The reasoning behind the Seahawks recent coaching staff shakeup appeared simple: The staff had gotten stagnant. A regeneration –unfamiliar voices offering different perspectives – was in order.
Brian Schottenheimer, Darrell Bevell’s successor as offensive coordinator, brings 21 seasons of coaching experience to Seattle. Mike Solari, the offensive line coach who’ll replace Tom Cable, is a 32-year veteran. Ken Norton Jr., the new defensive coordinator, is the pup of the crew, with a mere 11 seasons on his resume.
Schottenheimer, Solari and Norton have combined to work for 30 teams over 64 years.
So much for regeneration.
The overhauling of Pete Carroll’s brain trust, it turns out, was not about invigorating the staff with new blood. It was about getting back to the basics with football lifers.
Retread is not a particularly flattering description, but the word applies to each of these guys. For that matter, the word applies to Carroll, five decades into a career that began in 1974 and seemed to bottom out after his 1999 dismissal as head coach of the New England Patriots, which came five years after he was replaced as head coach of the New York Jets.
Despite his work at USC, where he made the Trojans relevant again, Carroll was not a popular choice to take control of the Seahawks in 2010. Skeptics glanced at his unremarkable record with the Pats and Jets – 33-31 overall, 1-2 in the playoffs – and wondered why owner Paul Allen would put his trust in a twice-released retread.
After four NFC West titles, two NFC championships and a Super Bowl victory, skeptics are wondering why Carroll is surrounding himself with old-school products rather than fresh princes destined to go places.
Why? The better question is why not? Schottenheimer, Solari and Norton aren’t on fast-track paths to fulfill aspirations as head coaches. They know what they are and where they belong. They will provide Carroll with stability as he takes on the task of returning the Hawks to their possession-control roots.
Seattle’s inability to run the past two seasons coincided with the departure of Marshawn Lynch, but the breakdown is more complex and begins with the flawed evaluation of offensive linemen. Draft choices such as Germain Ifedi, a 2016 first-round selection, haven’t delivered. Nor have free agents such as Luke Joeckel, whose contract – $7-million guaranteed for one season – was quite more sturdy than his knees.
The collaboration of Cable as running-game coordinator and Bevell as primary play caller wasn’t always awkward – it’s easy to forget that as recently as 2015, the Hawks ground game remained the best in the business – but a disconnection was evident and restructuring was in order.
Schottenheimer’s status as a household name is inherited – his dad happens to be Marty Schottenheimer, who led the Browns, Chiefs and Chargers to division titles – and while there’s something to be said for blood lines, I would prefer Brian Schottenheimer be known more as a “quirky genius” than “son of an all-time great coach.”
Still, putting Schottenheimer and Solari in specifically defined roles figures to simplify the operation. Two minds sharing one philosophy is not the only way to fix what’s broken, but hey, it’s a start.
Norton needs no introduction. He served as Carroll’s linebackers coach for five seasons between 2010-2014 – the wonder years – with a booming voice that belongs on the motivational-speech circuit. The job title of Seahawks defensive coordinator is a bit misleading – Pete Carroll will continue to coordinate the defense – but Norton has a presence about him that compels athletes to run through walls.
I can’t speculate on the collective impact Schottenheimer, Solari and Norton will have on the 2018 Seahawks, aside from pointing out it was time for a change. Otherwise, all I know about offensive coordinators, for instance, is that they tend to fluctuate within an organization at a rate similar to baseball batting coaches.
I know this, too. In the history of football, no offensive coordinator had a better month than Clark Shaughnessy did in December of 1940. Shaughnessy was head coach at Stanford that season, when his team unveiled a radical concept called the T formation. The idea of a quarterback lining up under center confounded defenses, and propelled Stanford to a Rose Bowl date against Nebraska.
During the lull before New Year’s Day, George Halas consulted Shaughnessy for tips on how to streamline the T formation the Bears had implemented in Chicago. Shaughnessy drew up some misdirection plays – fake hand-offs to the halfback – central to their playbook plan for the NFL Championship game against Washington Redskins.
The Bears won, 73-0.
Three weeks later, Stanford won, 21-13, in the Rose Bowl.
Shaughnessy’s gimmicky offense would outlive Halas. It would outlive every football coach who prowled a sideline in 1940, and all the years since then. Brian Schottenheimer won’t establish that kind of legacy with the Seahawks, and won’t be asked to.
Just figure out how to gain 2 yards on a third-and-1 run off tackle. The coach who does that will be worthy of a statue.