskins, where eventually Dan Snyder named him as head coach.

Certainly there were concerns from those who worked with him. He was too inexperienced to manage a game. He was too nice to relate to players. He was too honest to deal with the media. And he was too unique to be accepted by fans.

He has, so far, proved most of those concerns incorrect.

“Jim is still Jim - his personality shines,” said former Seahawks star Shaun Alexander, who joined the Redskins as a free agent last month. “He has a way of doing stuff that is still humble but at the same time really focused.”

And now that the Seahawks have gotten off to a 2-8 start - their worst since a 2-14 finish in 1992 - and now that their secondary, led by coach-in-waiting Jim Mora, has been shredded by opposing quarterbacks. and now that the Redskins are 6-4 with Zorn in control, the question has been raised locally about whether the Seahawks hired the right Jim.

Mora, after all, is a University of Washington alum who lost his last job in Atlanta partly because while he was the Falcons head coach he said on a radio show that coaching the Huskies was his dream job.

And so with Washington firing Tyrone Willingham for going 0-10 this season and Holmgren departing to spend time with his family, the fantasy for some is that the Seahawks get a do-over, allowing Mora to pursue his dream job and Zorn to return to his roots, coaching beneath the ring where his name is permanently emblazoned.

It is probably not going to happen.

Zorn is happy in Washington, and Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell is remaking Seattle’s franchise in his image - probably part of the reason he did not seriously consider Zorn a candidate.

Regardless, there will be a deep well of appreciation for Zorn’s contributions to the organization when he is inducted into the state’s sports Hall of Fame on Sunday, just before his new team takes on his old one.

“I’ve spent a lot of years of my life there. I was very familiar, very comfortable. The Northwest is great,” Zorn said. “But [for] our family … the right opportunity for us would mean the right opportunity for our whole family. That would be our next adventure.

“And we fully moved, in our hearts and our minds, we moved here to coach here. Period.”

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