MIKE SALK

Salk: 5 things the Seahawks should prioritize in coach search

Jan 24, 2024, 12:03 AM | Updated: 8:16 am

Seattle Seahawks...

The Seattle Seahawks huddle during an Oct. 2, 2023 game against the New York Giants. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

The Seattle Seahawks have an enormous decision to make with the search for their next head coach. And when that happens, fan bases get antsy.

More specifically, fans start picking favorites and getting attached to the idea of specific names filling specific roles for reasons that often have more to do with projections and the past than they do with the optimal outcome.

Why is Seattle Seahawks’ head coach job so appealing?

That isn’t necessarily a problem, but there are times when being on the outside hurts our ability to understand the traits that each candidate brings to the table.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the polar extremes available in this coaching search.

With former coaches, current coordinators and college leaders all available, we only have certain information on which to judge the options.

The former coaches have a résumé we can dissect, but the young coordinators? All that most of us have to go on is how successful their offense or defense has been, and that goes against what many believe are the most important qualities for a head coach.

Now that doesn’t mean that scheme is irrelevant, nor should it disqualify hot names like Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. But it means those candidates should show something in the interview process that isn’t necessarily observable to most of us watching the process play out.

If I was suddenly put in charge of hiring the next coach of an NFL team, I would start by deciding what qualities were most important for that person to have. My top five would be:

1. Leadership

I feel very confident that leadership is at the top of this list. No matter who you ask, they all say everything starts here. It’s a broad term that encompasses multiple parts of the job, but to me it includes personal leadership skills combined with the organizational skills and personality to set a course for a whole building.

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A head coach not only gets the most out of his players, but sets the tone for the other coaches, administrators, and employees of the team. If you can’t lead, no one knows what to do. So the first job of any coach is to set the culture first and foremost.

2. Communication

This is second on my list because it’s necessary for those players to buy in and to understand their roles in the bigger picture. To be a great communicator, most coaches have authenticity, relatability and an ability to use creative means to teach and help players understand their jobs. They have to understand their students and devise the best ways to reach each one.

Oh, and they are also the prime conveyor of information to the public so how they choose to communicate that info is an enormous part of setting the tone.

Pete Carroll was so good at this – he spent an enormous amount of time devising creative, fun ways to teach and then using his relentless positivity to pump up his players in the press.

3. Identity/vision

The best coaches have a clear vision for what kind of team they want to be on the field. Do they want to be more physical or do they want to finesse their opponents? Do they favor a passing or running attack? What do they want their team to be know for?

Many of the candidates this year have done this well. Jim Harbaugh and Mike Vrabel, for instance, want physical teams that are strong on the line of scrimmage and run the ball. I keep thinking of the way Joel Klatt described Harbaugh’s Michigan defense and how each level of the team was designed to compliment one another. That only works when you have a clear vision and a slavish devotion to it.

4. Hiring

One you know the vision, you have to hire right people to execute it! The best coaches have a stable of bright assistants who make it all work. No coach can do everything at once and many of the best ones get to that point by delegating to and empowering those around them. As I look back at the last few years of Seahawk mediocrity, this feels like one of the main culprits. If their was a clear vision, it certainly wasn’t translating onto the field and the assistants either weren’t capable or weren’t allowed to spread their wings.

5. X’s and O’s

Here you go. Here is the one that is most accessible to the public.

We might not be able to tell how an assistant communicates or know much about those they would hire, but we can judge them based on their ability to scheme.

Is it important? Yes. Leaders need to understand the scheme in order to project confidence to everyone around them. Would you listen to advice from someone who doesn’t have a detailed understanding of the job they are asking you to perform?

Furthermore, in order to hire the smart people below them, it sure helps to be smart yourself! Most high achievers want to learn from and work for smart people themselves.

But I tend to assume that most everyone who makes it to a head coaching interview has at least some idea of how to devise a scheme and understands where the players should be.

I see this ability as important, just not as important as the four above it. Yet for a segment of the fanbase, it has been a clear deciding factor. Why? While I can’t speak for anyone else, I believe it is for two reasons.

First, as I mentioned above, it’s all we know. Most of us don’t know what kind of personality Ben Johnson has, but we sure like the scheme he devised in Detroit. We don’t know if Mike Macdonald can lead, but we sure want a defense like they have in Baltimore. And that leads to the second point: We desperately miss having the edge that a great coordinator brings to a team!

We are understandably sick of watching the Rams and 49ers staffs run rings around the Seattle staff. We know there is a talented roster here that hasn’t been able to take full advantage of its unique skills. But whereas I also want the team to have those kinds of advantages, I believe what we really want is a group of coordinators that can provide it. We want our own Johnson/Macdonald combo that other teams are looking to pluck.

It’s very possible that the next head coach in Seattle can scheme his way past the competition or that they hire the best coordinator from one of the best teams this year. I just hope if they do so, it’s because that coach can lead, communicate, has a vision and can hire good people around him and not just because they are the smartest schemer around.

More on Seattle Seahawks coach search

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