Jim Zebrowski: Control What You Can Control
When football fans file into a stadium for a game, Jim Zebrowski knows where the large majority of their eyes go
Fair or not, the position commands attention and demands maturity.
“When I talk to my guys, we talk about embracing the fact that they play quarterback,” Zebrowski said.
“I tell them, ‘you chose it; let’s get to the facts. The majority of the people are going to watch you. Understand it, embrace it. The perception is, when we win, you play great, and when we lose, you play terrible. Right or wrong, you can’t control that.”
Of course, Zebrowski knows there are plenty of things quarterbacks can control.
In fact, there are more than enough to keep them busy. Whether it’s the knowledge of the offense, the physical conditioning required or the role of leader that comes with the position, Zebrowski wants his quarterbacks to focus on those challenges – not the ones out of their control.
“I coach the way I coach because I want them to play better than I ever did,” said Zebrowski, a former college quarterback himself. “I was worried about stuff that I couldn’t control. As a coach, I’ve gotten better at that. You have to focus and refocus all the time. You focus on the play, whistle blows, deep breath, focus and refocus. The biggest thing will always be to control what you can control.”
For Zebrowski himself, that’s being the best husband, father and coach he can be.
A native of Strongsville, Ohio, Zebrowski grew up a sports nut and played football and baseball throughout high school. He then played football and baseball at Mount Union – a Division III football power in Alliance, Ohio – with an eye on the future on what was next after college.
He graduated with a degree in education from Mount Union and became a middle school math teacher at a school named Preble Shawnee in Camden, Ohio. It was a small school in the country, and Zebrowski served as an assistant football and softball coach for the high school.
He then moved to Berea High School in Ohio, where he continued to teach math, and continued to coach football and added baseball to his resume as well.
After those six years, he began thinking about pursuing a Master’s Degree. Off the advice of another assistant coach at the high school, Zebrowski decided to apply for graduate assistant spots all over the country.
“I thought it would be easy,” Zebrowski said. “But I got so many rejection letters. Southern Illinois in Carbondale then reached out and I was hired and accepted into graduate school. When I was there was the first time that I really started thinking about coaching being my entire career, rather than continuing as a teacher as well.”
Not only did Zebrowski learn in Carbondale that his calling was football coaching full-time, he also met his wife there in Heather, a volleyball graduate assistant at the time.
After three years in Carbondale, the couple made their way to Decatur, Illinois, where Zebrowski got his first full-time coaching job at Millikin University. Zebrowski was then hired as the head coach at Division III Lakeland College in Wisconsin.
That’s where Lance Leipold comes in.
Zebrowski had a successful stint at Lakeland, getting his team to the playoffs for the first time ever. At the same time, Leipold was at Nebraska-Omaha as the offensive coordinator. When he got hired at Wisconsin-Whitewater as the head coach and was looking for an offensive coordinator, he called Zebrowski.
“We knew of each other through a mutual friend,” Zebrowski said. “He called — and Whitewater had whacked us the last few years — and asked if I’d be interested in coming on board. I am very fortunate Lance took me in. We won the national championship that first year, and it was a blast coaching with him.”
There, he also coached with the current defensive coordinator for the Jayhawks, Brian Borland, and linebackers coach, Chris Simpson, beginning to build a bond among coaching staff members that now exists in Lawrence.
While at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Zebrowski had an opportunity to coach quarterbacks at Northern Illinois for Coach Jerry Kill, and took it. He then moved on with Kill to Minnesota to serve as the quarterbacks coach there from 2011 to 2015. Following Kill’s retirement, Zebrowski was looking for a job and became the assistant head coach at Hamline University in Minnesota.
But after just one season, Leipold called again. He needed a quarterbacks coach at Buffalo and Zebrowski couldn’t pass up the chance to work for one of his favorites. He joined Leipold in 2017 and has been with him since, now ecstatic to still be by his side in Lawrence.
“I am so fired up for this opportunity,” Zebrowski said. “My entire family is. I’m really excited to get going and dig in with the quarterbacks on our roster.”