Zorn takes over as Chiefs’ QB coach

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — About 30 years ago, a youngster who ate, drank and slept football had a poster of Jim Zorn. The kid was a rabid Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but thought the creative, left-handed Seattle quarterback was cool.

He still does. Almost within hours of Zorn’s departure from the Ravens, Todd Haley was on the phone asking if he’d be interested in coaching quarterbacks for his Kansas City Chiefs.

To Haley’s delight, he was. Now, in the broiling heat of training camp, Zorn is working to bring along a couple of potential young backups and raise Matt Cassel’s play even beyond the level that elevated him to last year’s Pro Bowl.

“Todd asked me to come and interview. I liked what I saw with Todd,” said Zorn, who looks younger than his 58 years and still fit enough to step back and throw a quick out.

“I think Todd and I communicate well together. I think we feel the same way. We want to extend it. We want to get it to be super efficient, super effective, attack down the field. All those things helped sway me to come here.”

It must also have been nice to feel wanted.

In January 2010, Zorn was released after two years as head coach of the Redskins. A year later, he was let go as quarterbacks coach of the Ravens even though Joe Flacco had just experienced the greatest season of his three-year career, throwing for 3,622 yards and 25 touchdowns.

“I was still reeling from leaving Baltimore,” Zorn said. “I enjoyed it there. I think (head coach) John Harbaugh is tremendous. Joe Flacco is a really good quarterback, and so it was hard for me to leave there. But the next opportunity that comes along, to come here, is a great opportunity. We’ve got a lot of weapons here.”

In another significant coaching change, Bill Muir was elevated from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator, replacing Charlie Weis.

Muir will be the fourth offensive coordinator Cassel’s had in his three years in Kansas City and Zorn will be at least the third quarterbacks coach, counting Haley and Weis, who did not actually carry the title.

But Zorn’s the first who actually played, let alone excelled, as an NFL quarterback.

“That means a lot, that a guy has actually played in the league. He’s experienced what you experience,” said Cassel.

Even though he seems to change jobs with some frequency, there’s no doubting Zorn’s track record in bringing out the best in passers.

Under Zorn’s tutelage in 2007, Matt Hasselbeck threw for a Seattle franchise-record 3,966 yards. During Zorn’s time in Washington, Jason Campbell had the two best seasons of his five-year career.

“I’ve always thought a lot of him, and that goes back to when he was in Seattle playing quarterback,” said Haley. “I just thought he was cool, a guy who played hard and looked cool in the newfangled Seattle uniforms. When we needed another good coach, it was a no-brainer. I can’t say enough about the entire staff. But I think Jim Zorn will have a really positive impact for me, for our other coaches, for our players. Jim’s a really smart guy. He’s an outside-the-box thinker.”

Zorn’s unorthodox ways have caught Cassel by surprise. In the first practice, he had the right-handed Cassel dropping back as though he were going to throw left-handed.

“Sometimes we do face to our left when we’re going to the left or when we need to change directions,” Zorn said. “But in that particular drill, I wanted to make sure he could move his hips back and forth with his feet and snap them suddenly.

“When you’re in a game, if you take too long to make a move of changing directions, you’ll get sacked. You’ll get hit. Those are the things we’re working on in that particular drill.”

Chiefs players have seen gimmicks before — last year, receivers sat in a Porta Potty and caught passes fired inside, a drill intended to improve hand-eye coordination. But they also said it worked, and now the unusual techniques are being used at quarterback.

In a breakthrough season last year that led Kansas City to a 10-6 record and its first AFC West title since 2003, Cassel threw for a career-best 3,116 yards and 27 touchdowns. He gives plenty of credit to Weis, who frankly said this time a year ago his chief mission was to “fix what’s wrong with the quarterback.”

To hear Zorn tell it, there’s still some fixing to be done.

“He’s got a strong desire to be very good, great. I’m going to try to push him to be that as well,” Zorn said. “I think that’s his upside. He’s got a chance to keep working and have a better year than he had last year. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

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