Ken Norton, Jr. enters his ninth season as an NFL coach and first as Seattle’s defensive coordinator. Overall, 2018 will be Norton, Jr.’s 22nd NFL season and 15th season in coaching. He returns to the Seahawks after spending 2010-14 with the team as linebackers coach before spending 2015-17 as the Oakland Raiders’ defensive coordinator.
As a 21-year NFL veteran as a player and coach, Norton, Jr. has been a part of four Super Bowl-winning teams (three as a player and one as a coach). From 1989-2000, he was an All-Pro linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.
In 2016, Norton, Jr. led a defense that helped the Raiders post 12 wins and return to the postseason for the first time since 2002. The defensive unit produced the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year in DE Khalil Mack and two Pro Bowlers (Mack and S Reggie Nelson). A key identity for the Raiders’ defense in 2016 was the ability to take the ball away and keep the opponents out of the end zone in crucial times. Oakland ranked second in the NFL with 30 turnovers, posting 16 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries. In crunch time, Norton, Jr.’s defense stood tall, as the Raiders allowed only three points inside the game’s final three minutes, the fewest allowed in the NFL. The defense was also strong in the game’s opening quarter, allowing just 43 points on the year in the first quarter, good for second fewest allowed last year. For the second straight year, Norton, Jr.’s defense strengthened as the year went along, finishing 11th in the league in net yards per game allowed (333.2) from Week 7-17.
The unit was led by Mack, as he was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year. He became the first Raider to win the award since 1980. His eight-game sack streak during the regular season tied an NFL record, and he came away with a sack-fumble in three consecutive games during that stretch. Mack’s elite season earned him numerous individual accolades, including his second Pro Bowl nod, two AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors and the AFC Defensive Player of the Month in November. The defense also received solid contributions at all levels, including the likes of Nelson (team-leading five interceptions), LB Bruce Irvin (seven sacks and six forced fumbles), LB Malcolm Smith (team-leading 115 tackles) and CB David Amerson (team-leading 14 passes defensed.)
In his first year as the Raiders defensive coordinator in 2015, Norton, Jr. led a unit that helped the Raiders to a four-win improvement from 2014. Over the course of the season, his unit progressed as the team came down the stretch. Over the final seven weeks of the season, the defense ranked seventh in the league in total defense, allowing just 305.9 yards per game. For the season, the team excelled at getting off the field, ranking ninth in the NFL (51.7 percent) on third downs. Norton, Jr.’s defense produced two Pro Bowlers in 2015, as Mack and S Charles Woodson were named to the squad. Mack enjoyed a breakout sophomore season, finishing second in the league with 15 sacks, including a four-game stretch where he posted 10 sacks. He also became the first player in NFL history to earn first-team All-Pro selections at two positions, defensive end and linebacker. Woodson paced the secondary and led the team with five interceptions, his most as a Raider since his rookie season of 1998.
From 2010-14, Norton, Jr. served as Seattle’s linebackers coach, helping the team to three NFC West Division titles, two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl XLVIII title. Over that period, Norton, Jr. helped the Seahawks’ defense rank second in total defense (309.5 yards per game) and the unit finished in the top 10 four times (2011-14), including leading the league in total defense the past two seasons. Seattle’s defense also proved to have a nose for the ball during Norton, Jr.’s tenure, forcing the fourth-most turnovers with 147. Additionally, he was part of a defensive staff that sent 11 players to the Pro Bowl from 2011- 14.
In 2014, Norton, Jr. helped the Seahawks win the NFC title for the second straight year. Seattle’s defense finished the year as the league’s top-ranked defense by a large margin, surrendering only 267.1 yards per game (Detroit was ranked second at 300.9 yards per game). Norton, Jr.’s linebacking corps led the way for Seattle, as LBs K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner led the team in tackles with 107 and 104, respectively. Wagner became just the sixth player in franchise history to record three straight seasons of at least 100 tackles. Wagner was also selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2014.
Helping the Seahawks capture Super Bowl XLVIII in 2013, Norton, Jr. tutored Smith, who was named Super Bowl MVP after posting nine tackles (five solo), a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown and one fumble recovery. Wagner led the team in tackles during the regular season with 119, and tied for the team lead with 34 postseason tackles.
With Seattle emerging as a dominant defense in 2012, Norton, Jr. was instrumental in the development of the 2012 second-round draft pick Wagner, who secured his role as the team’s starting middle linebacker and finished second in the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. Wagner led the team with 140 tackles (86 solo), and his 140 tackles were a franchise record for tackles by a rookie. He also guided Irvin in his rookie season, as he posted eight sacks on the campaign.
In his first two seasons in Seattle, Norton, Jr. helped LB David Hawthorne to back-to-back 100-tackle seasons. He also oversaw the development of Wright as he emerged as a starter in the linebacking corps as a rookie in 2011. Wright finished fifth on the team with 61 tackles in only 12 games started. In 2010, he helped the Seahawks win the NFC West title and defeat the high-powered New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round.
Prior to joining the NFL coaching ranks, Norton, Jr. spent six seasons coaching on the defensive side of the ball at USC under Pete Carroll. During his career at USC, Norton, Jr. tutored an impressive group of linebackers who went on to have success at the NFL level. Among those players are LB Brian Cushing, LB Clay Matthews, LB Keith Rivers, LB Rey Maualuga and LB Lofa Tatupu. Cushing, Matthews and Rivers were all NFL first-round draft picks. During his time at USC, the school played in the 2005 Orange Bowl (BCS Championship Game), 2006 Rose Bowl (BCS Championship Game), 2007 Rose Bowl, 2008 Rose Bowl, 2009 Rose Bowl and 2009 Emerald Bowl.
In 2008, Maualuga was named a first-team All-American and the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, made his third consecutive All-Pac-10 First Team and was USC’s first-ever winner of the Bednarik Award. He also was a finalist for the Lombardi, Butkus and Nagurski Awards. Cushing was also a Butkus Award finalist and won All-Pac-10 First Team honors. Following the season, Cushing and Matthews were first-round picks in the NFL Draft and Maualuga was a second-round selection.
In 2007, Rivers was an All-American first-teamer and was a first-round NFL draft pick following the season, while LB Thomas Williams was a fifth-round NFL selection. In 2006 and 2007, Rivers and Maualuga made the All-Pac-10 First Team. LBs Dallas Sartz (fifth round) and Oscar Lua (seventh round) were also selected in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Maualuga was named first-team Freshman All-American in 2005 and LBs Matt Grootegoed and Tatupu were named first team All-American in 2004. Grootegoed was also a Butkus Award finalist and Tatupu was selected in the second round of the NFL draft. Norton, Jr. also helped USC win the BCS National Championship in 2004, beating Oklahoma, 55-19.
After retiring from the NFL in 2000, Norton, Jr. was a radio and television commentator and analyst, including appearances on the NFL Network. He also served as the defensive coordinator at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, Calif., in 2003.
PERSONAL: Native of Westchester, Calif. …Played in the NFL for 13 seasons…Was originally drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round (41st overall) of the 1988 NFL Draft…Spent his first six seasons with the Cowboys from 1988-93 and his final seven with the San Francisco 49ers from 1994-2000…Appeared in 191 games with 188 starts, recording 1,274 tackles (897 solo), 12.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries, five interceptions and 49 passes defensed…Named an Associated Press All-Pro in 1995…Is the only player in NFL history to play on three consecutive Super Bowl-winning teams (Dallas in 1992 and 1993 and San Francisco in 1994)…Earned All-American honors at UCLA in 1987…Was a four-year letter-winner for the Bruins from 1984-87 and was a finalist for the Butkus Award as a senior…Earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UCLA…He and his wife, Angela, have three children: Brittney, Sabrina, and Ken III…His father, Ken Norton, Sr., was the WBC world heavyweight boxing champion from 1977 to 1978, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.