Rost: What you need to know about Seahawks DC candidates Whitt and Desai
Two new names were linked to the Seahawks’ search for a new defensive coordinator this week.
The list of names linked to the position now sits at four, with Seahawks defensive line coach Clint Hurtt and Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell named as candidates in the Seattle Times’ original report on Ken Norton’s firing.
For a bit of insight into the two newest coaches, Jake & Stacy welcomed on a pair of reporters from Dallas and Chicago. One coordinator was described as a “teacher” who is so well-respected that he’s been retained through two coaching changes, while the other is a defensive mind who prides accountability and played a key role in helping an abysmal defense take a big step forward.
What you need to know about: Cowboys defensive passing game/secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, will get plenty of credit for Dallas’ improvements on defense from 2020, as he should, but defensive passing game coordinator/secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr has also been credited for aiding that turnaround.
“We’ve seen a lot of work done this season as a whole and Joe Whitt has been a clear part of it,” USA TODAY Cowboys reporter Jori Epstein said Thursday. The Cowboys, who had just 10 interceptions and 23 total takeaways in 2020, led the league with 26 interceptions and 34 total takeaways in 2021. Six members of the secondary recorded at least one pick, while cornerback Trevon Diggs finished with 11.
“It’s very telling when we interview guys like Mike McCarthy and Dan Quinn and they’re mentioning what Joe Whitt does,” Epstein said. “Whether it’s Dan Quinn telling us, ‘Look, Joe Whitt is the champion of making sure we’re running different defenses from the same looks and creating that multiplicity.’ And Mike McCarthy saying right away, ‘If we lose Dan Quinn, which we don’t want to, Joe Whitt is on staff.”
Whitt, 43, was on McCarthy’s staff in Green Bay from 2008-18 (two years of which overlap with Seattle general manager John Schneider’s tenure there as Director of Football Operations). Whitt interviewed for Dallas’ defensive coordinator position last year and is considered a candidate to replace Quinn should the latter move on to a head coaching role elsewhere in 2022.
“He’s a secondary pass game coordinator, more about defending the pass than the run, and he’s really had a big part in allowing these defensive backs in Dallas to play with an aggressive playing style, to play with energy, and I mean, when you look at a guy like Trevon Diggs leading the league with 11 interceptions in his second year, I think that is reflective of some of the ways Joe Whitt has made an impact down there.”
“If you watch this, you want to run through a wall with this guy,” Epstein said. “He’s just talking about – not that he’s a bad guy, guys really like him here, but he held them to a really high standard and was tough… the defense was getting all these takeaways but they were also allowing big plays, and he goes, ‘You can’t be considered a great defense, I don’t care how many interceptions you have, if you’re allowing that many yards you can’t put yourself in the range of talking about being one of the top secondaries until you can get those numbers down, and the passing touchdown numbers as well.’ The level of accountability to which he held them, I think, is so key for his next opportunity.”
Given Whitt’s current role, there’s also a chance the Seahawks are interviewing for another position on the defensive staff; the team also parted ways with defensive passing game coordinator Andre Curtis following back-to-back seasons allowing the second-most passing yards in the league.
What you need to know about: Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai
Desai, 38, has been with the Chicago Bears since 2013, which also means he’s remained in the building through not one, not two, but three head coaches.
“He was respected enough in the building that when Vic Fangio got the Broncos head coaching job three years ago, he tried to take Sean,” Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times said. “Sean was still under contract and Matt Nagy put his foot down and said no, we’re gonna keep him.”
While Desai has been with the Bears for a few years, 2021 was his first season as defensive coordinator. Given that Desai has a master’s degree in education from Columbia and a Ph.D in educational administration from Temple, the answer to a question about what type of coach Desai is shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“He’s a teacher,” Finley said. “That’s the short answer. He’s somebody who as an assistant coach with the Bears taught graduate level night school business courses. He’s an education guy, it’s always been important to him, he has a masters, and he likes teaching and connecting with people… and that’s very much how he approaches coaching. Spend five minutes with him and you learn that he really gets a kick out of the classroom sessions with players and trying to make that connection to teach.”
Interestingly, Finley said Desai’s messaging – given his background – might be especially well-suited for a young defense.
“You’ve got a Bears defense that’s got a lot of veterans that might not have needed all of the teaching from the ground up,” Finley said. “And maybe Sean would’ve been a little better off with some young guys to mold there. But really, he produced Robert Quinn, who set the Bears all-time sacks record for a single season this year, and he did it without Khalil Mack, who was hurt for most of the year. Jalen Johnson at corner is one of the best young corners in the league. So, he had some flashes, even though I think the Bears finished sixth in yards but 22nd in points on the defensive side, those are pretty run of the mill numbers… The timing (of the firing of head coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace) is just bad for him because I think with another year or two to really grow into the position, I think Sean would’ve been a really good defensive coordinator here, and I still think he may be wherever he ends up.”