Twice in his time as the general manager of the Seahawks, John Schneider has come out of a loss with a particularly bad feeling about what took place.
The first, Schneider said, was when the Seahawks were shut out in Pittsburgh early in the 2011 season. The second? That came last season when Baltimore held a talented Seahawks offense to a single field goal.
Three months later, Schneider sat next to Mike Macdonald, the architect of that Ravens defense, to introduce the former defensive coordinator as the ninth head coach in franchise history.
"Leaving Baltimore this year, that was not cool," Schneider said, looking at his new head coach.
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The ability of Macdonald's defenses to baffle and frustrate opposing offenses, both at the NFL and college level—he was Michigan's defensive coordinator in 2021—was just part of why the Seahawks made the 36-year-old the youngest head coach in the NFL. Yes, there are many, many things that make a successful head coach beyond schematic genius on one side of the ball, and the Seahawks are fully confident that Macdonald possesses those traits, but it's hard to ignore what he has been able to get out of the defenses he has led over the past three seasons.
"The product," Schneider said when asked about hiring Macdonald. "Watching the film. Feeling their defense that day, being there in that stadium… We all were there and felt it. In talking to the players, several offensive players were like, 'What was that? What just happened?' I try to pick the players' brains here and there throughout the season, and that totally stood out. I forget which player it was, but he was like, 'What was that? Who was that?'
"He's a disruptor, he's changed it. You look at the product, look at their defense."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh has credited Macdonald with having a big hand in building Baltimore's defense even before he was a coordinator, though Macdonald points to a collaborative effort in creating the NFL's best defense in 2023.
"It's something that we built in Baltimore with the coaches that we had," he said. "You're going to draw inspiration from schemes and people that you feel like are doing some cool stuff out there and have answers for things. I think going to college and being able to reach out to a lot of different programs—there's a lot of different programs throughout the country that I really respect, and coaches that were really helpful translating the game to college, and I think what that did is it streamlined a lot of the things we're trying to do at the pro level."
Macdonald credits everyone from past Ravens defensive coordinators to other defensive gurus like Rex Ryan and Jim Johnson with helping shape his views on defense, but more than any one specific scheme, the key to his defense in Seattle will be, Macdonald said, the ability to adapt, both to what opposing offenses are doing, and also to the personnel he is coaching.
"It's adaptable, but we're always going to be aggressive in how we want to do it," Macdonald said. "People ask about our blitz rates and all that, that's not important to me; it's about putting yourself in positions to win the down, affecting the quarterback, putting your guys in position to have success."
Macdonald doesn't know exactly what his defense will look like in Seattle because he still needs to get to know the players he'll be working with. But regardless of the specifics heading into the season, one thing Macdonald made clear is that the defense needs to be flexible enough to adapt to the different talented offenses Seattle will face.
"The offenses out there are too good to run three things and just say, 'Hey, we're going to beat you,'" Macdonald said. "Philosophically, we're all in this thing together, and the players need to know that we're trying to put them in advantageous positions, so we're constantly trying to give them little margins of advantages. And if you're not doing that, then what are you doing as a coach? Whether it's through technique or fundamentals or communication or scheme. The system that we run is built on concepts that are adjustable and we can layer it together. We're not going to get there overnight, it's going to be a process, but we have we have, we understand what that takes. The cadence will vary based on how fast the guys can pick it up, and what they can do. So the spirit of how we play and the principles of how we play, what you've seen on the tape in Baltimore will be the same, but I can't guarantee you the schematics will be the same here, because we're not sure what we're good at yet."
As for his gameday responsibilities, Macdonald said he plans to call defensive plays, at least to start out. In time, depending on the defensive coordinator and how similarly those two see the game, he could see handing those duties off at some point.
"Right now, the plan is that I'll be calling the plays," Macdonald said. "Now, depending on who the defensive coordinator is—ultimately I'm the head coach of the football team, so I want to coach the football team, and right now, the best way that we can win, in my opinion, is for me to call to plays. Then when it becomes obvious that someone else is ready to go and we see it the same way, then we'll make that change."
And while Macdonald's expertise is on the defensive side of the ball, he also has thoughts on offense, though specifically what the offense will look like will be shaped in no small part by the yet-to-be-hired offensive coordinator. But what is clear is that Macdonald wants his team's offense, like its defense, to be adaptable.
"The percentage of when you run the ball and how much and all that, that's all adjustable," Macdonald said. "To me, it's going to mirror our football team. We're going to be a physical football team, we're going to have answers, we're going to try to be explosive, and we're going to build it around the players that we have."
The Seahawks introduced Mike Macdonald in his first press conference as head coach on February 1, 2024 at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.