New Chiefs QB coach Zorn may need to be flexible
Apr 27, 2011 (The Kansas City Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
If Todd Haley's most high-profile offseason acquisition is going to work, then it will come down to a matter of fit.
On the surface, the Chiefs' hiring of quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn two months ago seemed to be a natural -- and perhaps ideal -- solution to losing former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis after one season in Kansas City. Zorn played 11 seasons as an NFL quarterback and has been a position coach, coordinator and head coach.
So with these credentials in mind, and the fact that teams have been unable to sign free agents because of the lack of a collective bargaining agreement between owners and players, signing Zorn seems to be the Chiefs' most important offseason move. He also seems a logical choice to help quarterback Matt Cassel reach the next step in his growth, even after a Pro Bowl season in 2010.
The reality is that communication, work ethic and patience will define how this latest experiment will unfold.
Rich Gannon is a former NFL quarterback who now analyzes the game for CBS Sports. He said Zorn's talent and influence could be squandered if he doesn't quickly fit in with his fellow coaches, particularly Haley and new offensive coordinator Bill Muir.
"If I was Jim Zorn, I'd be spending a lot of time with those two guys," said Gannon, who played four seasons with the Chiefs in the 1990s. "It's really important that he's absolutely on the same page with the coordinator and the play-caller. You've got to be able to speak the exact same language.
"If there's a difference of opinion, that'll lead to confusion. That's what you can't have."
One question is how Zorn will respond to being a position coach again, after spending two seasons as Washington's head coach and last season as Baltimore's coordinator. Gannon said it's essential for Zorn to respect the Chiefs' chain of command and not make decisions that might conflict with what Haley or Muir might choose. Haley hasn't said who will call offensive plays next season, although Muir has never been a team's primary play-caller in his more than three decades as a coach.
Gannon said the worst-case scenario would be for Cassel to ask Zorn a question and then have to follow up with his coordinator or head coach for clarification. That would lead to uncertainty and impatience, and Haley has made it clear that he wants neither of those permeating his staff or team.
"You can't just assume that when we were in Baltimore or in Seattle, this is how we did it. It doesn't matter. It's how we do it," Gannon said. "If that's not the case, then you're just wasting everybody's time."
The Chiefs declined an interview request for Zorn, a spokesman telling The Star that the team doesn't make assistant coaches available during the offseason.
Gannon said it would be up to Zorn to make time for fitting in, adding that it would be up to Haley and Muir to make it as simple as possible for Zorn to communicate and understand his role on the team -- whether it's as a hands-on teacher and strategist or merely a coach who organizes meetings and works on honing passing mechanics.
Zorn could thrive in either role, depending on what the Chiefs choose. In Zorn's one season with the Ravens, quarterback Joe Flacco finished in the top 10 in completion percentage, passing touchdowns and passer rating. After Zorn was fired, Flacco expressed disappointment, saying he thought it was a mistake to let Zorn go.
If the Chiefs would prefer Zorn to maintain a background role, NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt said the coach is equipped for that, as well.
"Zorn will get along with anybody," Brandt said. "He has a great deal of flexibility."
And, he says, a great deal of patience. Brandt says Zorn is more quiet and laidback than Weis, whose gruff personality led to a few flare-ups with Haley and fueled speculation that Weis took a job with the University of Florida because of an inability to coexist with his boss.
"He's going to be different than Charlie," Brandt said. "I don't think that's Zorn's makeup."
Regardless, it will be the new coach's job to fit in with his surroundings and not only learn a system but shape his approach to fit it.
"He understands how things work in the business," Gannon said. "I don't think Jim Zorn is going to be a problem.
"He understands how things have to happen."
To reach Kent Babb, call 816-234-4386 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/kentbabb.
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