INDIANAPOLIS — The biggest statement Seahawks coach Pete Carroll could make about the importance and potential long-term impact of this offseason came weeks ago, when he fired his top three assistants in what was the biggest staff shakeup of his career.
Thursday at the NFL Combine, Carroll finally gave actual voice to the reasoning behind his decisions to jettison offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, offensive line coach Tom Cable and defensive coordinator Kris Richard, replacing them with Brian Schottenheimer, Mike Solari and Ken Norton Jr., respectively.
“I think the opportunity for it to be an (franchise) altering moment for us is there,’’ Carroll said in what were his first public comments since the coaching changes. “But every offseason we approach it the same way — to compete as hard as we can to figure out the best ways to put our guys in the right positions, to do the right things, to make the right choices, to stay abreast at what’s going on in the league. And sometimes you’ve got to make some tough calls to get that done and put it in the right order. I really feel confident that we’ve done that.’’
Only time, of course, will tell.
But in a roughly 20-minute formal press conference and another informal session with a few reporters who cover the team, Carroll stated the reasons he felt changes were needed and why he thinks they will work.
The offensive shakeup, he said, was designed to get back to a back-to-basics attack focused on leading with the run as well as getting even more out of Russell Wilson, in part by streamlining and hopefully improving the communication between the coaching staff and the star quarterback.
The switch from Cable to Solari, he said, was done in part to add some diversity to the team’s offensive line schemes, which have largely centered on zone blocking.
And replacing Richard with Norton, Carroll implied, was mostly about giving a defense that is still heavily veteran-laden a new voice at the top more than it was about schemes.
“Wanted to make sure to challenge the opportunity to get better,’’ Carroll said. “… And there are some tough decisions here to get that done. But I just wanted to work at changing just kind of the approach to it, so that maybe we can find our ways–and maybe some newness to uncover. It was difficult to make those choices, because the guys that left we had done so much together and worked together in great fashion.
“But I just felt it was time. It really comes back to competing, and just trying to find a way to get a little bit better. That’s why we made those choices. I’m really excited about the guys that are here, and how it’s working out so far. We are seeing the new energy. I am energized by it. The whole group is. And we are looking forward to working to see how it’s going to turn out.”
Of the hire of Schottenheimer, who most recently had been the quarterbacks coach of the Colts but has nine years of experience as an OC with the Rams and Jets, Carroll said: “Really good connection with the quarterback, really good communication, relationship with the QB. He works directly with the quarterback more so than some other coordinators do. He’s got good quarterback background, so I really like all of that for challenging Russell, giving him new looks, new outlooks, new perspective possibly, just to continue to grow. He’s very well-versed. I’ve been through a lot of systems too, the classic systems, west-coast system, the digit system, the things that are out there in the league, he’s been through all of that, too. So we can communicate on a really deep level about how we can put our stuff together and find our ways just to try to get better.”
Carroll worked with Solari with the 49ers in the mid-90s and wanted to hire him as tight ends coach with the Seahawks in 2010 — Solari worked as Seattle’s line coach in 2008-09 and in fact has maintained a home in the area ever since — but had already been committed to bringing on Alex Gibbs.
“Mike Solari and I go back way back to the Niners days, so I’ve known Mikey for a long time,’’ Carroll said. “He is a great football coach. Very strict, very disciplined. Brings a little bit different background, different scheme for us. It gives us a chance to do a little bit different things than we’ve done in the past, a different variety and diversity in the stuff that we are doing. But also brings us a wealth of experience in evaluations and that stuff, so we are very lucky. Also, Brian and Mike had been together a little bit in the past (specifically, with the Chiefs in 1998 when Schottenheimer’s father, Marty, was head coach). That gave them a good connection, too, in communication, and that’s important.’’
Carroll said that the two, along with new quarterbacks coach Dave Canales, can maybe help Wilson reach a goal Carroll has had for him for a few years of completing 70 percent of his passes — Wilson’s career high is 68.1 in 2015, he had a career-low 61.3 in 2017).
“Really excited about Schottenheimer coming in and Canales taking a hold of that thing and challenging him like maybe he has never been challenged before,’’ Carroll said. “That would be great.’’
What he also hopes is that the changes can revive a running game that after ranking in the top four of the NFL every year from 2012-15 has fallen to 23rd and 25th the last two seasons in rushing yards with an astonishingly low four rushing touchdowns last year — three by Wilson.
“That’s exactly where we want to make sure we are headed,’’ Carroll said of improving the running game. “We didn’t exactly get that done like we wanted to. There’s a number of reasons why. And it’s not directed at the coaches, it’s not directed at any one aspect of it. We had some unfortunate situations with injuries and personnel stuff that didn’t allow us to stay with the direction we had the couple years before and hopefully we wanted to capture that and regain that. So we are definitely excited about getting the running game rolling and make it part of the game that can really be a focal point for us because everything feeds off of that.’’
That the team would likely make changes on the offensive staff seemed no surprise after the Seahawks fell into a late-season slump and finished with a 9-7 record and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Firing Richard was more unexpected given that defensive woes seemed as if they could mostly be pinned on injuries to the likes of Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor.
“Just time to make a change,’’ Carroll said. “He’s (Richard) a terrific coach. Dallas got a great guy in him. The opportunity to get Kenny back in the program, who is just a remarkable individual and the energy and the juice that he brings, it was a rare opportunity.”
Norton was Seattle’s linebackers coach from 2010-14 before leaving to become defensive coordinator with the Raiders in 2015 before being fired last year during the season.
That Carroll maintains a heavy say in everything the team does schematically on defense has led to the idea that the change to Norton was mostly about messaging, and Carroll’s didn’t deny that Thursday.
“I’ve always loved Kenny and I love what he brings,’’ Carroll said. “I know the effect that he has on the players he has coached, the impact that he has, the attitude that he brings, the toughness, the extraordinary background he has comes out in his coaching, and his players respond to him.’’
Carroll had never before fired both coordinators in his career but he also has never been in a situation like this during his time with the Seahawks with the team needing to stop a slide and prove that it’s Super Bowl window hasn’t totally closed.
“I think it’s a great challenge,’’ Carroll said. “I take it as a personal challenge, as well as a franchise challenge. We weren’t satisfied, we didn’t like the way it went, and we wanted to do stuff about it. You’re seeing the result of that.”