The Seahawks at long last made official the largest staff overhaul of the Pete Carroll era, changing both the offensive and defensive coordinators plus the offensive line coach.
They also stopped letting defensive coordinator Kris Richard dangle very publicly in the wind.
They just fired him.
The team announced Tuesday afternoon via its website that Seattle’s lead defensive coach the past three seasons and secondary coach before that since 2011 “was relieved of his duties” by Pete Carroll--the man who coached Richard in college and brought him into coaching in 2008 as a graduate assistant at USC.
That word came as the Seahawks finally made official the sweeping moves, the biggest overhaul of Carroll’s eight years leading the franchise, that had been known for days: former linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. is returning to Seattle to be its defensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer is the new offensive coordinator to replace fired play caller Darrell Bevell and Mike Solari is the new offensive line coach to replace fired Tom Cable.
Carroll fired Bevell and Cable last week.
The team also announced it has fired linebackers coach and assistant head coach Michael Barrow.
Seahawks veterans, especially linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, are undoubtedly thrilled with the new-old leader of their defense. Carroll passed over Norton and chose Richard instead before the 2015 season to be Seattle’s coordinator. Norton then left to become the Oakland Raiders’ defensive coordinator for 2 1/2 seasons ending in November instead. After Norton left, Wagner and other stayed in touch with Norton throughout seasons.
News broke Monday night Norton was returning to Carroll’s staff with the Seahawks; according to KING-5 television’s Alex Rozier Norton got a three-year deal, one season longer than the 66-year-old Carroll has remaining on his Seattle contract. Monday night, Wright showed online how happy he was.
The 51-year-old Norton is a former All-Pro linebacker and three-time Super Bowl winner in the NFL as a player with Dallas and San Francisco. He was Carroll’s linebackers coach at USC from 2004 until Carroll brought him to Seattle with him to have the same job with the Seahawks. That was from 2010 through the 2014 season. Norton then left following the Seahawks’ loss in Super Bowl 49 to become the Oakland Raiders’ defensive coordinator. He was in that job from 2015 until the Raiders fired him in late November. San Francisco hired him to be an assistant head coach on Jan. 8.
Seahawks veterans respect and admire the fiery coach that helped mold them into a Super Bowl-champion defense in 2012-14, so they are likely all in, to borrow a Carroll phrase, with this hire to replace Richard.
Richard interviewed two weeks ago with the Indianapolis Colts for their head-coaching vacancy, a job that remains open. It became obvious Carroll and the Seahawks were waiting and hoping he got the Colts job so they wouldn’t have to fire him.
This past season, which was without a Seahawks playoff appearance for the first time in six years, Richard’s unit lost five Pro Bowl stars to injury. That included season-ending ones for Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril. There was also talk of Carroll not liking some of the changes Richard made to his defensive system. Some including more blitzing, particularly by Wagner and nickel back Justin Coleman, and more man-to-man rather than zone coverage than in previous seasons.
Solari, who turned 63 Tuesday, was Seattle’s offensive line coach for Mike Holmgren and Jim Mora in 2008 and ‘09. Carroll then arrived in Seattle with a new staff in 2010. He is now is bringing back Solari to replace Cable--and get the running game back as Seattle’s featured approach on offense after failing to do that the last two seasons.
In that time, Solari has been the offensive line coach for the New York Giants, who floundered in 2017 on offense and just about everywhere else while finishing 3-13.
The 53-year-old Cable was a thinker and a tinker with the Seahawks. He believes in the zone-blocking scheme that emphasizes angles and athleticism, timing and subtlety.
The 63-year-old Solari is more no-nonsense and toughness. Go block your guy.
I covered Solari when Mike Holmgren hired him to be the Seahawks’ offensive line coach in 2008, and again in 2009 when Jim Mora retained Solari on his staff the year before Carroll arrived from USC with his new Seattle assistants. Solari is a protege of Bobb McKittrick, the legendary, five-time Super Bowl-winning 49ers line coach. How tough and no-nonsense was McKittrick? In the late 1990s the former Marine coached through liver cancer.
When San Francisco hired Solari in 2010 after he left the Seahawks, he told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat about his 49ers linemen: “They’re gonna play with an attitude.”
Three years later, while still with the Niners on his way to the Super Bowl, Solari said: “We do want to pound you.”
Solari has been known to teach what some have called "power zone blocking." That features more man-up, drive blocking. He’s liked big, road grader-like guards inside, with some zone-blocking principles at center and outside with quicker, athletic tackles.
That would suggest Solari could move Germain Ifedi back to guard. Ifedi spent 2017 flailing and often failing at right tackle as the league’s most penalized player. The Seahawks’ top draft choice in 2016 played right guard as a rookie. Though Ifedi also struggled then, he wasn’t nearly the liability he often was this past season while slow to get out on the league’s fastest, best edge pass rushers.
Solari could also move 2017 rookie guard Ethan Pocic and his 6-foot-6 athleticism and versatility to tackle. Lack of strength was one of Pocic’s issues inside at guard this past season.
Solari’s system in the past has been less about thinking than the typical zone-blocking scheme that Cable and, in 2010 for Carroll, Alex Gibbs employed with the Seahawks. Solari’s been more about driving your man into the ground.
The Seahawks could use more driving guys into the ground.
Seattle’s rise to consecutive Super Bowls in the 2013 and ‘14 seasons and the franchise’s first NFL championship came during a literal four-year run when the Seahawks were among the league’s top five rushing offenses. That streak ended after Marshawn Lynch left following the 2015 season. Seattle has finished 25th and 23rd in rushing in the last two seasons. The run game in 2017 would have been 32nd, dead last, in the NFL if not for the 440 yards quarterback and team rushing leader Russell Wilson gained scrambling away from defenders on called pass plays.
Here are some of the NFL rankings in rushing offense Solari's teams have had since 1997, when he became the offensive line coach of the Kansas City Chiefs and then the 49ers: fifth, fourth, sixth, third, fifth, fourth, ninth, eighth, fourth, third and fourth.
Those last three top-five rushing finishes came from 2012-14 with San Francisco, under Jim Harbaugh. It included the 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl and to the NFC championship loss at Seattle at the end of the ‘12 and ‘13 seasons.
Of the nine offenses Schottenheimer has coordinated, three have finished in the NFL’s top 10 in rushing for a season. Two have finished in the top five, in 2009 and ‘10. His New York Jets played in the AFC championship game each of those seasons, behind Thomas Jones’ 1,400 yards rushing in 2009 and LaDainian Tomlinson’s 914 yards with Shonn Greene’s 766 a year later. Schottenheimer’s offense ran it a whopping 607 times in 2009. The only other NFL team in the last 31 years to run the ball 600 times in a season is the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers (618 rushes).
Carroll would take any of those Solari and Schottenheimer top-10 rushing finishes again for his Seahawks, who ran just 409 times this past season. That was the 12th-fewest rushes in the NFL--and again, many of those were Wilson’s scrambles on pass plays.
“We have a real formula of how we win. And we have been unable the last two years to incorporate a major aspect of that--and it’s running the football the way we want to run it,” Carroll said two weeks ago. “I think you see tremendous examples around the league of teams who have turned their fortunes around, and they have turned it around in a formula that I think should sound familiar to you: running the football, teams playing good defense and doing the kicking-game thing. That is the formula that has proven historically the best in this game.
“We have been committed to that from the start. But, unfortunately, we have not been able to recapture it the way that we have in years past.”
His hiring of Solari and Schottenheimer, now finally official, are attempts to recapture it.