SEATTLE — If the new Seattle XFL franchise was looking to making a splash with its first hire, it made a cannonball.
Jim Zorn, who captured the heart of Seattle sports fans as the first starting quarterback in Seahawks history, was named coach and general manager of the new team, which will begin play in the rebooted league in February 2020. The original XFL, created as a competitor to the NFL, lasted one season (2001) and was owned by NBC and the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE). The new iteration of the XFL, owned by WWE CEO Vince McMahon, will feature eight teams, as did the previous XFL.
Zorn, who often electrified Seahawks fans with his throwing and scrambling and is in the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor, is excited about helping another franchise get started.
“It’s very cool because there is no tradition yet, there are no parameters — we are trying to develop a way to do it, and I think that is even going to be adjusted as we go along,” Zorn said. “Just like we did when I played. We had to adjust based on the players we had and the type of offense we had.”
Zorn, 65, brings plenty of experience to his new job, including two seasons as the head coach of the NFL’s Washington franchise. He spent nearly a decade as an assistant coach at the college level before joining the Seahawks for a season in 1997 as the quarterbacks coach under coach Dennis Erickson.
He rejoined the Seahawks in 2001 in that position and worked with QB Matt Hasselbeck during the franchise’s first trip to the Super Bowl after the 2005 season. Zorn left after the 2007 season to become head coach of Washington, getting let go after a record of 12-20 in two seasons.
After that, Zorn spent a season as quarterbacks coach with Baltimore and two with Kansas City. He has been out of coaching since the 2012 season and says he is ready for another foray into coaching.
XFL commissioner Oliver Luck said the first call he made when looking for a coach of the Seattle franchise was to Zorn.
“I’ve known Jim since we played against each when I was with the (Houston) Oilers and he was with the Seahawks,” Luck said. “That goes back to the early ‘80s and he has a stellar reputation, is a quality guy and a man of substance. He’s a very good coach and he’s had success. When I was talking with Matt Hasselback, he said, ‘Of all the quarterback coaches I’ve ever played for, Jim Zorn was by far the best.’
“He’s obviously well respected in this community and it gives us a tie to the passion that people have here for things Seattle. People love Seattle here.”
Zorn said he bought into the new league’s vision of faster play and more action, but without changing the core elements of the game.
“It’s going to be real football with real names on the backs of the jerseys,” Zorn said. “It’s also going to be a bit creative. I think each head coach will have to really think through — and this is one of the things I am most excited about — what it’s going to be like to have a few little tweaks when it comes the clock, when it comes to getting the ball ready for play.”
Teams will play a 10-game season starting the weekend of Feb. 8-9 next year. That will be followed by two weeks of playoffs.
“I hope we have a lot of fans come out, but we have to earn that right,” Zorn said. “We have educated fans here. They want to see real football.”
Zorn said he can hire 10 assistant coaches and while he said the league deadline for that will be June or July, he said he hopes to make the hires sooner.
“I’ve been working on this for a while, so there is some direction,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to get the correct chemistry and the correct 10.”
Next up for the Seattle franchise will be a name.
“We will have names and logos for all the franchises by late March and early April,” Luck said.
As far as players, teams will be keeping close tabs on the players who fail to make it past the NFL’s final cut.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Zorn said.