When news broke earlier this week that Sherman Smith would not return next season as the Seahawks’ running backs coach, it wasn’t clear whose decision that was. Smith made it known during an interview with “Brock and Salk” Friday morning that it wasn’t his, at least not entirely.
Smith, 62, said he had been considering retirement and that he told the team’s running backs at the end of the season that he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. When he met with coach Pete Carroll three days after Seattle’s playoff loss in Atlanta, Smith said, Carroll told him he wanted to make a change. Smith said Carroll offered him a chance to remain on the staff, either in a different capacity or to stay with the running backs with the understanding that Chad Morton – who was eventually promoted as his replacement – would take on a larger role after serving as the assistant coach at that position the last two seasons.
After mulling it over, Smith said, he told Carroll a few weeks later that he didn’t want to do that.
Going into their first meeting on Jan. 17, Smith said he was “just praying, God, make it clear to me what I need to do.”
“And so we went into the meeting and Pete just started talking about he thought it was time to make a change,” Smith said. “It surprised me because I thought I would be the one more or less leading the conversation and either saying, ‘Well, I haven’t decided to retire yet’ or ‘I’m going to coach another year,’ but I didn’t think it would be him saying, ‘I want to make a change,’ because with that you take with that, evidently you’re not happy with the job I’m doing. But that’s not what he was saying. He just said, ‘I felt I think it’s time just to make a change.'”
That change means a promotion for Morton, 39, a former running back and kick returner who played at USC (before Carroll) and spent seven seasons in the NFL. He joined Seattle’s staff in 2014 as an assistant special-teams coach and began working with running backs the next season.
“Chad does a great job,” Smith said. “When Chad and I started working together a couple years ago, I told him my goal was to prepare you to be the best running backs coach in the NFL and the one to be the next running backs coach for the Seahawks, if that’s what he wanted. So in a sense the goal was attained.”
Smith’s departure is one of three changes so far this offseason to Seattle’s coaching staff. Assistant head coach Rocky Seto left to become a minister while former Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu apparently left on his own as well after working with that position group the last two seasons.
In describing Morton, Smith revealed Carroll’s reason for wanting a change in that role.
“Chad has great energy,” Smith said. “I thought we were a great combination. We both brought different types of energy to the group. Chad was, he was the guy that would run around and he brought that physical energy and the things he did, and I brought a different type of energy, and so I thought we were fine. I think Coach just wants more of that run-around type of energy that I can’t give. Heck, I’m 62 years old. I don’t run around like I did when I was 32. I think that was important to him and so that’s where he went. I may not like it, but that’s his decision and I’m fine with it.”
Smith’s departure from the Seahawks will presumably mean the end of his 31-year career in the NFL as a player then a coach. He was an original Seahawk, a second-round pick in the team’s inaugural 1976 season, and led the team in rushing in each of his first four seasons. He spent eight of his nine years as a player with the Seahawks and joined the Seahawks’ staff in 2010, the year Carroll arrived.
Smith’s seventh and final season as Seattle’s running backs coach may have been the most trying given how unstable and relatively unproductive that position was. It was perhaps best illustrated by how Christine Michael finished the year as the Seahawks’ leading rusher – with only 469 yards – despite being waived in November. Michael was one of nine different tailbacks who carried the ball for the Seahawks in 2016. Seattle used three different fullbacks not counting tight end Luke Willson, who manned the job for a short time.
Smith said the revolving door in Seattle’s backfield was unlike anything he’d ever seen.
“It was unusual just with the injury situation and just bringing guys in and out. I really commend those guys for how they came in, every guy came in there with the idea of preparing themselves to play on Sunday,” he said. “We’d get them on Tuesday or Wednesday and know that they had to get ready to line up and play on Sunday. So I just really thank those guys for how hard they worked, each and every one of them, how hard they worked to prepare themselves to go out there and to play.”
Such was life for the Seahawks in their first year without Marshawn Lynch, who had been a paragon of availability up until his injury-filled final season with Seattle in 2015.
Asked jokingly if he’ll go to work with Lynch on his Beast Mode clothing line now that he’s no longer with the Seahawks, Smith said, “Marshawn’s always promised me a job. He always told me that anytime I need some work he’ll have something for me. But that’s my guy.” And Smith also revealed that he would have retired last season along with Lynch had Lynch not convinced him to return for another year.
“I had told Marshawn, when he retired, I was going to retire, and that was the truth. I said, ‘When you’re through, I’m through,'” Smith recalled. “So when he retired in 2015, he said something to me. He said, ‘I’d like to see you come back and coach one more year to coach Thomas Rawls.’ I said, ‘Man, I love Thomas Rawls. Man, that would be fun to do.’
“I talk to Marshawn. We’ve been playing phone tag here the last couple of days, but I love the guy. He’s one of my favorite guys, man, and he’s a fun guy and he looks like he’s enjoying retirement. That’s for sure.”