John Schneider was introduced Wednesday as general manager of the Seahawks. But the launch date for his collaboration in running the team’s football operations with Pete Carroll was actually last Tuesday – which just happened to be the day of Carroll’s introductory news conference, not to mention the birthday of CEO Tod Leiweke.
It was that first meeting between the youthful-looking Schneider and youthful-acting Carroll that actually set the stage for what transpired Wednesday, and will happen in the weeks and months to come as the new GM and new coach set about acquiring the talent needed to upgrade the roster for a team that won a combined nine games the past two seasons.
“I would say most compelling for me is the amazing energy between the man to my right and the man to my left,” said Leiweke, who was seated between Carroll and Schneider at the news conference. “They connected. They saw eye-to-eye. They had a similar philosophy on how we’re going to do this. It was just fantastic to witness that, because that’s really, ultimately what we wanted to create.”
Even if the bonding process between Schneider and Carroll did devour most of Leiweke’s 50th birthday.
“The first night we met, I felt like we could have just kept going,” Schneider said. “I just wanted to roll up the sleeves and keep rowing.
“Maybe an hour into the interview, I was sweating like crazy. I was all jacked up. We started talking and I thought we were going to come across the table at each other a couple of times. It was exciting. It was Tod’s birthday and he wanted to get out of there, but I felt like Pete and I could have stayed all night. I didn’t want to finish.”
Offered Carroll, “I couldn’t find a guy that I felt better about and more pumped up about than John. We think a lot alike, but we come from different backgrounds.”
Conceded Leiweke, “I got home and my wife’s like, ‘Honey, you left at 7 and got home at 10.’ I said, ‘No, actually I got a pretty good gift there. These guys hugged at the end of the night.’
“I thought, ‘Wow, we’re on to something here.’ ”
Despite being 38, Schneider has worked in the NFL for 17 seasons in a variety of roles with four different teams. But what most impressed the Seahawks was the way Schneider did those jobs – selflessly, while keying on the “we” and “us” rather than the “me” and “I.”
That was apparent when Schneider was asked about his role in building a Packers team that went 13-3 in 2007 and 11-5 this season – with one of those wins a 48-10 romp over the Seahawks at Lambeau Field in Week 16.
“I did it all. I signed all of them. I was responsible for the whole thing,” cracked Schneider, an admitted Cheesehead who grew up in De Pere, Wis.
When the laughter subsided, Schneider said, “I was extremely involved in every decision that was made. That’s the best way I can describe it. You talk about the collaborative effort … I was involved with everything we did.”
Asked if there was one player he was most proud of acquiring, Schneider cut off the question before it could be completed and offered, “We don’t go there. It’s all about ‘we.’ It’s all about ‘us,’ as a team.”
A lot has been made about the structure of the Seahawks’ football hierarchy, especially because Carroll was hired first in what has been portrayed as a cart-before-the-horse move. But Leiweke reiterated that the reason for the reversal of the norm was that while Carroll was available, he would not have waited through the process of hiring a GM first.
“Pete wasn’t going to sit around and wait,” Leiweke said after the news conference. “He basically said, ‘I’m not going to have these (TV) trucks in front of my house.’ So that was a dynamic.
“But at the end of the day, people said, ‘Did that detract from getting a (GM) candidate?’ I think, in this case, John was really excited.”
Schneider’s take? “When the process started, when I was contacted, I didn’t how it was going to go down,” he said. “I was preparing myself to have the standard – go in, hire the head coach, you go through the whole process.
“When this thing went down with coach Carroll, I did have a moment where I was like, ‘OK, all right, now that’s different.’ Just the way it went down. But that’s the way they needed to do it in order to acquire someone of this caliber. So I took a step back, for like two minutes, and it was like, ‘This job is even more attractive now.’ ”
One of the things that made Schneider attractive to Carroll was the fact that the Packers have had the youngest team in the NFL the past three seasons. Carroll learned the past nine seasons at the University of Southern California that playing young players now is the best way to determine just what you’ve got – for better or worse.
“Our approach to playing young guys is something that John was excited about,” Carroll said. “Most head coaches in the league are really concerned about playing rookies. That’s pretty classic.
“But at SC, we centered on a philosophy of pushing our young guys to play, and making them show us who they are and where they fit it in the effort to finding who are the championship kids.”
Schneider’s reaction to that philosophy? “For a personnel guy, it’s a dream come true,” he said.
That’s just part of what made Schneider the right man for this job. He emerged as the eight-week process trimmed 20 candidates to a group of 10 and then to four finalists – Floyd Reese, senior football advisor for the New England Patriots; Omar Khan, business and football administration coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers; Marc Ross, director of college scouting for the New York Giants; and Schneider.
“We wanted to get to a final four who are unique. And man, did we,” Leiweke said. “We had an amazingly experienced guy like Floyd Reese. We had Omar Khan, who is more a (salary) cap/contract guy. Then Marc Ross, who is a very, very talented scout.
“John was a really interesting candidate because he had done a little bit of everything. He was familiar with trades. He’s been involved in trades. He had worked directly for coaches. Over his 17 years, he had a really wide, varied set of experiences. He was really impressive.
“At the end of the day, when we voted, all arrows pointed to one guy.”
There was one other element. “He was a 38-year-old guy with enough energy to keep up with Pete (who is 58),” Leiweke said. He smiled at that comment, but he wasn’t kidding.
Schneider’s ample and diverse experience that Leiweke alluded to included him joining the Packers in 1992 as a summer intern while a junior in college. That led to a job in the team’s pro personnel department (1993-96), which led to be named director of pro personnel for the Kansas City Chiefs (1997-99), which led to his one-year stint as director of player personnel with the Seahawks (2000), which led to a one-year stay with the Washington Redskins (2001) as vice president of player personnel, which led to his return to the Packers – where he was personnel analyst to the GM (2002-07) and director of football operations (2008-09).
Now that the director of this, VP of that and analyst to the GM have been erased from his title, how does it feel to be GM John Schneider?
“It sunk in about 4 o’clock this morning, just the responsibility of it,” Schneider said. “It’s exciting. Anybody that does what I do in this business, it’s the ultimate to reach this level and to be able to kind of steer, massage it year-round.”