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"He's A Special Dude." Why Mike Macdonald Is The New Head Coach Of The Seahawks

General manager John Schneider and head coach Mike Macdonald discussed Macdonald becoming the team’s new head coach in his introductory press conference.

Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald was introduced as head coach on Thursday, February 1, 2024 at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald was introduced as head coach on Thursday, February 1, 2024 at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.

When Mike Macdonald was still a 20-something assistant coach, just starting out his career at the University of Georgia, he went to breakfast with Xarvia Smith, his high school football coach who also gave Macdonald his first coaching job at Cedar Shoals High School in Athens, Georgia.

While Smith's two young sons enjoyed their meal, he shared a prophetic message with Macdonald, who while injured as a senior had become his own team's defacto linebackers coach, and who impressed Smith enough in that role to get a job from Smith as a freshman coach while Macdonald was still in college.

"As we sat at the table eating breakfast, I said, 'Mike, you know what's getting ready to happen? You're going to go to the NFL, you're going to be a coach, then you're going to be a defensive coordinator, and after three or four (years) of that, you're going to be a head coach.' And he laughed," Smith said on Wednesday after Macdonald was named the Seahawks' new head coach. "I was like, 'you watch, you'll be a head coach when you're 35.'"

Smith, it turns out, was only a year off on the plan he dreamed up for his young protégé a decade ago, because on Wednesday, the Seahawks made the 36-year-old the youngest head coach in the NFL.

"He's always been a leader," said Smith, who coached Macdonald at Centennial High School in Roswell, a suburb of Atlanta, before later hiring him at Cedar Shoals while Macdonald was in college. "It's very impressive that a young man who wasn't a superstar in high school, didn't play college football, can go into a room and command the NFL players and get their attention. The thing people are missing about Mike that he does a great job of is getting those men to love playing with each other and playing for each other. That's the whole key, you've got to get a bunch of men to play for each other and not play for themselves. That's what he does a great job of."

"This is the future right here… He's a special dude."

Xarvia Smith might have been a little bit biased when he made that bold prediction so many years ago, given that he coached Macdonald and later employed him, but he wasn't wrong, and in recent years the college and NFL worlds have seen just how special of a coach Macdonald is as he built dominant defenses at the University of Michigan and with the Baltimore Ravens. And as impressive as Macdonald's football acumen is, he also brings to Seattle the type of leadership skills that should help him thrive as the person running the whole team for the first time.

"This is the future right here," Seahawks general manager John Schneider said. "This is where it's going. I think you're going to learn in getting to know Mike that he's a special dude… It comes down to relationships and trust, and it happened quickly with Mike. With Mike, I would say that what I've learned from preparing for all this is that Mike is a learning networker, not a climbing networker. There's a huge difference there. This has happened quickly for him, but when you sit down with him and you get to meet him, you understand the why. The whys of, 'Wow, he knows that guy, he knows that guy, and he knows this guy.' I've been in the league for 30 years and we know a ton of the same people. So that really stood out."

While Macdonald is new to Seattle, minus some frequent visits when his sister and brother-in-law lived in Seattle, he is not new to being part of a successful franchise with a winning and positive culture. And being a part of what Schneider and Pete Carroll helped build in Seattle was a big draw to Macdonald in taking this job.

"This is a responsibility that my wife and I, we take extremely seriously," Macdonald said with his wife, Stephanie, sitting nearby. "We're East Coast folks. We've grown up on the East Coast, but we do have family out here in the area, and we've seen this organization operate from afar, and I've had nothing but respect for the ownership, especially John and how they've operated, Coach Carroll, the ability to compete for championships at a consistent pace and how they play and the spirit of the players has been something that I respect a lot. Going through the process and meeting John and the leadership team, I think the first thing that really popped to me was the parallels of the organization that I've been working for 10 years and where I've really grown into the person and the man and the coach that I am today. That was extremely appealing to me. To hear John talk about people and how important it is was the driving force of why we want to be here. It is a leap of faith, but this is a special city. This is a great football city, man, and we've got the best fans in the world. I understand where this organization wants to go, and I feel like we're aligned on how we want to get there. I'm just juiced to go do it.

"There's going to be no secret thing of scheme or secret plays that are going to get us there faster. It's going to take a lot of hard work by finding the right people and doing it the right way, treating people the right way, building everybody up throughout the building. I want everybody to feel like they are a part of this mission. It's going to take all we've got one day at a time, and it's that simple. It's one conversation at a time, it's one relationship at a time. My wife and I have been talking, this feels like home already."

Schneider talked repeatedly about Macdonald’s impressive resume as a defensive coordinator, including an anecdote about how Baltimore’s dominant performance against the Seahawks helped his case for the job, but in interviewing Macdonald for the job, the conversation was less about Xs and Os and more about the other skills that he'll need for the job.

"We weren't talking schematics and moving, shifting—how coaches do coach-speak—we didn't get into that," Schneider said. "It was communication, leadership, clarity. I think that jumps off with Mike. I talked to several people that interviewed him already, and they're like, wait until you look in this guy's eyes, man. He's there, he's present, he's on it. He was. Everybody in that room felt it."

Smith's rise through the coaching ranks has been quick, to be sure, hence his becoming the league's youngest head coach this season. But throughout his climb from intern to position coach to coordinator to, now, a head coach, the focus was never on climbing the ladder, but rather on helping players maximize their potential, and with that came the team success and then the promotions.

"When I hear people tell me, 'You've risen really fast,' it makes me a little uncomfortable because that's not really the goal," he said. "You're trying to be in the role that you are to help the team the best you can. Ultimately as your roles and your responsibilities increase, your ability to do that is greater. I think that's the mentality you have to have. The more you're in this business and you're around these great people and the competition is so high, you realize there's no way it can be just you. There's so much. There's so much power in the effort of the group and it kind of unlocking the people around you. So the whole goal is about empowering those folks and trying to bring the best out of them, and then ultimately as an organization, that's really how you go far, is together."

After thanking the people in Baltimore who helped him get to this point, as well as the people in Seattle who hired him, Macdonald addressed the players he will be coaching in 2024 and beyond.

"Our players here and the players that we'll be able to coach for the Seahawks, I hope you understand that you're the driving force behind everything that we do, and I can guarantee you this: you will get everything out of myself and our coaching staff every day," he said. "We will not stop until we want to get to where we get. I hope that's very clear to you. You're the first thing that goes through our mind when we make decisions. That's the only way to do it. That's the only way to win."

"My plan is to be myself every day. You're just going to get me. It's not a facade."

In taking the head coaching job in Seattle, Macdonald is taking over for the most successful coach in franchise history and quite likely a Hall of Famer. And while Macdonald has the utmost respect for what Pete Carroll did in his 14 seasons in Seattle, he also knows he can't try to come to Seattle and become the next Carroll.

"I've always admired him from afar," Macdonald said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his track record. He's probably a Hall of Fame coach. Pete has a great personality, but it's his, and it's authentic to who he is as a person. I think that's why the players resonate with him and why he has such a great reputation, and his track record is what it is. I have a different personality, and you'll get to know me, but my plan is to be myself every day. You're just going to get me. It's not a facade. There are no altered agendas or anything like that. It's all about what's the best interest for the team, what's the best interest for the players, and how we can be successful. There's a sense of humor in there, I promise. Some people like it more than others. But it'll come out. If you're trying to be somebody that you're not, one, it's exhausting, and two, people see right through it."

And Macdonald's personality, including the self-deprecating wit, has worked just fine so far with the players he coached in Baltimore and at Michigan.

"I think he's the best (head-coaching) candidate out there right now," Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen told reporters on Monday. "I don't think anybody does it like him. Nobody cares like him. Nobody will do what he does. He will not rest until he has everything right. Whoever gets him, if he leaves, they're getting the best candidate out there. The guy is all around just the best person I've ever been around, coach-wise and person-wise. He really cares and truly cares about the players, the people around the organization and the fans." 

Said Ravens linebacker Kyle Van Noy, "Mike is going to do a really good job. If he gets a head-coaching job, he's going to be really, really good. Very solid coach, very good at Xs and Os, very good at communicating and getting the team galvanized in the right direction for the main goal – and he loves football. I think that it's awesome for him to get looked at as a head coach at such a young age…I expect big things out of him." 

Not long before Macdonald was hired, Ravens All-Pro safety Kyle Hamilton told the NFL Network, "He's super cerebral. Really smart guy, probably the smartest guy in the building—don't tell him I said that. He's going to get everybody it the right spots, use everybody's best abilities, and really just conform to what we do best as a defense and as a team. Great motivator, he let's the guys lead the room, just a bunch of great qualities. Whatever's coming in his future, he deserved it."

Macdonald is in for a new challenge as a first-year head coach, and as he noted on Thursday, there will inevitably be some adversity, but to those who have been around him, there is little doubt that the Seahawks' new head coach will be up to the challenge.

"That's the challenge, how can you get a bunch of young men to be selfless to play for one another, and that's what Mike does a great job of," said Smith. "We used to always talk about, you've got to get the players to love one another, and they'll love playing for you. That's how you get 'em. And they're going to love playing for Mike."

The Seahawks introduced Mike Macdonald in his first press conference as head coach on February 1, 2024 at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.

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