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On Tuesday, the Tom Cable era came to a long overdue end. Yesterday, Seahawks fans got a glimpse of the start of the next era.

 

The reports have since been confirmed by the team, officially making Mike Solari the offensive line coach of the Seahawks for the second time. Solari came to Seattle 10 years ago with an established resume, coaching offensive line in college starting in 1980 and then breaking into the NFL in 1986 with the Phoenix Cardinals in the same role. Solari would eventually catch on as a tight ends coach with San Francisco from 1992 to 1996. During that time Solari would pick up a Super Bowl ring and, more importantly to us, coach alongside Pete Carroll*.

Solari would leave San Francisco in 1997 to join Marty Schottenheimer in Kansas City. This is where Solari would make a name for himself. The Chiefs fielded dominant offenses during Solari’s 10 years with the team, frequently featuring an extremely successful rushing attack.

If you tally those numbers up, with Solari coaching the offensive line the Chiefs put together:

  • 5 top five rushing offenses by total yards
  • 6 top five rushing offenses by DVOA
  • 4 top five passing offenses by ANY/A
  • 6 top five passing offenses

Most impressively, the Chiefs were number 1 in rushing DVOA for 4 straight years. To give that some context, from 2012 to 2015 Seattle ranked 1st, 7th, 1st, and 3rd in rushing DVOA. It was an incredible run of dominance that Solari certainly deserves credit for. The question is, how much?

There are a few things to note about the Chiefs during Solari’s time with the team.  First is the talent along the offensive line, a unit that included Willie Roaf, Will Shields, and Brian Waters. Roaf, the 8th overall pick of the 1993 draft, was an 11 time Pro Bowler and 3 time All Pro. 8 of those Pro Bowls and 1 All Pro were with Solari, but Roaf had gone to 3 Pro Bowls and been named an All Pro twice before Solari had joined the team. Similarly, Shields would go to 8 Pro Bowls and be named All Pro twice, but had gone to back to back Pro Bowls before Solari. Considering their established success, it’s hard to credit Solari too much for their success.

Where Solari likely does deserve credit is with Brian Waters. Waters was an undrafted free agent in 1999 who didn’t make it out of training camp with the Dallas Cowboys. Kansas City signed him the next season and, under Solari’s tutelage, Waters would go on to 6 Pro Bowls and 2 All Pro awards.

Another thing to note is the additions the team made in 2001. Dick Vermeil joined the team that year, having previously won a Super Bowl with the Greatest Show On Turf in St Louis. Vermeil brought Trent Green with him, who had originally been the QB for those Rams teams before an injury made way for Kurt Warner. 2001 was also Priest Holmes’ first year in Kansas City, having left Baltimore averaging 4.7 yards per carry and with a 1,000 yard season under his belt. It was with this influx of talent that Kansas City jumped from a good offense to a great offense.

Starting in 2005, the core of that great Chiefs offense began to turn over. Priest Holmes broke down in 2005 and gave way to Larry Johnson, who would rush for over 1,700 yards in both 2005 and 2006. Willie Roaf retired in 2005, followed by Dick Vermeil retiring in 2006. Vermeil was replaced by Herm Edwards, who promoted Solari to offensive coordinator after Al Saunders left to take the offensive coordinator job in Washington. And then in week 1 of the 2006 seasons, Trent Green suffered a concussion forcing Damon Huard into the starting QB role for the next 9 games. Despite the turnover, Kansas City was a borderline top 10 offense with Solari calling plays.

Kansas City suffered further loses in 2007, losing Will Shields to retirement and both Larry Johnson and Damon Huard to injury. The Chiefs were unable to replace either Johnson or Huard, and went 0-6 with Brodie Croyle at QB. The Chiefs would win just 4 games and, with one of the worst offenses in the league, Solari was fired.

Solari would be hired by Mike Holmgren in Seattle but, unfortunately for him, Seattle in 2008 was a mirror of Kansas City in 2007. 2008 was the first post-Shaun Alexander season, with the team turning over the starting running back job to Julius Jones. It was also Walter Jones’ final season before retirement, and Jones would miss the final four games with an injury. Matt Hasselbeck succumbed to injury twice in 2008, missing 5 games early in the season and then missing the final four games after suffering a second injury.

Things managed to only get worse for Solari in 2009, as he was retained in the transition from Mike Holmgren to Jim Mora Jr. Seahawks fans are well aware of the dysfunction under Mora, so I won’t belabor the point. Mora would only last the one year, being replaced by Pete Carroll in 2010. Pete reportedly wanted to retain Solari as offensive line coach, but he chose to leave for the same position with San Francisco. And after his first two seasons in Seattle, who can blame him?

Solari’s time in San Francisco was similar to his time in Kansas City. Working under a successful offensive coach, Solari was a part of building an offense that was highly successful for a few years (if not nearly as successful as the 01-04 Chiefs). Solari would inherit Frank Gore, Joe Staley, and Alex Smith (largely considered a bust at this point in his career). In his first year with the team, the Niners would draft Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati. While the offense would make a leap in the first two years under the new coaching staff, it wasn’t until the addition of Colin Kaepernick that they became one of the best offenses in the league. Along with Kaepernick came the rise of the read option, which the team incorporated with great success.

After Harbaugh’s falling out with the Niners front office and ownership, Solari spent a year in Green Bay as an assistant offensive line coach. This isn’t especially noteworthy, but there are worse places to spend a year in exile than hanging out with Aaron Rodgers.

The next stop for Mike Solari was New York, resuming his offensive line coach role. Solari would again work under an offensive head coach, and he inherited Rashad Jennings at running back and both Justin Pugh (1st round pick in 2013) and Weston Richburg (2nd round pick in 2014) and Ereck Flowers (9th overall pick in 2015) on the offensive line. Despite the draft capital spent along the line, none of the players mentioned would see considerable development and the offense would rank near the bottom of the league in both seasons with Solari. While discouraging, it’s worth noting that the Giants hadn’t ranked in the top 20 in rushing DVOA since 2012 and had only ranked in the top half of passing DVOA once during that same time. It’s also hard to blame Solari for the dysfunction around Ben McAdoo that ultimately tanked the Giants 2017 season.

Solari’s history is long and there is a huge amount of variation in the effectiveness of the offenses he’s been a part of. When he was put into bad situations, the teams were bad, and when he was put into good situations, the team was good. It’d hard to know exactly how much to credit or blame him for any of those teams, but at the very least we can say that Solari has been a part of some truly great teams. You can also say he hasn’t been able to overcome adversity, but as a position coach it’s probably not reasonable to expect that he would.

Solari’s resume well covered, lets talk a little about scheme. Solari uses a hybrid scheme and is capable of coaching lots of different looks. This was most on display in San Francisco with Jim Harbaugh, who used a wide variety of run blocking assignments to keep teams off kilter. That stemmed more from Harbaugh than Solari, though. It’s likely Seattle will continue to be primarily a zone blocking team, but with more wrinkles than we saw under Cable.

Against Seattle, the Giants did exactly that. New York paired inside zone looks with various counters that used more power blocking techniques, along with quite a bit of motion.

Here is a straight inside zone run that probably looks pretty familiar to what Seattle has ran.

 

And here is inside zone again out of a different personnel package.

 

But New York also used misdirection and man blocking to mix it up.

And would pulled the guard on a counter a few times.

None of this is groundbreaking stuff, but Solari brings a coaching background that should allow Seattle to build in some additional wrinkles to help keep defenses off balance.
 

*Pete was defensive coordinator from 1994 to 1996 where he coached another returning Seahawks coach, Ken Norton Jr. Coaching staffs are a flat circle.

10 Responses

  1. GO HAWKS

    Thanks Brian. Solid analysis, as usual. As part of a much longer comment (sorry) left after Brian’s previous article, I mentioned that Solari “spent his last two years as the line coach for the New York Giants, whose O-line may have been an even bigger dumpster fire than our own. Eli was constantly under pressure and they couldn’t mount a rushing attack. Does that sound familiar to anyone???”

    I’m going to keep my optimism in check until I see some results, but Brian does make the valid point that coaches tend to be about as good as the caliber of players they’re given to work with. I would argue that the great coaches can elevate the play of otherwise pedestrian players. Look what Sean McVay was able to do in one year with, outside of a couple of key additions, the lackluster team he inherited from Jeff Fisher. Look at what Belichick’s system produces year after year, regardless of who goes down. Coaches make a huge difference, and I wonder whether we were a bit hasty in making some comfort and familiarity selections rather than holding out for something a little more proven and high profile, in all departments.

    I love having Ken Norton Jr. back on staff, for example, but unless Pete is going to assume a larger role in scheming again, I don’t think he’s quite the tactician we need to coordinate the entire defense (I agree with Brian there). On the O-line I think one major benefit will be the simple fact that most of these guys had already learned what Tom Cable had to teach them, and had progressed about as much as they were going to under him. Solari will have new insights and experience to impart, which I think will make us better, along with hopefully much better assessment of linemen in the draft (it couldn’t get much worse).

    As for our new offensive coordinator, I think a hibernating squirrel would have been an improvement. The play calling has been maddening for years, and I have no idea why it took Pete this long to finally do something about it. Wilson liked Bevell, but he’s Mary Poppins. He likes everyone. I think RW will benefit from the new pearls of wisdom Schottenheimer can teach him, and I think some new perspectives from a different QB coach will also be a plus. Let’s just hope it’s not another of Pete’s old cronies from his USC days, like previous guy.

    When you look at the strides guys like Wentz and Goff made when they were surrounded with great QB coaches, I think we can hope for some improvement from Wilson as well. I know to say that is sacrilege to some around here, but I think Wilson took a step back this year. I’m a huge fan of Wilson, who is the best this franchise has ever had, but like the rest of us, he has definite flaws. I know many in the media liked him as a potential MVP candidate because of the percentage of offense he accounted for, but we were so inept in our rushing attack, it felt like that would be an award by default.

    His whirling dervish antics are fun once in a while when he makes a playground play for the highlight reel, but far more often they simply cause me to hang my head. And before all of his defenders come out of the woodwork to explain that he had to run for his life behind such a crappy O-line (a point I agree with 100%), let me say that I saw a regression this year in his accuracy and decision making. Our slow starts are largely attributable to him. He plays poorly for most of the first half, and that puts us behind the eight ball. There are errant passes (usually overthrowing guys) and a lot of double and triple clutching. He also vacates the pocket early in many cases not just because he’s gun-shy (who could blame him for that), but because I think his vision is obstructed. I frequently see receivers gaining separation downfield who Wilson doesn’t realize are open. More to the point, he needs to learn to throw them open more often. He held onto the ball far too long this year, even on the rare occasions he had a clean pocket. Good coaching can work to improve these deficits (e.g. more screen passes please), and I’m hoping some coaching changes will breathe some fresh air into our stagnant offense, as will a credible running game. It all starts in the trenches though. If we can’t improve along the line, this is all just mindless conjecture.

    Reply
    • GO HAWKS

      Correction: NATHAN deserves credit for this article (sorry, my bad). I still had some of the points in mind Brian had made in his last article (yesterday) and assumed this was the follow up he had mentioned.

      Reply
    • Kurt Z

      RW has regressed to the point where I can say out loud that I think he is the worst QB in the division… from a NFL pro QB’s job description.

      We have gotten addicted to RW’s late game sandlot heroics, as has RW but it is not sustainable. Fran Tarkenton didn’t last very long doing his bullshit for the Vikings. All you need is one big hit to the chin…. oh wait never mind.
      RW’s dentist fixed his jaw and he’s fine….:(

      His double, triple pumps is in part because of early-game indecisiveness, not taking what the defense is giving him, while holding out for that big play, but it also a sign of his decreasing arm strength or the damage to his AC joint. His baseball windup where he drops his forearm below his elbow is the over-compensation. it unfortunately tips the defense too.

      Everyone keeps telling me that as long as we have RW, we will always be in games, have a chance to win.

      So what happened in the Rams game? At home we came out mediocre and conservative and we were OUT of the game.

      What happened in the Atlanta game. We got toyed with, in a game that was basically over in the first quarter.

      Lack of talent from the draft, salary cap squeeze, old coaches (Solari) with no new ideas, a second place schedule, a strong division all conspire to make us 5-11.

      Reply
    • Hawkman

      What was clearly obvious from the videos is NY had some major weaknesses in personnel on The O-line . Especially the LG he looked Horrible in every video, Kind of reminded me of Ifedi ! Looked Lost constantly .

      Reply
  2. Rowdy Yates

    I wish the Hawks would create a NEW coaching position. Call it what they will, but it would boil down to an IN-GAME COACH to
    whisper/holler/yodel wisdom in Pete’s ear at critical moments in a game. Especially, when Pete goes “Hormonal.” (Those teen years are a bee-yotch).

    For Example: “Take the field goal here, Pete, & forget the fake. ”
    Or “A slant over the middle from the one yard line? You freakin’ kiddin’ me? That’s Brandon Browner lined up over there. He knows all our formations, yo.”

    Reply
    • GO HAWKS

      If you need a new IN-GAME coach, you need a new coach, which is really what all this internal house cleaning is really pointing to anyway.

      Every game starts out with a dud, no matter how long we have to prepare. And while other teams make critical adjustments at halftime, we do nothing. Nothing that works anyway. I have no idea what is said or done behind closed doors. I only know there is absolutely no evidence of improvement, alteration, a credible learning curve, anything that would resemble progress where coaching is concerned, on the actual field of play. The only improvement is that Wilson plays better in the second half (because the caffeine finally kicks in?) after typically wasting at least a solid half with inaccurate throws, indecision, desperate scrambles which result in throwing it out of bounds etc. He plays with no sense of urgency until his team is down. And that’s definitely on him, but it’s more about the lousy coaching that fosters it.

      Reply
  3. Hawkman

    Cable had to go , whether or not Solari is the answer we will have to wait and see. Cable had to much input on talent ( or lack there of) with Seattle and the proof is in the pudding ! Again I will state Seattle can be right back in the mix next year with a few changes . First off Get a Quality FA Guard and then draft a couple Quality ones . Then hope Fant or Pocic can be the answer at RT. This is the biggest need- Fix The O-line personnel !!! Then add Quality depth ( or a starter ?) on the D line , and Draft a LB or two . Bring back everyone in the Defensive backfield ( assuming Kam is gone ) but Jeramy Lane ! On O get rid of Graham , so add a TE and bring in ( or back ) Kasen Williams . What he showed in preseason can’t be taught , you either have it or you don’t !!!

    Reply
    • GO HAWKS

      Not retaining Kasen Williams in the first place was only one of many personnel blunders they’ve made in the past few years. On a weak O-line, getting rid of your one competent anchor (Max Unger) for a flashy tight end that doesn’t fit your system (he either can’t or won’t block) – and who our wunderkind play caller couldn’t figure out how to incorporate into our system effectively – was monumentally stupid, not to mention a big waste of precious cap space. I love Jimmy Graham (he’s a beast), but he doesn’t fit our system. You needed someone in the mold of Zach Miller (or you could have just kept him – duh). But this is also the crew that thought Eddie Lacy was a good idea. 🙁

      Reply
      • Hawkster

        The Zach Miller who played for the Seahawks retired due to injury after the 2014 season.

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