Change usually comes when a person decides something new is necessary or desired. What has happened to the Seahawks in the past week is a less common occurrence. Pete Carroll wiped the slate clean with his coaching staff in order amplify his voice, his philosophy, his instincts. Carroll is the oldest coach in the NFL, and what he wants is less about seeking some new formula that leads to success, but a return to the one he knows will work. Some of us were hoping for new ideas to refresh this team, especially on offense. Carroll was as well, but his selections at offensive and defensive coordinator revealed his larger priority was achieving solidarity in the ranks and consistency of message. Seattle may ultimately need to more significantly update their philosophy, but Carroll will not be the coach to do it. What the Seahawks are left with is a coaching staff that will be unified and energized about taking the Seahawks back to what they know wins championships instead of forward to something less proven.
Out with Darrell Bevell, in with Brian Schottenheimer
This was clearly a move meant to accelerate my repetitive stress injuries. The eight extra letters in our new coordinators last name is likely to cost me at least 10,000 extra keystrokes per year. I’ll be sure to send the medical bills to Paul Allen. I plan to break down Brian Schottenheimer more deeply in the coming days and weeks, but I have learned enough to get a decent picture of the guy taking over for Darrell Bevell, and where the two may differ.
Bevell has always been a competent and above average coordinator. Schottenheimer has not.
Bevell has had success with different types of quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs. Schottenheimer’s greatest claim to fame may have been reducing the damage done by rookie and second year quarterback Mark Sanchez to allow the Jets to reach the AFC Conference Championship in back-to-back years. Look, though, at the talent disparity they dealt with.
Bevell has had at least one Pro Bowl player every season he has been an OC except his first year, and has had two Pro Bowl players in five of his 12 seasons. Schottenheimer has had just two Pro Bowl players total, and in only one season. Bevell has had two All-Pro running backs, and enjoyed a Pro Bowl back in 8 of his 12 seasons. There was some hidden talent that does not show up on the table above where Sidney Rice was injured for part of the season and did not play enough to rank first or second in targets. Similarly, the Seahawks had Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin in 2011, even if Ben Obamanu was second in targets that season. Baldwin led the NFL in touchdowns in 2015 despite not making the Pro Bowl or the All-Pro team. The bottom line is that Bevell had an embarrassment of riches.
Schottenheimer, on the other hand, was dealing with bargain basement parts. Thomas Jones may have been the best weapon of his career. Thomas Jones. The best receiver he has had was arguably Kenny Britt. His best quarterback was a 39-year-old Brett Favre who threw 22 TDs and 22 INTs the year he made the Pro Bowl for Schottenheimer. It is worth noting that Favre had 33 TDs and 7 INT the next season in Minnesota under Bevell. Was that the playcaller or trading out Jones for Adrian Peterson and Laveranues Coles/Jerricho Cotchery out for Rice and Harvin?
One has to assume the offensive coordinator had some say in offensive personnel decisions made during his tenure. Would the Jets pick Sanchez without Schottenheimer giving a thumbs up? Did he demand better parts or did he think he could make Cotchery a star? That will be something to monitor in the coming years as Schottenheimer takes over. He won’t have a Tom Cable-sized influence on personnel, but he will have some.
Even if the Seahawks add nothing to their offense, which we know they will, Schottenheimer will inherit the most talented roster of his career. Wilson is by far the best quarterback he has had and Baldwin is easily the best receiver. It is too early to tell, but Chris Carson may wind up being the best running back as well. The bar is pretty low.
All indications are that Schottenheimer is a grinder. He inherited his football philosophy from his Hall of Fame father. His offenses tend to be more conservative, but have been known to be complex. Rex Ryan was on 710 ESPN yesterday being interviewed about what Schottenheimer was like as Ryan’s OC back in New York. The one element of constructive criticism he had was that Schottenheimer needed to remember that it matters more what the players know than what he knows. He went on to explain that Schottenheimer is very smart and capable of envisioning all the checks at the line and the adjustments based on coverages, but if his players cannot keep up, it doesn’t really matter.
The implication there is that Schottenheimer is smart and prepared (something every story and interview I have read about him backs up), but that he has trouble transferring his knowledge to his players, and may also have a blind spot about that weakness. The positive spin would be that he simply has not had the right players to carry out his smart plans. He was the quarterbacks coach back in San Diego when they had Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. Both of those players credit Schottenheimer for helping them build their careers.
Austin Davis, the backup for the Seahawks last year and emergency starter for the Rams back when Schottenheimer was OC there, was interviewed yesterday as well and said he learned almost everything he knows about quarterbacking in the NFL from Schottenheimer in those early years. That was an interesting comment, both in that is said something about Schottenheimer and also about Bevell and former Seahawks QB coach Carl Smith.
I have a hard time believing Schottenheimer was going to be a hot commodity, which made it a little frustrating that the Seahawks appeared to rush to hire him. The best explanation involves a few different variables. First, Seattle wanted their OC to be able to assemble his staff, including the offensive line coach, and a lot of quality names were getting snatched up. One of the less understood aspects of the great parity game the NFL plays is that being eliminated from the playoffs gives teams a chance to snag the best available coaches. Some teams wait it out for good teams to finish their run, like Atlanta did with Dan Quinn or others are doing with the Patriots staff this year, but those teams generally have more trouble getting their top choices for assistants.
Schottenheimer has history with Mike Solari, the Seahawks new line coach. It is entirely possible that the Seahawks knew Solari was not going to last if they tried to wait for someone like John DeFelippo from Philadelphia. That brings us to the second likely reason the team made what appeared to be a hasty decision at OC, which is they probably heard through backchannels that either DeFelippo was not interested in the role, was going to get another job, or wanted more control than what Carroll was comfortable providing.
Both reasons add up to the team believing their options were only going to get worse, not better, by waiting. Schottenheimer clearly believes in balanced offenses, has proven a willingness to tailor his plans to meet his head coaches philosophy, and is hungry to prove he is more than what his track record has indicated thus far.
I was concerned that Schottenheimer would be an unimaginative playcaller, and therefore less capable of designing an offense that built on the unique strengths of Wilson. I’ve read enough now to feel less concerned about that. Here is one passage from an old New York Times article that I found telling:
Even if their studio-size quarterback quarters were cramped. Brees remembered the way Schottenheimer packed the place with grease boards that he filled with an opponent’s base fronts and pressure schemes, with tendencies and percentages. Brees said those boards were like Schottenheimer’s babies, and he spent three days each week perfecting them.
Some things never change. Because when the Jets’ offensive players talk about Schottenheimer, they echo the concepts Brees did, like creativity and innovation. Always, though, they start with Schottenheimer’s board.
Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said he could picture Schottenheimer in his office on random Tuesdays, a mad scientist drawing schemes with a diabolical laugh. At heart, Cotchery said, Schottenheimer remains a sandlot coordinator, diagramming plays in dirt, eschewing more traditional routes for the “when you hit the tree, turn right” variety.
“Every Wednesday, I’m anxious to see what he comes up with,” Cotchery said. “He definitely will draw something up in the sand for you.”
There are also hints that Schottenheimer is known to expect a lot of his quarterbacks and holds them to a high standard. A standard that almost none of them have been able to achieve. Will he be able to get more out of Wilson than Bevell and Smith did? The answer to that question will likely determine his success in Seattle.
Despite success, there was always some tension and awkwardness in the way Carroll set up Bevell and Tom Cable to function. Bevell often did not even see the run plays until his players did during the week. There would be a tug-of-war at times on game day about play calling between Cable, Bevell, and even Carroll. One of the more significant changes will be simply consolidating gameplanning into one person’s hands. There is real potential for improvement just by having one person think through how he wants to attack a given defense.
One specific example of a change we may see is more quick passing and screen plays. Seattle rarely turned to halfback screen passes under Bevell for whatever reason. Davis mentioned in his radio interview that Schottenheimer utilized them a lot in St. Louis, and that he thought the Seahawks were missing that “changeup” element to their game that could gain a few yards when the offense was otherwise stalling. Amen to that.
We will dive more into Solari’s hiring later, but he is an accomplished offensive line coach. Seattle could have done much worse in that department. We have yet to hear who will replace Smith as QB coach, but almost any name will be an improvement.
The most optimistic assessment of the changes on the offensive side of the ball come down to these things:
Carroll is dead set on reclaiming the team’s identity as a balanced team that can run the ball and has an OC committed to that goal
The subtraction of Cable from the staff will have a significant and positive impact to personnel and allow for new schemes that could be more successful
Schottenheimer is smart and hungry and simply has lacked the talent to execute his plans which allowed the Seahawks to “buy low” on a high quality coach
A heavier hand and more in-depth preparation will unlock another level of growth from Wilson and his teammates
Schottenheimer is more of an innovator than Bevell, and defenses will get a less predictable Seattle offense
None of these things are particularly far-fetched. There is reason for some optimism here.
Ken Norton Jr. replaces Kris Richard
Many people were calling for Ken Norton Jr. to replace Dan Quinn when he left for Atlanta. I was against it then, and was confident it would not happen because Norton simply is not a strategist or chess player when it comes to calling plays. His strength is as a motivator and communicator. Richard was the obvious choice because he was dedicated to preparation and paid a lot of attention to detail. What Richard lacked was experience and an identity. It turns out he also did not have what it takes to adjust his defense or properly gameplan.
Most folks call out Richard Sherman for his antics in 2016 that led to blowups on the sideline but forget the root cause. Sherman was furious because Richard left a call in the game plan that Sherman was certain would cause confusion and problems on the field. It did. That does not excuse Sherman’s behavior, but it was just one example of Richard being out over his skis as a coordinator.
There were rumors that he and Carroll did not always see eye-to-eye either. It would have been ideal for the Seahawks to get Gus Bradley back in the saddle, but he chose to stay down in San Diego. Carroll appears to have retreated to Norton who he knows without a doubt will reflect his wishes in terms of game planning and schemes.
The truth is this has always been Carroll’s defense. He is the Hall of Fame defensive mind on staff. My preference, and clearly Seattle’s as well, was to have someone in the DC role who could grow into a potential head coach of the future once Carroll moves on. Norton is not that guy. If the fallback is that Carroll will be more involved in the defense than he has in the past few years, than so be it. There are far worse fates.
There is a subtle message with Norton’s ascension as well. The former linebacker and linebacker’s coach joins a team that has seen the linebacking crew take more of the center stage for leadership and performance on the defense. Bobby Wagner was in the discussion for defensive player of the year. K.J. Wright proved vital to the team’s performance. Both have publicly defended Norton in the past and celebrated his return. With guys like Earl Thomas, Sherman, and Chancellor having uncertain futures, we could see the defense more clearly revolve around the linebacking corps who will be in lockstep with Norton.
Norton brings fun and energy to any team he works for. That has value by itself, especially for a team with veterans who do not always have the same enthusiasm they once did.
Carroll bets on himself
There had been rumors that Carroll was going to retire after this past season. He adamantly denied those, and his actions here appear to indicate that he wants the next few seasons of his career to reflect his philosophy and values without any noise in the signal. He is the spider plucking each thread to check the structural integrity of his web. He knows that if everything is as he designed, it will halt invaders and leave them with little hope of survival. Spiders have been spinning the same web for a millenia because it works. New and innovative sounds great until you go hungry. Carroll is weaving the web he knows. Opponents beware.