Success makes staff attrition inevitable.
Sometimes, it’s one of the underappreciated factors in an NFL team’s slide. Sometimes, the scheme and principles remain the same no matter who’s running the meetings.
Given the Seattle Seahawks’ talent and momentum, I’d tend to believe the second scenario will be the case in 2015.
For coach Pete Carroll and his team, it’s a fairly new experience.
They’ve been lucky during this recent string of success, having lost only defensive coordinator Gus Bradley after the 2012 season to Jacksonville as head coach.
Bigger changes have struck since the loss in Super Bowl 49, though, as defensive coordinator Dan Quinn took over the Atlanta Falcons, and linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. left for the defensive coordinator’s job with Oakland.
Quinn directed a defense that led the league in scoring and total defense the past two seasons. And Norton has been a voice of toughness and energy for the team during practices.
You can’t lose coaches like that and not feel the difference.
But a couple factors seem to minimize the impact as you look at the Seahawks moving forward.
One, Carroll is the head coach and in charge of so many aspects of the team management that he has to be spread pretty thin.
However, he majored in defense for so many years, it’s logical to assume he has played a role in the structuring and operation of a Seahawks defense that has become one of the league’s historically elite.
His guiding hand will continue to be felt.
Two, with the core of young defensive veterans intact, this is probably as close to a push-button operation as you could find in the NFL.
Quinn, and Bradley before him, were sharp at shaping the schemes to suit their talent. Both communicated well with the players, and managed to marshal the direction of a group of high-spirited competitors.
That could be a challenge. And it’s one that falls to a young, first-time coordinator in Kris Richard, who was elevated from his position as defensive backs coach.
Richard played for Carroll at USC, and had a five-season career in the NFL, the first three with the Seahawks. But Carroll said late in the season that Richard has exceeded expectations of an assistant in his development of the star-studded Seattle secondary — the “Legion of Boom.”
To evaluate Richard, Carroll said, one need only look at “the way these guys have achieved, the camaraderie that they have, the high level of play that they’ve maintained for a long time, the stats and all that kind of stuff.”
Apparently, one of Richard’s most valuable skills is keeping the egos from overtaking the noted players.
“He knows how to bring us right back to earth,” All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said recently. “I think his growth with us through that process to where we are now is the reason we respect him so much. … He kind of built the giant that we are now with discipline, attention to detail, always being on it, and always keeping us humble and down to earth.”
Richard’s fellow secondary assistant, Rocky Seto, was bumped up to assistant head coach/defense.
Carroll needed two guys to replace Norton, apparently, hiring University of Miami assistant Michael Barrow, and bringing back former Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu as his assistant.
Barrow spent 13 seasons in the NFL, and Tatupu had six seasons with the Hawks before injuries shortened his career.
Tatupu had such an understanding of defense when he got into the league — he spent two years at USC under Carroll and Trojans linebackers coach Norton — that he stepped in as a rookie and was calling the plays and running the unit from the first day. His savvy helped earn him Pro Bowl recognition his first three seasons.
So, most of the moves remain in-house, but also, literally, in-family, as Carroll hired his eldest son, Brennan, as an assistant offensive line coach.
Looking back, we could see the effects of the skimming off of prime assistants over the career of Mike Holmgren, who, over time, saw nine assistants become NFL head coaches. Perhaps some of that contributed to problems in his latter years in Seattle.
The losses of Quinn and Norton are obvious and impactful but not yet dire.
Richard has been touted as a rising young star. Tatupu and Barrow will be interesting in their handling of the linebackers. They will surely look the part.
And while a number of star defenders likely will be spending the offseason rehabbing, if the bulk can return to full health by the start of next season, the defense should be able to dominate no matter who’s shaping the game plan.