Zorn's a Hit in Washington, Missed in Seattle

Zorn's creativity helps improve the Redskins

Mike Holmgren looked at Jim Zorn, then looked at the Slip-n-Slide Zorn had brought onto the Seahawks practice field for the first time a few years ago.

Of course, the Seahawks coach asked his quarterbacks coach: Why is star quarterback Matt Hasselbeck using a summer kids toy and a garden hose on my field?

"Well Matt, when he decides to slide, he's really is just a train wreck. So we have to get him used to it," Zorn told Holmgren.

Zorn brought then-Mariners player John Olerud over to show Hasselbeck proper sliding techniques at the end of his scrambles. Then Zorn turned on the hose, and Seahawks training camp turned into summer day camp.

"They had a ball over there. The players had fun doing it," Holmgren said this week. "I applauded his creativity in trying to think about how to improve the position."

Now, in Washington, they are applauding Zorn's creativity in improving one of the NFL's signature franchises.

Zorn is in his first season as the unique, kid-at-heart coach of the Redskins after seven years as the Seahawks' alternative quarterbacks coach. The polar opposite on the sidelines of Joe Gibbs, his straight-faced and Hall of Fame predecessor, the engaging Zorn is on track to become the first Redskins coach since George Allen in 1971 to have a winning record in his debut season.

Sunday, the Seahawks' original, scrambling quarterback with high-rise, flat-top hair will return with Washington (6-4) to play the Seahawks (2-8), who could use a life preserver more than his Slip-n-Slide. Zorn still owns a house in suburban Mercer Island, Wash.

"It'll be different," Zorn said of coming home as the enemy.

It already is.

Being in charge in Washington has already changed him: He no longer uses the water toy prop.

"You know what? I had a Slip-n-Slide out there this year, and my quarterback caught a cleat because he couldn't lift his feet up," Zorn said of Redskins starter Jason Campbell, laughing. "I turned the water off and walked away, started another drill. Oh my gosh."

If you haven't figured it out by now, Zorn is not cut from the Tom Landry cloth of coaching. Think Landry ever rode a mountain bike to games in Dallas? His fedora would have flown off.

"What impresses me about Jim is he still thinks he's 18 years old," Holmgren said of the 55-year-old Zorn.

Or, as Redskins fullback Mike Sellers simply said: "He's a little different."

Guess so.

--How many other NFL head coaches ride their mountain bikes with the president?

--How many walk in as a position coach to see another team owner he doesn't know, interview for the offensive coordinator's job, then later is hired as the head coach, as Zorn did with Dan Snyder last winter?

--How many probably would be museum curators or occupational therapists if they weren't in football?

A career-match company in Portland, Ore., told Zorn he should pursue those jobs when he visited the firm after he retired from playing following the 1987 season. Then Boise State called unexpectedly, and Zorn's been a coach ever since.

He apparently is also something of a blacksmith.

"Last week, he talked about how when he was in college he worked with iron and steel and molding it into different shapes. And with gold it's supposed to be heated at a certain temperature, copper a little more, and when you get to iron the heat has to be real hot," Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "He was giving us an example as to how we need to be when we came into the game. We need to be like iron, just like to another level. He doesn't know if we can get that hot, but that's the kind of level we need to be.

"It's kind of a funny way how he put the story. He's a fun coach. He says a lot of weird things, but he always has a good meaning behind whatever he says."

And behind whatever he does. Zorn throws tackling dummies and oversized balls at his quarterbacks as they look to throw in practice. That's to simulate the chaos of pass rushers swarming in a quarterback's face.

"I would hate to give those up because I was embarrassed about being a head coach using crazy drills," Zorn said.

Whatever, it's worked. Hasselbeck made it to a Super Bowl and three Pro Bowls with Zorn teaching and pushing him to be perfect. Without him, Hasselbeck has been ineffective when he's not been injured: He's the lowest-rated passer in the league.

"I think that's a real thing," Hasselbeck said of missing Zorn.

Meanwhile in Washington, Campbell has remade himself into the sixth-rated passer in the NFC under Zorn. He's completing 64.5 percent of his throws, with nine touchdowns and just three interceptions.

Those are two huge reasons why Washington is in the playoff race and Seattle is already done, off to its worst start since finishing 2-14 in 1992.

Yet Zorn doesn't feel accomplished with the Redskins. Not yet.

"I still have a ways to go," he said. "The whole first year, everything's new. So I'm kind of waiting to see how I can grow into the position into my second year."

Look out, Washington. Zorn growing? Only he knows what fun and games will accompany that.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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