Huard: What’s next for Seahawks as they move on from DC Ken Norton Jr.

Jan 18, 2022, 11:11 AM | Updated: 3:04 pm
Seahawks Ken Norton Jr....
Coach Pete Carroll and DC Ken Norton Jr. look on during a January game. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seahawks’ power structure of head coach Pete Carroll, general manager John Schneider and quarterback Russell Wilson appears to be staying intact, but something will change after their disappointing 7-10 record in 2021.

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Two dominoes dropped Tuesday afternoon as the Seahawks relieved defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and defensive passing game coordinator Andre Curtis of their duties.

“Well, I guess that helps answer the question of is this is going to be status quo,” FOX football analyst and former NFL quarterback Brock Huard said Tuesday morning during his daily segment on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mike Salk Show.

The focus of the Seahawks’ offseason will now shift to the defensive coordinator spot, which will become vacant after four seasons with Norton at the post. Norton, 55, was an All-Pro and Pro Bowl linebacker who won three consecutive Super Bowls – two with Dallas, one with San Francisco – during his playing career. He’s been a part of Carroll’s coaching inner circle since 2004 when he joined the staff at USC, and he followed Carroll to Seattle, where he spent 2010-14 as Seahawks linebackers coach. He then was Raiders defensive coordinator from 2015-17 before returning to Seattle in 2018 to take the same role – in fact, he took the Seahawks DC job just a week after agreeing to become 49ers assistant head coach.

The Seahawks’ defense under Norton has seen mixed results, however, especially in 2021. While Seattle tied for ninth in the NFL in points allowed this season at 21.5 per game, it was 28th in the league in yards allowed (6,445) and 18th in yards allowed per play (5.4). The Seahawks also tied for 22nd in sacks (34) and had a slow start on that side of the ball for the second season in a row, something that was so alarming in 2020 that Seattle at one point was on pace to set NFL records for most total yards and passing yards allowed in a season.

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So where do the Seahawks go from here? There is a lot to consider, which Huard discussed in depth with Mike Salk on Tuesday. You can listen to the full discussion in the final segment of this podcast. Below that, we’ll take a close look at some of the key points from the conversation.

Where did the decision come from?

The answer to that question probably won’t be known any time soon, but to Huard, that in and of itself indicates how the Seahawks are going to operate after their first losing season in a decade – especially after a first week of the offseason where many were waiting to hear an update about the team’s future after a meeting between Carroll, Schneider and team chair Jody Allen that apparently came and went without much to report.

“I think a lot of us were just kind of scratching our heads, and this gives us the first indication of how they are going to conduct and handle their business this offseason,” Huard said. “… And that is ‘You will hear when we want you to hear.’ (They’re) not going to hold a big end-of-season press conference, I don’t think you’re going to see those powers sitting at the table together, but very clearly status quo wasn’t good enough so that does not surprise me. Whether that was Jody’s decision, Pete’s decision, whether Jody helped influence Pete strongly and say ‘You’re going to have to make this move and we’ve got to go in a different direction. Your defenses have started historically bad the last two years, and yes, they picked up their pace at the end of the year, but this just isn’t good enough, and we need new, younger blood.'”

Which leads to the next point.

Youth, experience, or… both?

Names of potential successors for Norton immediately came to the forefront Monday night, with the most common being recently fired Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio and current Seahawks defensive line coach Clint Hurtt.

Huard is hoping the Seahawks can have their cake and eat it too, in a sense.

“I’d like young but somebody that’s done a little bit,” he said. “In this day and age, and you can look around college football and the NFL, young coaches that relate to their players, that are climbers, that want to ascend, that want to grow, that want to be future head coaches one day – that’s the profile I’m looking for.”

Salk pointed out that Seattle went young with their first-year offensive coordinator Shane Waldron in 2021, and that led to growing pains as it wasn’t until the final weeks of the season that the Seahawks’ offense seemed to find its stride.

“The flip side is, you know, if you can’t find somebody who’s young and has the experience, and that seems like kind of a white whale, you end up with somebody who’s young and doesn’t have experience, and then there’s maybe an adjustment period,” Salk said.

Huard isn’t as worried about that happening on defense because of Carroll’s background as a defensive coach.

“That’s where you lean into Pete, and people have always said whoever the D-coordinator is, it still is Pete’s principle,” Huard said. “Nothing is going to be called, nothing is going to go through that headset, nothing’s going to be installed that isn’t through the filter of Pete Carroll, first and foremost. … I think defensively he’s gonna hold that a little closer to the vest.”

The Seahawks DC candidates

Finally, let’s get to the juicy part of the conversation.

Huard and Salk discussed a number of names who could be considered to replace Norton, some of which we’re already touched on. First up, Fangio.

“I think he’s a excellent D-coordinator, but he’s salty, he’s old school,” Huard said. “Do you think he and Pete would mix?”

Responded Salk: “I don’t mind the idea of Pete trying something new and out of his comfort zone. I mean, for years I was on the Wade Phillips idea… I think Vic Fangio kind of fits into that same category of brilliant defensive coordinator who’s not a head coach. He’s a little older and saltier and brings some different concepts than Pete does.”

While Huard isn’t sure the 63-year-old Fangio would find the job “appealing,” Salk said he could see him looking for fresh ideas after three years with Denver.

“Maybe he says, ‘Hey, I wasn’t a very good as a head coach in Denver and I need to go do something completely different. Maybe I’ll try a new-school philosophy.'”

As far as Hurtt, Huard said: “Clint Hurtt would be a unique one and interesting; that would be in-house, the D-line coach, and there was speculation he may take the D-coordinator job at the University of Miami and reconvene there with (new Hurricanes coach) Mario Cristobal.”

There’s one other name Huard is hoping becomes a serious candidate: Jerod Mayo, a former Patriots linebacker who has been New England’s inside linebackers coach the past three seasons and is currently in the mix for head coaching jobs.

Mayo’s experience playing for and coaching under Bill Belichick is something he thinks would be intriguing to Carroll.

“(Mayo) would kind of fit my young, climbing (candidate that) wants to be a head coach. (He could say) ‘I’ve worked for Bill, I played for Bill, but I want to see how Pete does this and I want to bring some of my philosophies and my scheme.’ We know that Pete’s been intrigued by Bill’s stuff through the years, he’s studied Belichick, he’s very curious how in the world he is able to just kind of manipulate things week to week. … (Mayo) would be in some ways that white whale because A, he’s interviewing for jobs, but B, gosh, I like that resume.”

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Huard: What’s next for Seahawks as they move on from DC Ken Norton Jr.