“Coach Carroll is the only reason I’m coaching,” said Norton, linebackers coach of the Seahawks. “He came and found me. I was working at the NFL Network and he pulled me out of there. He said, ‘You need to be on the field with me.’ ”
Did Norton protest?
“Coach Carroll is very persuasive,” he said. “He usually gets what he wants, and he made it clear that he needed my assistance.”
Carroll had been Norton’s defensive coordinator when both were with the San Francisco 49ers. And he was certain that what he saw in Norton as a player would transfer well to Norton the coach.
Toughness. Attitude. More toughness.
Thus far, Norton is among the most visible and voluble of the assistants on Carroll’s new staff with the Seahawks.
Training camp practices are spiced by his deep, barking exhortations to his linebackers. Just as when he was a player, Norton never takes a play off. He rushes up after each play, as if still pursuing a ballcarrier, and gets in somebody’s ear hole.
But then, he doesn’t limit his commentary to his own crew. He may toss a jab at the offense, or maybe even at one of the coaches on the offensive staff.
In his ongoing war against complacency, nobody goes unchallenged.
At one of the early practices, linebacker Leroy Hill had his jersey pulled up to reveal his stomach. Norton let him have it, suggesting that if he had anything less than a chiseled six-pack, nobody wanted to see his belly. The comment had some bite, but also some relevance for Hill, who missed much of the offseason because of off-the-field issues.
Is anybody immune?
“Ha, no,” said linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who was coached by Norton at the University of Southern California. “In fact, I think I was the first one he yelled at.”
Tatupu confirmed the notion that Norton is vigilant in his reminders of the value of toughness in a physical game.
“His meetings, whew,” Tatupu said. “What we say and what we do … we’ll go to the grave with that, but it’s just amazing; he gets on us. You better hope you didn’t have a bad practice because you’ll hear about it until he sees a good one.”
Norton has the credinetials to make sure he doesn’t get tuned out. His résumé from a 13-year NFL career featured three Pro Bowls and three consecutive Super Bowl titles with Dallas and San Francisco.
“You take everything he says to heart because the guy has been where you want to be, not just in the NFL, but three years running, back-to-back-to-back Super Bowls,” Tatupu said.
Pretty high praise for a guy who has coached only six seasons, and had given no thought to making it a career until Carroll thrust the job at him.
“I just enjoyed it so much from the very beginning,” Norton said. “When you play for so long, you think that playing football is the height, but once I coached for a while, I started realizing that maybe all the years I played were something that made me into a better coach.”
He came to an important realization very early: “I had to coach the way I played; I had to stay aggressive and stay on them. That’s the only way I know how to do it. Football is simple, you knock them back, you make tackles and you play really hard. Sometimes, as coaches, we try to complicate it. But at the end of the day, it’s about blocking and tackling and attitude.”
Norton’s toughness comes genetically, of course … a gift from his father, Ken Norton, the former world heavyweight boxing champion.
Ken Jr. trained in the gym with his father, but “he didn’t let me do any competitions,” Norton said. “And he didn’t let me go to any of his fights; he didn’t want me to see him get hit. And he didn’t want me getting into the business because there’s a lot of crooked people in it.”
But the influence was unwavering, nonetheless.
“He influenced me without even realizing it,” Norton said. “Just waking up and training and working hard and understanding there are no shortcuts. If you really want something, you have to grind and go get it; you can’t sit around and make excuses.”
In some very real ways, that’s exactly the message and the method he’s trying to project to his linebackers.
“I learned early on that players end up taking the personality of their coaches,” Norton said. “And I know I have to be myself. I played emotionally and so I coach that way.”
Does he ever.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440