INDIANAPOLIS—The Seahawks coaching staff that traveled to this week's NFL scouting combine is significantly different than the group that was here a year ago. Yes, Pete Carroll remains the man in charge as Seattle's head coach, but he made several changes to his coaching staff, including at both offensive and defensive coordinator.
Carroll addressed those changes for the first time during a press conference Thursday, saying, "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'm energized by it. The whole group is. And we're looking forward to working to see how it's going to turn out."
Carroll noted these were all tough decisions—former offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and offensive line coach Tom Cable worked with Carroll for seven seasons, and Carroll and former defensive coordinator Kris Richard go all the way back to Richard's playing days at USC—but he said some new voices can help the team.
"We wanted to make sure to challenge the opportunity to get better," Carroll said. "There are some tough decisions here to get that done, but I just wanted to work at changing the approach to it, so that we can find our ways and maybe some newness that we could uncover. It was difficult to make those choices, because the guys that left we had done so much together and had so much fun and worked together in great fashion.
New to Carroll's coaching staff this year are offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., offensive line coach Mike Solari, assistant defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, assistant special teams coach Larry Izzo and offensive assistant Steve Shimko. The Seahawks also moved Dave Canales from receivers coach to quarterback coach, named former quarterbacks coach Carl Smith associate head coach, and promoted Nate Carroll to receivers coach.
"I'm excited about it," Carroll said of the changes. "I'm excited about the challenge of the newness and the opportunity to get better. I want to personally be challenged by our guys and I want to personally challenge them. That will translate to challenging our players to see things differently and in a new way. It felt like this was the right time, and the opportunity to get some guys that were available obviously made that an opportunity I couldn't pass up."
In particular, Carroll indicated that quarterback Russell Wilson will benefit from working with and being challenged by Schottenheimer. On several occasions when asked about Schottenheimer, Carroll mentioned Wilson's development as a reason the Seahawks are excited about their new offensive coordinator.
"He's got a really good connection with the quarterback, really good communication, relationship with the QB," Carroll said of Schottenheimer, who most recently served as the quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis. "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."
And what could that development for Wilson look like going forward? What's the next step for a quarterback who has already accomplished so much?
"Just keep growing, just keep getting better," Carroll said. "I've said this for a couple of years now that one of these years he is going to be a 70 percent completion guy, and it just means cleaning things up a little bit more, being more efficient and more precise. He has grown so much, he is so much more aware than he was in earlier years but this is the process that it takes. What year is it for him now, six or seven? Every one of these years is another opportunity to grow. He's been compared to the greatest quarterbacks who have ever played in our league and we always look at that in year 13, 14 or 11 and he's not even there yet. He's halfway to that kind of a number. So I think there is tremendous upside, and I know he thinks that too and he is looking forward to getting better and finding a way to contribute in a bigger way and be a bigger factor. The quarterback will always be a focal point in your development and we're 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. That would be great."
In addition to helping Wilson develop, Carroll hopes Schottenheimer, as well as Solari, can help the Seahawks get their running game back on track.
"That's exactly where we want to make sure we are headed," Carroll said. "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 can 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."
On the addition of Solari, who also coached in Seattle from 2008 to 2009, Carroll said, "Mike Solari and I go back way back to the 'Niners days, so I've known Mikey for a long time. 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. That gave them a good connection too in communication, and that's important. So it's going to be a great move for us. I'm really fired up about it."
As for the change at defensive coordinator, Carroll called Richard "a terrific coach" but said it was "just time to make a change," especially if that change meant bringing back Norton, a coach who spent his entire career working with Carroll before leaving to become the defensive coordinator of the Raiders in 2015.
"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," Carroll said. "… I've always loved Kenny and I love what he brings. 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."
Following a 9-7 season in which the Seahawks missed the postseason for just the second time in eight years under Carroll and general manager John Schneider, Carroll calls this offseason "a great challenge," and part of taking that challenge on meant making some significant changes to his coaching staff.
"I take it as a personal challenge, as well as a franchise challenge," he said. "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."
Take a look back through the years at photos of current Seahawks players participating in the annual NFL Combine.