Is it a sure thing the Seahawks move on from Ken Norton Jr. after 2020?
Heading into Week 10’s divisional matchup with the Los Angeles Rams, the Seahawks are on pace to lead the NFL in yards allowed in 2020. Not only that, the rate at which Seattle is allowing yards is historically bad, and if this pace keeps up, the Seahawks will have allowed the most yards in a single season in NFL history.
As you’d expect, Seahawks fans are well aware of this and are pointing the blame at Ken Norton Jr., Seattle’s defensive coordinator who is in his third year in that role. Fans want him fired during the season or, at the very least, once the 2020 season concludes.
While there’s a very real chance that Norton could be on his way out at some point after the season, is that for sure going to happen? What has been the fate of recent defensive coordinators who were in charge of the league’s worst defenses in terms of yards allowed?
I did the research and looked back at the fate of the last 10 defensive coordinators who were in Norton’s shoes. Let’s see what recent history tells us about the prospects of Norton keeping his job after the 2020 season.
But first, just for some frame of reference, Norton’s Seahawks are allowing 455.8 yards per game and are 30th in points per game allowed at 30.4. As noted, the yards allowed is on pace for the most in the entire history of the NFL.
2010: Don Martindale, Denver Broncos
First, why since 2010? That was the year the Seahawks hired Pete Carroll as head coach.
Moving on, let’s start with Don Martindale and his (at the time) Denver Broncos.
Martindale was hired by the Broncos as linebackers coach in 2009 and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2010. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t make it past 2010 in Denver.
The Broncos allowed 390.8 yards per game and 29.4 points per game, both worst in the NFL.
After a poor start to the year, head coach Josh McDaniels was fired partway through the season and Martindale was shown the door after the season as John Fox was named head coach and brought in his own coaching staff.
2011: Dom Capers, Green Bay Packers
Unlike most on this list, Capers had a pretty long tenure with his team.
In 2011, when the Packers allowed the most yards in the NFL at 411.6 per game, Capers, like Norton, was in his third year as defensive coordinator. But while Norton’s future in Seattle is unclear, Capers stayed on well after this poor showing in 2011, not leaving the Packers until after the 2017 season.
One big difference between Capers’ and Norton’s defenses? The 2011 Packers were 19th in points allowed at 22.4 per game, which is eight less than what the 2020 Seahawks are allowing each contest.
2012: Steve Spagnuolo, New Orleans Saints
Spoiler alert: This isn’t the first time Spagnuolo’s name will be brought up.
If you don’t remember the 2012 Saints, well, you probably should, partly because their defense is probably the most comparable to the 2020 Seahawks.
It was a tough year for the Saints organization as “Bountygate,” an effort led by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to injure key opposing offensive players in exchange for bonuses, led head coach Sean Payton to be suspended for the whole season and caused other staff shakeups.
Williams was out and Spagnuolo, who was the Rams’ head coach from 2009 to 2011, was in. It didn’t go very well.
Know how the Seahawks are on track to allow the most yards in NFL history? Spagnuolo’s 2012 defense currently holds that mark at 440.1 yards per game allowed. Again, the Seahawks are allowing 455.8 yards per game. The 2012 Saints also allowed 28.4 points per game, second-most in the NFL that year. Spagnuolo was fired after the season.
The Seahawks obviously aren’t going through some major suspension issue or anything close to that, but the numbers are pretty similar for the 2012 Saints and 2020 Hawks.
2013: Monte Kiffin, Dallas Cowboys
This one is kind of strange.
The father of Lane is a longtime defensive coach with a college head coaching tenure along the way, and is known for his famous “Tampa-2” defense. After coaching with his son at USC while Lane was the Trojans’ head coach, Monte was hired by the Cowboys to lead their defense.
In 2013, while the Seahawks were historically good defensively and won a Super Bowl, Kiffin’s defense struggled, surrendering a league-high 415.3 yards per game and 27 points per game, which ranked 26th.
Kiffin wasn’t fired after the season, but he was demoted in favor of Ron Marinelli, who was Dallas’ defensive line coach. After serving 2014 as the Cowboys’ assistant head coach of defense, Kiffin’s contract expired and was not renewed.
2014: Mike Nolan, Atlanta Falcons
Nolan, like Norton, was in his third year as his team’s defensive coordinator when he fielded a league-worst defense. In 2014, the Falcons allowed 398.2 yards a game and were 27th in points allowed at 26.1.
Nolan’s third year in Atlanta was his last, as the team cleared house while Dan Quinn took over as head coach. Quinn, as you likely remember, was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, leading a top defense that helped Seattle go to back to back Super Bowls.
Funny enough, Quinn will likely be the top rumored name to take over as Seattle’s defensive coordinator if Norton is fired.
2015: Steve Spagnuolo, New York Giants
Told you we hadn’t seen the last of Spagnuolo. Just three years after leading the Saints to a historically bad season, Spagnuolo again was at the head of a league-worst defense.
In 2015, the Giants allowed 420.3 yards per game and were 30th in points allowed at 27.6. It was the start of Spagnuolo’s second tenure as Giants defensive coordinator. He served in that role in 2007 and 2008 before he was named head coach of the then-St. Louis Rams.
Like in 2012, Spagnuolo was in his first year as defensive coordinator when this happened. Unlike in New Orleans, Spagnuolo got another chance and was in New York through 2017. Now, Spagnuolo is the defensive coordinator of the Chiefs. In his first year in Kansas City, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl.
2016: Jim O’Neil, San Francisco 49ers
Jim “don’t call me Danny” O’Neil was only defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers because, well, that coaching staff as a whole lasted just one season.
Chip Kelly, the former Oregon Ducks and Philadelphia Eagles head coach, led the 49ers to a 2-14 record in 2016 before he was fired. Current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was hired that offseason.
Back to O’Neil and his defense, though. Not only did that unit allow the most yards per game at 406.4, but they allowed the most points per game with 30.
It wasn’t O’Neil’s only run as a defensive coordinator, either. He had that role with the Cleveland Browns in 2014 and 2015. He hasn’t been a coordinator since and now coaches the Las Vegas Raiders’ defensive backs.
2017: Mike Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Of the league-worst defenses since 2010, Mike Smith’s crew may be the best of the bunch.
In his second year as the Bucs’ defensive coordinator in 2017, Tampa Bay allowed 378.1 yards per game to take that “crown.” The team was also tied for 22nd in points allowed at 23.9. For context’s sake, 378.1 yards per game would rank 21st in 2020 and 23.9 points per game would be 12th.
So it shouldn’t be too surprising that Smith stayed on another year to 2018. He was then let go as Bruce Arians brought in his own coaching staff when he was named Bucs head coach in 2019.
2018: Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
Unlike others on this list, Marvin Lewis was not only his team’s defensive play caller, he was the head coach.
Lewis coached the Bengals from 2003 to 2018 when his team’s were regular playoff contenders.
2018, however, was Lewis’ last in Cincinnati as he was let go after the season and current head coach Zac Taylor took over.
In his final run with the Bengals, Lewis coached a defense that allowed 413.6 yards per game and 28.4 points per game, which was third-worst that year.
2019: Vance Joseph, Arizona Cardinals
After a two-year run as head coach of the Denver Broncos, Vance Joseph went south to Arizona to coach the Cardinals starting last season.
That first year didn’t go too well, as the Cardinals allowed 402 yards per game and were 28th in points allowed at 27.6 per game. But it wasn’t just Joseph’s first year in the desert, it was head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s as well.
That duo stayed on and currently, Arizona is 5-3 and fighting for a playoff spot. They’ve also improved on defense, ranking 19th in yards per game at 370.1 and eighth in points per game with 22.5.
So, what’s the verdict?
Three years of coaching struggling defenses, capped off by this year’s historically bad pace, means the end is likely near for Norton.
As shown above, after coaching a team that allowed the most yards in a season since 2010, five of those 10 defensive coordinators were fired after that year and one was demoted. Of the other four, one was let go the next season (Smith), one remained on for two more seasons (Spagnuolo in New York), and another (Capers) stayed for six more years. The last one, Joseph, is still there as it happened just last season.
Simply put, if you’re the defensive coordinator of the team that’s allowing the most yards in the NFL, recent history says you’re likely looking for a new job once the season is over.