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Zorn, Seahawks QBs Share Bond

Redskins Coach Helped Shape Skill Sets of Hasselbeck, Wallace

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 23, 2008; Page D01


Matt Hasselbeck sat in the boarding area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, a cellphone in his hand and his stomach a tangle of regret, certain he had just disappointed Jim Zorn. It was spring 2001, his first minicamp as the Seattle Seahawks' quarterback was over and he was flying home to his pregnant wife. But his mind could not let go of three passes in the last practice earlier that day. Three passes that were mistakes. Three passes young quarterbacks will sometimes make.

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The practice wasn't even a real practice. The season was still months away. And yet as he sat in the airport terminal that day, Hasselbeck felt compelled to call Zorn, the team's new quarterbacks coach. He needed to apologize.

"I felt bad, like I let him down, because he wanted to help me," Hasselbeck recalled. "Jim cares so much, you just don't want to let him down."

In the following months, Hasselbeck would disappoint Zorn many more times. So many, in fact, that he would lose his standing as the Seahawks' anointed quarterback in the winter of 2002, a decision that left him sullen and heartbroken. And yet it was Zorn who brought him back, who rebuilt him, remolded him and made him believe again until he became one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, a three-time Pro Bowl player.

Zorn returns to Seattle today as the head coach of the Washington Redskins. And earlier this week, Hasselbeck sat at his locker in the Seahawks' new practice facility here and fondly remembered the tiny meeting room at the team's old headquarters, where Zorn spent hours making him the quarterback he has become.

"Jim was phenomenal," he said. "If not for that room, I wouldn't have made it through. I would have gone and done something stupid."

A few minutes before, his backup, Seneca Wallace, had smiled at the mention of Zorn's name.

"I never had coaching like I had with him," Wallace said.

That is why the two men Zorn left behind were delighted when someone from Washington appeared here asking about their old coach. It is why Wallace pulled the visitor into a side room, away from the boom of a nearby stereo so that his words could easily be heard and why Hasselbeck cut short a conversation and made extra time before a meeting just so he could express a sentiment that gathered little attention as Hasselbeck became an NFL star.

"I never felt Jim got any credit," he said of his career resurgence late in 2002, something for which head coach Mike Holmgren has been widely praised. "He was buried around these big-name coaches and good coaches. We had some coaches who had Super Bowl rings and he was the new guy, the guy who put in weird stuff and rode his bike to work."

When Holmgren was looking for a quarterbacks coach at the end of a discouraging 2000 season, he mulled a list of candidates of supposedly elite passing coaches. As something of a quarterback guru himself, having molded Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre, he tended to consider the job to be the most important on his staff. He conducted many interviews and yet it was Zorn, then with the Detroit Lions, who seemed the most insightful and best prepared. The coach was further intrigued that Zorn had been a star quarterback for the Seahawks in their early years, his name on the team's Ring of Honor. Holmgren liked the idea of having an assistant who was working in "his place," his city.

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