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Jim Zorn Used to Own Gadget Stores

Sold strange gadgets. (By Jonathan Newton - AP)

In the past two weeks, I've written about how the hottest new coach in the stodgy National Football League once skinned a road-kill coyote and played viola with the Seattle Symphony while wearing a tuxedo t-shirt. Now, I have a few other Zorn stories stored away for the cold winter months--his model ship-building hobby, for example--but I figured that, by this point, eight months into the Zorn Era, the well was about to run dry.

Well, I was an idiot.

Because I had forgotten to consider the possibility that, in the mid-'80s, as his playing career was winding down, Zorn might have become a minority partner in a chain of Pacific Northwest gadget stores carrying "hundreds of unusual products, from decorative neon clocks and Italian espresso machines to solar-powered Walkmans, waterproof stereos and a robot waiter."

Not. Making. This. Up.

I first stumbled upon this information when browsing a 1986 Seattle Post-Intelligencer story about Zorn's post-Seattle season in Green Bay. It's a mostly sad tale, about how Zorn would rush back to his small hotel room in Green Bay after Packers games to watch the Seahawks play on TV, about how he missed his family and Steve Largent, about how "it was embarrassing to see some of the attitudes and work habits of the players" in Green Bay. And then there was this:

He may start for the Packers this season, but when he is done with football, Zorn plans to be ready for the rest of his life.

"This is the first serious job I've probably had," he said of his involvement with B.N. Genius, comprising several area shopping mall stores that sell a wide range of gifts and gadgets. That job recently took him to Las Vegas, usually the unlikeliest of places you would expect Jim Zorn to be, for a consumer electronics show, but he's working in several new places now.

"I'm going to give it everything I've got in Green Bay and if it doesn't work out I'll go someplace else, whether it's playing football, coaching football or in a retail business called B.N. Genius," he said.

Apparently he chose coaching football over a retail business called B.N. Genius. But in late 1986, the business was still going strong, earning a long profile in the business section of the Post-Intelligencer. The story said Zorn was a minority partner in the business, which was hoping to expand nationally by targeting NFL players as franchisees. Largent was a silent investor, and the Sharper Image was the inspiration, although B.N. Genius was going for a less yuppie brand of shopper.

To keep up with the latest products, [exec Richard] Radloff said he, Zorn and others travel to three or four trade shows a year, thumb through catalogs and watch competitors. He said they find 15 to 30 new products per month.

With that much turnover, Radloff said the stores are bound to come up with a few duds. He said a portable phone dialer that initially retailed for around $100 was one of them.

"I think we only sold a few of those," he said.

I figured Jim Zorn had succeeded at pretty much everything he had ever tried, but now we know the truth: he failed at selling $100 portable phone dialers from a Northwest chain of gadget stores in the mid-'80s.

Seriously, Vinny, if you want to just have a portion of my paycheck direct deposited into your bank account, I wouldn't complain. Thanks, man, for making the best hire of all time.

By Dan Steinberg  |  October 23, 2008; 1:04 PM ET
Categories:  Redskins  
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Next: Jason Taylor's Bloody Sock


jim zorn is the gift that keeps on giving. seriously, you need to book this guy for an hour sit down, 60 minutes style (maybe during the bye week). talk about everything but football. i'd watch.

Posted by: dcsportsfan1 | October 23, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Zorn = Renaissance Man

I'd love to see an in-depth interview with him too, but I'd really enjoy an interview with his parents. It would be great to see just where this guy got all his mojo.

Posted by: mikesgirl1 | October 23, 2008 1:56 PM | Report abuse

He's more of a Renaissance dude, but we're on the same page.

Posted by: Cindy Boren | October 23, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Definitely the best hire ever.

from his "football tricks" to this, wow, I can't get enough!

Posted by: TheTruth11 | October 23, 2008 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Please don't offer Vinny any of your paycheck. Because he WILL keep it. You know this.

Posted by: jgperras | October 23, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Steinberg, you had better buy Zorn a nice fruit basket or gift certificate for a massage at the end of the season. He has made your job WAY easier.

Posted by: tjeffries1 | October 23, 2008 3:53 PM | Report abuse

And to think, Gibbs shot down that Hot Topic franchise idea.

Posted by: StetSportsBlog | October 23, 2008 5:49 PM | Report abuse

From the sad article: "I only lived 10 minutes by bike or two minutes by car from the stadium."

A starting QB in the NFL biked home. Zorn never stops amazing. I have to assume that, even in GB, he coulda afforded a Pinto.

And imagine how freakin' cold that musta been. Dude, Zorn *is* a freak. Take that, Jevon. You're an also-ran, dude.

Posted by: WorstSeat | October 23, 2008 6:17 PM | Report abuse

The truth is if his record was not 5-2 but instead was 2-5 the giddiness over his interests would not be what it is. It would be just the opposite. The talk would not be of him being a "Renanissance" man but instead about how he needs to be more committed to being a good football coach. It just amazes me how winning football games impacts peoples perceptions of someone. Because I know if he ever struggles or starts to lose games these nice stories about him will not be viewed in the same light.

For those of us that have had the privledge of knowing him over the years this is been one of the many interesting things about Jim's life that we have come to admire and appreciate about him. It is nice to hear Jim share some of these old stories from many years ago. It brings back some good memories.

Posted by: afriendofzorn | October 24, 2008 11:40 AM | Report abuse

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