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Gallant: Turns out Shane Waldron as the Seahawks’ choice at OC was riskier than we knew

New Seahawks OC Shane Waldron comes from Sean McVay's Rams coaching staff. (Getty)

No member of the Seattle Seahawks has more pressure on him in 2021 than rookie offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. He’s tasked with turning around an offense that hit a wall halfway through 2020, never to truly get up on its feet again. And he’ll have to do it quickly given the seeming uncertainty of Russell Wilson’s future in Seattle.

Related: Daniel Jeremiah says Hawks, Wilson in ‘short-term marriage’

Between Wilson, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Chris Carson, Waldron has an exceptional core of skill players to work with. He was gift wrapped some reinforcements, too, in right guard Gabe Jackson, tight end Gerald Everett, and rookie wide receiver D’Wayne Eskridge.

His biggest personnel issue is Seattle’s oft-criticized offensive line. It isn’t particularly good after Duane Brown, but at the very least it has some continuity after a season where it took a small step forward.

Waldron’s offense is not lacking for talent. And while you should take this with a block of salt, his “intricate” offense is certainly generating frisky headlines. Per Metcalf, they’re running routes “that people haven’t seen from either team he’s coached.” Clickbait’s certainly on his side too.

Unfortunately, Waldron is missing experience. Offensive coordinator is the highest title that the ex-Rams passing game coordinator has held at any level outside of high school coaching. Sure, it sounds like he had a large responsibility in Los Angeles. But now he’s outside of the umbrella of ever-lauded Rams head coach Sean McVay. How will he do on his own?

First, Waldron will have to earn the trust of an entire offense. That’s not easy in a league where players can tell pretty quickly if a coach is full of it. On top of that, he’s now the direct supervisor of Wilson, one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and asked to pull Wilson out of the nosedive that ended the Seahawks’ 2020 season. If you think those are easy tasks to pull off in just one season, go talk to Brian Schottenheimer, the man Waldron replaces as Seattle’s OC.

The challenges above made me wonder – we see so many coordinator changes across the NFL every season, so how have the game’s best quarterbacks played in their first season under a new offensive coordinator?

To measure this, I got subjective. In no particular order, I determined that these quarterbacks have (probably) been the league’s best over the past 10 years:

• Patrick Mahomes
• Tom Brady
• Aaron Rodgers
• Russell Wilson
• Philip Rivers
• Ben Roethlisberger
• Carson Palmer
• Drew Brees
• Matt Ryan
• Tony Romo
• Andrew Luck
• Peyton Manning
• Eli Manning
• Matthew Stafford
• Cam Newton
• Deshaun Watson
• Dak Prescott
• Patrick Mahomes

Of that group, Mahomes and Brees are the only two that haven’t played a season under a new offensive coordinator over the past 10 years (Mahomes’ first full season as a starter was with Eric Bieniemy). But the other 15 quarterbacks saw a combined 33 headset swaps from 2011 on while remaining with their respective teams. (View spreadsheet here.)

To determine how they fared, I took a look at my three favorite quarterback stats: yards per attempt, completion percentage, and interception percentage. I compared those numbers with the year before the change and saw that yards per attempt went down (7.66% to 7.47%), completion percentages went up (64.05% to 64.29%), and interception percentages went up a smidge (2.21% to 2.24%).

Since I didn’t see anything conclusive, I narrowed down the sample size. After all, all coordinators aren’t created equal, and some are wayyy more qualified than others. Who had past experience in the NFL as an offensive coordinator? Were there any ex-head coaches in the mix? Or coaches who’d had past experience working or playing with those quarterbacks? (View spreadsheet here.)

All those coordinators had inherent advantages in their new jobs that Shane Waldron won’t. So I removed them (19 ex-coordinators, eight former head coaches, and 17 who had been on the same coaching staff before, with several who fell into multiple groups) from the sample. And that’s when I saw something I wasn’t looking for. (View spreadsheet here.)

Over the past 10 years, only four offensive coordinators had none of the following: previous experience as a coordinator, previous experience as a head coach, or were promoted to coordinator by a team they were already with.

Four!

One of them – Nick Sirianni, now Eagles head coach – took the gig in Indianapolis the year after Andrew Luck missed an entire season. Another – Steve Sarkisian – had the difficult job of replacing Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta. No big deal, just the coordinator who helped Matt Ryan win the previous season’s MVP. And that makes this way too small of a sample size to draw any scientific conclusions about how a quarterback fares in the year a new offensive coordinator joins his team.

“Haha, classic PAWL. You did all that research for NOTHING NERD!”

Not necessarily. Sure, the stats – though painstakingly recorded over far too much time with my mediocre Excel skills – don’t matter anymore. Because now that I’ve had the chance to compare his past experience to other coordinators hired to work with good quarterbacks, Shane Waldron looks like an exceptionally risky choice. He’s never been an NFL head coach or offensive coordinator and will be building a relationship with a great quarterback completely from scratch.

That’s not to say I’m doubting he has the potential to be whatever the Seahawks see in him. Looking outside the box has done Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider quite well in the past. I’m just saying, given the many unknowns detailed above, temper your expectations for Shane Waldron to significantly improve the Hawks’ offense in 2021.

Follow Paul Gallant on Twitter.

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