A day after the Seahawks' 2016 season ended with a playoff loss in Atlanta, Rocky Seto, the team's assistant head coach/defense, spoke to his fellow coaches, then later to players, and both times he couldn't get through his message without tears.
After 18 years in coaching, 16 of which came working under Pete Carroll at USC and in Seattle, Seto is leaving the profession to become a minister. Seto said Carroll was "really supportive and encouraging" when he broke the news, and after the season ended, Carroll had Seto tell coaches and players about his decision.
"I broke down in tears when I talked about how Coach and I have been together for the past 16 years," Seto said. He then "broke down again" when it came time to tell the players.
"It has been a privilege of a lifetime to work under coach for 16 years and all of these coaches and players," he said. "That's one of the hardest parts of leaving the game."
Yet as hard as it is to leave, Seto said the decision is one he is making without hesitation or reservation.
"It's something I've been thinking about for a long time, and more intensively over the last seven years," Seto said. "I considered not coming up to Seattle with Coach Carroll when we first came up here. I thought about going into ministry then. I've been thinking about it every year, praying about it and asking Jesus to see if this is the year, and this year it was ridiculously clear to us. I can't think of anything else I'd rather do."
To be sure leaving football for pastoral ministry was the right decision for him, Seto and his wife, Sharla, went over hypothetical dream jobs in football that could come along if he stayed with the Seahawks, and his conclusion was that "I'd still rather do this."
Seto understands that his decision "doesn't make sense to some people. Most people think this is a crazy idea for a lot of reasons."
But for Seto, walking away from a high-profile job in the NFL "makes perfect sense."
"I can understand why people would think, 'this is crazy, what are you doing this for?'" said Seto, who also has a ministry website, thegreatesttreasure.org. "But this is a unique calling for us. If God called us to stay in football, we would have stayed in football."
"It was more than a feeling or anything like that. This work is like a compulsion, like a I-have-to-do-it type of conviction, and this conviction has been growing over the years. I have to do it. As much as I love coaching football, which I do—it has been a dream doing this for a living—this is something that is beyond my love for the game of football and my love for coaching football."
With Seto leaving, the Seahawks lose a longtime assistant who worked his way up from being a quality control coach to defensive backs coach to passing game coordinator to eventually earning the assistant head coaching title.
"Rocky is the details," cornerback Richard Sherman once said. "He brings a very detailed approach and understanding of tackling plans, third-down efficiency, a lot of the plays that teams like to run. He gets real intricate with his understanding of the game, and it helps with our preparation throughout the week."
Carroll has long pointed to unique perspective Seto brings having worked with Carroll for so long.
"He has been an integral part back in the SC days and here as well in translating what we do and how we do stuff to the new guys we've had come in—players and coaches," Carroll said in 2015. "He's always been kind of the foundation of all of the teaching. We can always go back to Rock, he's got all the background and the reasons why—he's really the keeper of records for us. He has been a really good factor in so many ways."
Carroll also called Seto "a great advisor to me" because of the amount of time those two worked together.
"We've been through so much together, so when I get a little off base or out of whack, he's the first one to show up at my door, and I say, 'I know, I know, what is it this time? Here we go,'" Carroll said. "Which is great, I need it."
In addition to being a part of the most successful run in franchise history, Seto can also leave the Seahawks knowing he had a hand in making the game better and safer. For the past three years, Seto and Carroll have worked together to create and promote Seahawks tackling videos that teach Seattle's shoulder-based tackling technique. In addition to the videos, Seto also has a website promoting safe tackling, shouldertackling.com, and he spent time in recent offseasons traveling around the country to give free tackling clinics to players, coaches and parents, including last summer when he and Seahawks linebackers coach Michael Barrow teamed with Rams and Raiders assistants for clinic at Inglewood High School.
On multiple occasions, Seto has said making football safer via these videos and clinics will be "Coach Carroll's biggest contribution to the game," but Carroll is always quick to give the credit back to Seto.
"Honestly that's going to be Coach Carroll's biggest contribution to the game, and I thank God that I've been able to be a part of it and help spearhead this thing," Seto said. "I've always thought, whether I was at the University of Southern California or with the Seattle Seahawks, I always wanted to leave the game better than we found it, and I think this is going to help save the game of football."
Photos of Seahawks players practicing with the NFC team on Day 2 at the 2017 Pro Bowl in Orlando, Florida.