Long before Russell Wilson electrified the Seattle Seahawks’ 12th Man, Jim Zorn made his mark as one of the first showmen in franchise history.
Seahawks fans will forever remember Zorn, the team’s first quarterback, scrambling out of the pocket and running from one side of the field to the other before finding the open receiver downfield.
Nine times out of ten, that open receiver was his best friend, Hall of Fame wideout Steve Largent.
The two connected on long drives more times than Seahawks fans could actually count from 1976 to 1984.
Although Seattle struggled during its first few years of existence, the team put together several strong seasons behind Jim Zorn’s rifle arm and nimble feet.
There’s little wonder Zorn is a member of the Seattle Seahawks Ring of Honor.
This is Jim Zorn’s incredible football story.
Early Life and College Days with the Cal Poly Pomona Broncos
James Arthur “Jim” Zorn was born in Whittier, CA on May 10, 1953.
When Zorn was growing up in Southern California, he was fascinated with skateboards and bicycles, per The Seattle Times‘ Scott Hanson (via The Spokesman-Review).
Zorn first played team sports in his freshman year at Richard Gahr High School in Cerritos, CA. He joined the school’s cross-country team at the urging of a friend.
Unfortunately, Jim Zorn was the slowest among his teammates. He realized he didn’t belong in that particular sport.
Zorn decided to try out for the Gahr Gladiators football team on a whim. Zorn, who played wideout and defensive back, had no clue what he was doing on the football field.
One day, his coach saw him throwing the football. He approached Zorn and asked him to play quarterback until they release another player.
Zorn obliged and quickly fell in love with the quarterback position.
In 2019, he told Hanson that he’d loved it because he got to touch the ball on every single offensive play. He also loved being the take-charge guy on the gridiron.
While Zorn learned the nuances of quarterbacking over the next three seasons, he had not done enough to earn a football scholarship.
Consequently, Jim Zorn had to take the JuCo route. He enrolled at Cerritos Junior College and remained there for two years.
The Cal Poly Pomona Broncos dangled a half-scholarship to Zorn after his second year at JuCo. Since it was the only offer that came his way, he accepted it on the spot.
Jim Zorn blossomed into a three-sport star with the Broncos. He was on the school’s football, track, and badminton teams.
Zorn picked up the slack for the Broncos in the javelin event and finished third in the conference.
The Working Man
Zorn also had several jobs during his tenure at Cal Poly. He worked as a canoe ride guide at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA.
He also drove a Zamboni on the hockey rink at Paramount Iceland. Zorn had to clock in at 5:00 a.m. on weekend mornings, per Hanson.
Before long, Zorn learned how to be a speed skater at Paramount. He eventually won two California State B men’s championships.
However, Jim Zorn made the most impact on the college gridiron.
One day, Broncos head football coach Roy Anderson got in Zorn’s face and told the lefty quarterback he was on the verge of becoming a great player.
A shocked Zorn had never heard a compliment like that before. He took it seriously and became one of the best signal callers in Cal Poly football history.
Zorn led the country in offense as a junior in 1973. He led the Broncos to a 5-3-2 record one year later. It was Cal Poly’s best showing since 1962.
The school’s thrust on quality education also rubbed off on Zorn. While he’d had sub-par grades in high school, he studied hard in college and became a good student, per The Seattle Times.
It was only a matter of time before Jim Zorn would electrify the fans of the expansion Seattle Seahawks in 1976.
Pro Football Career
The Dallas Cowboys signed Jim Zorn as an undrafted agent prior to the 1975 NFL season.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys released Zorn just two days before the regular season kicked off. Dallas’s signing of former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Preston Pearson made Zorn expendable.
Zorn then tried out with the Los Angeles Rams. Regrettably, he did not make their regular-season roster either.
After a one-year hiatus, Jim Zorn signed a free-agent contract with the expansion Seattle Seahawks before the 1976 NFL campaign.
Consequently, Jim Zorn made history as the first quarterback in Seahawks team history.
Seahawks head coach Jack Patera made Zorn his starting quarterback for the next seven seasons.
“My favorite memories of Coach Patera are: 1. If you called him “coach”, he would call you “player”. He liked to go by Jack! 2. He came up with the greatest fake field goals of all time. We had one every game ready to use.
Rest In Peace, Jack, your legacy lives on!” pic.twitter.com/g1frnEOxBL
— Jim Zorn (@JimZorn10) October 31, 2018
Zorn took on the responsibility and exceeded expectations as Seattle’s starting signal caller.
Zorn responded with three 3,000-yard passing seasons and two 2,000-yard passing seasons from 1976 to 1982.
Zorn’s exemplary play behind center earned him Second-Team All-Pro honors following the 1978 NFL season.
After the expansion Seahawks struggled with a combined 7-21 win-loss record from 1976 to 1977, they made huge strides in their third season in 1978.
Behind Jim Zorn’s 3,283 passing yards and 15 passing touchdowns, Seattle won nine games that year.
Zorn followed that up with 3,661 passing yards and 20 passing touchdowns in the 1979 NFL campaign.
The Seahawks thrived in Jim Zorn’s first two 3,000-yard seasons in the National Football League. They won nine games in 1978 and 1979.
Although Seattle missed the postseason on both occasions, it was an encouraging sign for Seahawks head coach Jack Patera and his staff.
Although Zorn was not the best quarterback in the NFL during his era, he was one of the most exciting.
Zorn’s uncanny lateral movement, mobility, and scrambling abilities helped him elude pass rushers with ease.
One of Zorn’s trademarks was moving from one side of the gridiron to the other and passing to an open receiver downfield.
“Nobody could throw on the run as well as me,” Zorn said in 2017. “I really believed that.”
Zorn’s favorite target was wide receiver Steve Largent, who eventually became his best friend over the years.
“By the numbers, (Zorn) wasn’t the best, but on the excitement meter he was there at the top,” former Seahawks wideout and current radio announcer Steve Raible told The Seattle Times‘ Scott Hanson in the summer of 2019.
Long before Russell Wilson took the field for the Seahawks, Jim Zorn whipped the 12th Man into a frenzy with his quarterbacking abilities.
Years later, Wilson, who became the Seahawks’ franchise quarterback in 2012, told Zorn he was impressed with the latter’s scrambling abilities.
Zorn thought that was a fascinating statement considering Wilson wasn’t familiar with the Seahawks of Zorn’s era.
He was so elusive, he gave the best pass rushers of his era fits. Zorn was at the top of Oakland Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano’s list of quarterbacks he had always wanted to smash.
To Villapiano’s dismay, he could never keep up with Zorn.
Largent thought Zorn made up for his sub-par blocking abilities with his accuracy and nimble feet.
He also felt Zorn’s intuition—whether to stay in the pocket or scamper for extra yardage and scan downfield for the open receiver—was one of his best assets.
— Jim Zorn (@JimZorn10) August 13, 2019
Revolutionizing the Game
Zorn and Largent became a formidable pass-catching combo for Seattle during their time together in the Emerald City from 1976 to 1984.
The duo revolutionized the NFL’s passing game during those nine years.
Zorn told Hanson the Seahawks coaching staff designed an offensive scheme that called for Zorn to scramble out of the pocket so he could pass to Largent on a 23- or 24-yard comeback route.
Since virtually no other NFL team ran that play, opponents had no answer for it.
One of Zorn’s fondest memories of the old Kingdome was the season opener against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1976.
Zorn overthrew a pass to Largent, so the latter had to improvise. Largent leaped for the ball until his body was perpendicular to the Kingdome turf. He defied gravity and made an improbable catch.
Jim Zorn also set an example for his Seahawks teammates on and off the practice field.
According to Largent, Zorn set an example to his teammates with his stellar work ethic on and off the gridiron.
Zorn became one of the trendsetters in dissecting film for hours on end. Largent remembered the Seahawks quarterback bringing the projector home with him to study film even during his days as a bachelor.
“It started a trend of guys going home and watching film,” Largent told The Seattle Times in 2016. “He was a real role model for our team.”
Jim Zorn wasn’t just a hard-working quarterback. He was also mostly a level-headed one who maintained his composure on and off the gridiron.
One of the rare times Zorn flew off the handle occurred during the Seahawks’ training camp in 1980.
Zorn and Largent were having a conversation while the latter was holding a miniature ship inside a bottle that Zorn had painstakingly built by himself.
Largent, a sure-handed wide receiver, somehow dropped the bottle. For some strange reason, the bottle did not break but the miniature ship was shattered into pieces.
An enraged Jim Zorn took the bottle, smashed it, and fled on his bicycle.
A connection familiar to many @12s!
We sat down with legends Jim Zorn and Steve Largent on the third installment of Seahawks Stories.
— Seahawks Legends (@SeahawksLegends) September 19, 2019
Seven years into Jim Zorn’s pro football career, he fully embraced the outdoorsy lifestyle of the Pacific Northwest.
According to Sports Illustrated‘s Sarah Pileggi, Zorn participated in road races, water races, pheasant and duck hunts, salmon and steelhead fishing, sailing, and bike racing club workouts during his career with the Seahawks.
Zorn told Pileggi it was a stark contrast to his formative years in Southern California where he and his friends had to travel 60 to 100 miles to the nearest mountain range or beach to ride skateboards, surf, and play at mini-golf courses.
On the other hand, the great outdoors was just a stone’s throw away in the great Pacific Northwest for Zorn and his Seahawks teammates.
Zorn and Seattle wide receiver Steve Largent scaled Mt. Rainier in 1980, per Pileggi. It was also a welcome sight for Largent, a native of Oklahoma.
Conquering Mt. Rainier’s heights did not stop Zorn from honing his quarterbacking skills.
Largent had no idea Zorn brought a football with him. The two teammates played some catch football when they reached the peak of Mt. Rainier.
Falling in Love with the Emerald City
Largent admitted to The Seattle Times thirty-six years later he was spent by the time they wrapped up.
Zorn loved Seattle so much, he wanted to settle there over the long haul.
“Even if I were to be cut or traded or got a new job, I would hope it would bring me back here,” Zorn told Sports Illustrated in the summer of 1982. “This is where I’d like to end up.”
Zorn dabbled in sports broadcasting at Seattle’s KIRO-TV when his daughter Sarah was a newborn.
One day, Zorn read the sports news from the station’s teleprompter without stopping. He continued babbling during an interview segment that featured Boston Celtics superstar Larry Bird.
The producer put his index finger in front of his lips hoping Zorn would stop. All Zorn did was lower his voice to a whisper while the station aired the Bird interview.
The Seahawks regressed and struggled in Zorn’s last three years as their starting quarterback from 1982 to 1984.
Seattle averaged barely five wins during that forgettable three-year time frame. The Seahawks had never made the postseason since they entered the National Football League seven seasons earlier.
The Beginning of the End
That trend changed when legendary head coach Chuck Knox took over the reins prior to the 1983 NFL season.
Knox shuffled the quarterback ranks midway through the year and made fourth-year signal caller Dave Krieg his starter.
Consequently, Zorn became Krieg’s backup until the former’s final year in Seattle in 1984.
The changing of the guard at quarterback was a painful one for Jim Zorn.
He told Steve Raible in his 2017 book, Tales from the Seattle Seahawks Sideline: A Collection of the Greatest Seahawks Stories Ever Told, Knox and Co. were just waiting for the opportune moment to replace him with Krieg during that fateful 1983 NFL season.
That moment came in a Week 8 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On 3rd and 7 in the first half, Zorn threw a ball three yards short of Seahawks running back Curt Warner. At that point, Pittsburgh led, 24-0.
Knox had seen enough. He dispatched quarterbacks coach Kenny Meyer to deliver the bad news to Zorn. Krieg was in. He was out.
Sadly, the Jim Zorn era had officially ended in Seattle.
Zorn told Raible some thirty-four years later getting demoted hurt more than getting released.
“Being demoted, you have to buck up and be a team guy, but you also know that everything you did for the franchise over the years doesn’t matter any more,” Zorn said in 2017.
The Seahawks averaged ten wins per season from 1983 to 1984. They not only broke their long postseason drought, but they also made consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history.
Seattle went on an impressive postseason run in Knox’s first year at the helm in 1983. The Seahawks made their AFC Championship Game debut but lost to the eventual Super Bowl champions Los Angeles Raiders, 30-14.
After Zorn left Seattle following the 1984 NFL season, he played behind the Green Bay Packers’ Lynn Dickey in 1985.
Week 9, 1985
Jim Zorn has his first start in 2 yrs.
Too bad he has to face the ‘85 🐻
Zorn is swamped all game.
He gets sacked for a Safety by McMichael.
William “The Refrigerator” Perry catches a TD from @JimMcMahon
However the #Packers still held a 10-9 lead in the 4th pic.twitter.com/y22Mh4w3QR
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) April 6, 2019
Zorn had 794 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, and six interceptions in 13 appearances and five starts for Packers head coach Forrest Gregg.
He went on a one-year hiatus from the NFL and signed with the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1986.
Zorn didn’t make much of an impact when he went north of the border. He had just 25 passes in nine games before returning to the United States.
Jim Zorn played one game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a replacement player during the 1987 NFL strike.
He threw for 199 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions in his final game in the National Football League.
Jim Zorn retired from professional football following the 1987 NFL season.
He had 21,115 passing yards, 111 touchdowns, and 141 interceptions in 140 career games with the Seahawks, Packers, and Buccaneers.
Football Coaching Career
After Jim Zorn hung up his cleats following the 1987 NFL season, he badly needed direction for his subsequent career path.
Zorn collaborated with the Portland, OR-based career-match organization IDAK after he played his final down in pro football, per the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Clare Farnsworth.
IDAK helped Zorn determine the jobs that closely matched his personality, interests, and ambitions.
Zorn told Farnsworth in 2008 IDAK discovered museum curation and football coaching were right up his alley.
It turned out that the latter career path fit Zorn to a T for the next three decades.
Thus, Jim Zorn, the football head coach, was born.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Boise State Broncos head football coach Skip Hall reached out to Zorn and offered him a job on his coaching staff in 1988.
Zorn accepted and served as a Boise State offensive assistant for the next four seasons.
Jim Zorn became a member of the Seattle Seahawks Ring of Honor in his fourth season at Boise State in 1991.
Zorn then became the offensive coordinator of the Utah State Aggies in 1992. He held that position until the 1994 NCAA season.
The Aggies averaged just five wins per year in Zorn’s tenure as their offensive coordinator.
Utah State’s best showing during the Zorn era was its seven-win season in 1993. The Aggies beat the Ball State Cardinals in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl, 42-33.
Zorn continued his ascent in the college football coaching ranks. He joined Jim Wacker’s staff at the University of Minnesota prior to the 1995 NCAA season.
Zorn coached the Minnesota Gophers’ quarterbacks for the next two seasons.
Unfortunately, Minnesota was a below-average squad that averaged just four wins per season from 1995 to 1996. The Gophers promptly extended their bowl drought to eleven seasons.
Back to the NFL
According to Farnsworth, Zorn wanted to break into the NFL coaching ranks at that point in his coaching career.
Got to throw with Jim Zorn, former Seahawks QB and NFL Coach, yesterday. pic.twitter.com/EsbfYB44Rl
— Murdock Rutledge (@Murdock_rut) March 28, 2016
Zorn eventually returned to his old stomping grounds in the Pacific Northwest with the Seattle Seahawks in 1997.
Zorn was one of head coach Dennis Erickson’s offensive assistants that year.
Seattle finished with a mediocre 8-8 win-loss record and missed the postseason for a ninth straight year in 1997.
Jim Zorn became the Detroit Lions’ quarterbacks coach the following season. Zorn tutored Lions signal callers Charlie Batch and Gus Frerotte for the next three seasons.
Detroit averaged seven wins per year in Zorn’s three seasons as quarterbacks coach from 1998 to 2000.
The 8-8 Lions made the postseason in 1999 but lost to the Washington Redskins in the NFC Wild Card Game, 27-13.
Zorn returned to Seattle for a second tour of duty on the Seahawks’ coaching staff prior to the 2001 NFL season.
Zorn coached Seahawks quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck, Trent Dilfer, Brock Huard, and Seneca Wallace over the next seven seasons from 2001 to 2007.
After Zorn concluded his seven-year coaching stint with the Seahawks, the Washington Redskins made him their offensive coordinator in 2008.
To Zorn’s pleasant surprise, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder made him his head coach just two weeks after his initial offer.
According to Farnsworth, Zorn, one of the pioneer Seahawks players, wanted to remain in Seattle when he became the team’s quarterbacks coach.
At the time Snyder interviewed Zorn, the latter wanted job security with the Seahawks in 2008 and beyond.
Coaching in the Capital
Regrettably, Seahawks president Tim Ruskell could not give Zorn what he wanted. That ultimately paved the way for Zorn’s unexpected promotion to the Redskins’ head coaching position in 2008.
Farnsworth confirmed Zorn was irked by the turn of events with his beloved Seahawks.
Zorn joined former Seattle running back and 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander in Washington in 2008.
Alexander, who played behind Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts with the Redskins, was all praises for Zorn.
“Jim is Jim. His personality shines,” Alexander told Farnsworth in 2008. “He has a way of doing stuff that’s really humble, but at the same time really focused.”
2009: One of the worst calls ever. Sometimes you wonder if a coach is trying to get fired. In #NYGiants 45-12 win over Redskins, Jim Zorn tried the swinging gate not once, but twice in a row & @BVJOfficial got a pick. "What in the wide world" That's @GrahamGano too #TogetherBlue pic.twitter.com/LKlcQ9q1jt
— BigBlueVCR (@BigBlueVCR) June 21, 2022
Zorn’s personality shone through when he coached the Redskins. When he was a quarterbacks coach for the Lions and Seahawks, he asked his players to practice finishing their quarterback scrambles on a Slip N’ Slide.
It was a trend that continued in the nation’s capital. Zorn used that same technique on Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell in 2008.
Campbell botched the Slip N’ Slide drill one time.
Zorn remembered Campbell caught a cleat because of his inability to pull his feet up. The Redskins coach had to turn the water off and repeat the drill.
Zorn finished his first year as an NFL head coach with a mediocre 8-8 win-loss record.
Since the beginning of the 2000s, Washington had missed the postseason seven times in nine years.
It didn’t get any easier for Zorn in his second year with the Redskins in 2009.
Washington executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato stripped Zorn of his play-calling responsibilities in October of that year.
Not as Good as Everyone Hoped
Cerrato thought his second-year head coach had too much on his plate at the time.
The Redskins were just 2-4 when Zorn lost his play-calling duties. Washington had just lost to two winless teams—the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers—in previous weeks.
The Redskins had lost ten of their fourteen games dating back to the 2008 NFL campaign.
“I’ve got to be better. And it really irritates me. Truly irritates me,” an exasperated Jim Zorn said (via ESPN) in the fall of 2009. “And I’m just not going to rest until I get that taken care of.”
Alas, Jim Zorn did not do any better the rest of the way.
After starting his Redskins coaching career with a 6-2 win-loss mark, he finished 6-18 the rest of the way.
The Redskins eventually fired Zorn on January 4, 2010.
Almost six years later, former Redskins running back Clinton Portis claimed Zorn, a staunch Christian, divided Washington’s locker room based on their faith.
Clinton Portis: Christianity divided locker room under Jim Zorn pic.twitter.com/rpCYWHLRTQ
— UPG (@upg_net) October 21, 2015
Portis told ESPN 980 in the fall of 2015 the two cliques in Zorn’s locker room were “Christians and ballplayers.”
Former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley supported Portis’ claim, per ESPN. Cooley, however, maintained Zorn did not do it intentionally.
Jim Zorn did not have to travel far to land another coaching job in the NFL.
Try, Try Again
The Baltimore Ravens hired Zorn to become their quarterbacks coach prior to the 2010 NFL campaign.
Zorn worked with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco that year.
Despite a 12-4 win-loss record and an appearance in the AFC Divisional Round, the Ravens fired Jim Zorn after just one season.
Flacco was none too pleased with Zorn’s dismissal. He could not fathom why the Ravens would fire him despite Flacco throwing for 3,622 yards and Baltimore winning twelve games in 2010.
“I felt like I had a pretty good year and you’re firing the quarterback coach? It’s kind of an attack on me, I feel like,” Flacco told reporters in January 2011 (via ESPN).
Zorn spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons as the Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterbacks coach.
After a respectable 10-6 win-loss record in 2010, the Chiefs crashed and burned in Zorn’s last two years as an NFL coach.
Kansas City averaged barely five wins per season from 2011 to 2012. The Chiefs missed the postseason for the twelfth time in the past fifteen years.
In between football jobs, Zorn honed the skills of local high school and college quarterbacks, per The Seattle Times.
He also went on annual mountain biking trips with his family to Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.
The XFL’s Seattle Dragons (later known as the Seattle Sea Dragons) named Jim Zorn their head coach and general manager in February 2019.
The Dragons did not retain Zorn after one season on the job.
Wait for Seattle Dragons coach Jim Zorn's reaction to this fumble 😂
— ESPN (@espn) February 8, 2020
The friendship between Seahawks pioneers Jim Zorn and Steve Largent has stood the test of time. They have been best friends for four decades.
“When I say he’s my best friend, I mean that,” Largent told Seahawks.com’s John Boyle in the summer of 2016. “We don’t go a week or two without contacting each other, talking to each other.”
Zorn and Largent filmed a commercial for the Washington State Lottery’s “Seahawks Scratch” game in 2016.
Although both men had minimal acting experience, they enjoyed themselves during the experience.
True to his word, Jim Zorn has been residing in Washington State in his retirement years.
Zorn, his wife Joy, children, and grandchildren currently live in Mercer Island, WA.