The Seahawks fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr and ‘defensive passing game coordinator’ Andre Curtis on January 18th.
The search to find replacements is still ongoing. Which, I suppose, isn’t a big issue given the NFL coaching cycle has been a lot slower this year.
What we do know is that Clint Hurtt is going to be defensive coordinator, as revealed by the Seattle Times. On the same day, ESPN reported initially that Ed Donatell would be joining the staff in a ‘senior defensive role’.
The Times added that talks were ongoing with Sean Desai, the former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator, to also join in some capacity (presumably Curtis’ old role).
It was a very reasonable approach. Hurtt, Donatell and Desai have a background with Vic Fangio. It made sense for the Seahawks to tap into that coaching tree, given Fangio is arguably the best defensive leader in the business. They were never going to bring him to Seattle to run Pete Carroll’s defense so this was a fair alternative.
Hurtt is well respected in Seattle and would be retained. Donatell could act as a mentor of sorts, while adding his own input. He also has a long-lasting relationship with Carroll. Desai is seen as an up-and-comer who was praised for his work in Chicago (and he’s taken multiple defensive coordinator interviews over the last fortnight).
Now, it appears the plan is falling apart.
Donatell has reportedly emerged as the favourite to be Minnesota’s defensive coordinator. You can’t blame him. He’d get to run a defense for Kevin O’Connell. He’d get to mentor a young Head Coach instead of a young defensive coordinator.
Yet the advantage of having him in Seattle mostly justified the appointment of Hurtt. It was an experienced voice, with a strong history of working with Fangio, coming in to offer input.
If you lose that, what are you left with? Carroll and Hurtt, who were both on the staff last year, merely replacing Ken Norton Jr?
It’s been reported that Karl Scott is set to join Seattle instead as ‘defensive passing game coordinator’. To me, this would be a marked difference between the original combo.
Scott has only one year of experience working in the NFL, coaching defensive backs for Minnesota. That’s it.
His previous experience was all in college. And fair enough, he spent three years coaching DB’s in Alabama. It’s a good gig. Yet we all know Nick Saban has a lot of control over the secondary and it has to be said, the recruiting is so good there — how easy is it to judge a coach for developing Patrick Surtain? The fifth overall player, regardless of position, in the nation when he committed to Alabama?
Ditto Trevon Diggs — who, let’s not forget — went from top-10 pick to round two in the final season of his Alabama career due to a perceived lack of development and some other issues.
Regardless, I can’t say I know anything about Scott. He might be a hotshot coach destined for the top. But the original plan blended youth and experience, a deep connection with the Fangio system and it was easy to understand.
Now, it could be Hurtt, Carroll and Scott. Hurtt had a season with Fangio in Chicago. There’s no ideas coming over from that system, really.
It’s still plausible I suppose that Desai could come to Seattle. It’d be kind of hard to understand why, though. In what role, if defensive coordinator and defensive passing game coordinator are both off the table? And given he’s speaking to multiple teams about being a DC, is it not plausible he could get a better job elsewhere? Perhaps even with Donatell in Minnesota?
It just feels very familiar and consistent with this team.
Carroll has not built a strong staff in years. I do, actually, think his initial flush was good. I think Tom Cable and Darrell Bevell, as disliked as they became, were good for the Seahawks. Bringing back Dan Quinn worked. The support staff was good, with people like Kris Richard and Ken Norton Jr earning promotions either in Seattle or elsewhere.
What have we had since though? The reset coincided with major changes that underwhelmed and under-delivered. Both coordinators appointed in 2018 have since been fired. We’ve seen the return of Carl ‘Tater’ Smith. One of Carroll’s sons remains on the staff. There’s a ‘jobs for the boys’ feel around Seattle.
The jury’s out on Shane Waldron — who was not ‘hand picked’ by Russell Wilson as some like to make out. Rather, he was the one on the list of candidates selected by Carroll that Wilson was most interested in. It wasn’t a strong list.
Now, we have this ongoing situation.
It feels like Carroll’s control is a problem. To be a coordinator on either side of the ball, you have to do what Carroll wants. And with respect, I’m not sure recent history makes that an appealing option.
They can’t offer an up-and-coming offensive mind a chance to run an offense and then grab a Head Coaching gig. Any defensive-minded coach has to run the Carroll defense.
It’s restrictive — and it hasn’t been a pathway to promotion since the Super Bowl years which are nearly a decade ago now.
Look at other teams. The Giants just brought in Brian Daboll to revolutionise their offense. He’s quite content to get a proven, quality DC to run his defense in Wink Martindale. That arrangement would never happen on Carroll’s watch.
It could be that the same people who cooked up the ‘Bear front’ plan, had defensive ends dropping in coverage and didn’t have the first clue on how to maximise the haul spent on Jamal Adams are now going to be putting together the next plan.
That is not inspiring and speaks to a franchise that continues to muddle along, acting — as I’ve said before — as a vanity project for Carroll.
The Seahawks currently feel like they are mostly here for Carroll’s benefit — to end his career doing things his way, rather than plotting a proper pathway towards success. The place has a stale feel, like it isn’t really going anywhere — with no real accountability from the top and a fan-base offering very little pressure externally.
It might actually be best for Seattle to see what they can get for Russell Wilson from a team like Washington and embrace a bigger rebuild. I don’t agree but some would make that case. It’ll never be considered though because Carroll, aged 70, needs to win now. So he’s going to do what’s best for him.
They need to make some bold moves in free agency and therefore take some difficult decisions on who to keep (Bobby Wagner?) or retain. Carroll insists they’re close and that most of their cap space will be taken up ‘keeping the band together’. Yet this roster does not feel remotely close to contending, despite Carroll’s claims that they are.
You could make a big case that Seattle would be best served going all-in to get the best coordinators and staff money can buy with Carroll becoming more of a figure-head leader. No chance though. Because Carroll has to be in control of everything.
It would probably be better for Seattle, having invested so much in Wilson, to actually create an environment where he’s involved in personnel and philosophy. Joe Burrow was only talking last week about the way he’s afforded a lot of input. We all know Mahomes gets the same treatment. Wilson, seemingly, does not — because Carroll’s in charge and he doesn’t want that.
This franchise might as well be called the ‘Seattle Carroll’s’.
As we saw this off-season, it took two wins against a Detroit Lions team (fielding their backup quarterback) and a slumping Arizona (which finished the season on a 1-5 run, including a humbling and emphatic loss to the aforementioned Lions) to move on from any talk of big changes being needed. That week-16 loss to Chicago (with their third string QB starting) and a losing record are a distant memory.
The outcome of the end-of-season meeting, which many have rushed to say was run-of-the-mill, was the Norton firing.
A scapegoat, perhaps? K.J. Wright certainly thought so.
And now the attempt to replace him is like a Wilson scramble on third down. This way, that way, errrr — hope for the best.
There’s still time for this team to put things right. They could even do what they should’ve done all along and just ask Fangio to sign a blank cheque and come in to run his system. Or they could just make Donatell the DC after all and work out a compromise with Hurtt.
I’ve been critical in this article but I’ll be the first to hold my hands up if they pull off a great plan after all.
Yet the early signs of this defensive staff search are a continuing trend of a franchise that is all at sea. A bit of a mess. That’s not a good sign ahead of a crucial free agency period where expectations are this team will do things differently (and better) than in the past, while also managing further potential drama surrounding the future of the quarterback.
If you missed my 5000-word review of the Russell Wilson situation yesterday, check it out here.
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