Russell Wilson was in Orlando when he found out he would be playing for a new offensive coordinator in 2018. The Seahawks quarterback didn't know much about Brian Schottenheimer, who most recently had been the quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis, but Wilson didn't have to look far for a scouting report.
While riding a bus to Pro Bowl practice, Wilson turned to fellow NFC quarterback Drew Brees and asked for his take on Schottenheimer. The Saints quarterback is a player Wilson has long looked up to, and early in his career in San Diego, Brees had Schottenheimer for a quarterbacks coach and called him "a great influence for me."
"I remember sitting on the bus with Drew and I asked him, 'You know Schotty pretty well right?'" Wilson said. "And he said, 'yeah, yeah man'. One of his best friends, they're super close. I think that's what Drew really loved about him was the details of all the work. He really helped progress his career, even at a young age in San Diego, and they've been close ever since… They're both very similar personalities, but both very detail-oriented. That's why I think I get along with those guys as well. It's been great so far."
The first time Seahawks coach Pete Carroll addressed the offseason changes he made to his coaching staff, he pointed to Schottenheimer's "really good connection to the quarterback" as one of the key reasons for hiring the longtime quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. With the season opener approaching Sunday, the Seahawks hope Schottenheimer's ability to get the most out of Wilson will lead to big things on offense in 2018, and so far Carroll loves what he has seen as those two have worked so closely together along with quarterbacks coach Dave Canales, who was promoted to that role in the offseason.
"It has gone way beyond where I thought it would," Carroll said of the quarterback-coordinator relationship. "I don't want to say I underestimated Schotty, but I just didn't know how his style would come across and fit so well with us. He's really active, really energetic, extremely bright. He's just able to command the whole field when he's out there. He's a terrific football coach. But the part that was most important to me was the interaction with the quarterback as well as the offense. We're really lucky and fortunately, it didn't have to fit so well but Russ really took to him and it made sense to Russ, what he was offering and what he was bringing, and they've just worked great together. I expect nothing but the highest stuff from these guys to figure out. The relationship is precisely what I had hoped and more."
And if an endorsement from Brees, a future Hall of Famer, isn't enough, how about one from a six-time Pro-Bowl receiver who has played for five different teams in a 12-year career.
"I've been around a lot, played with a lot of quarterbacks, had a lot of OCs," receiver Brandon Marshall said. "So I knew it would be special playing with 3 (Wilson), but Schotty is the one that stands out the most. He's special. Really talented, smart, so I'm excited to see what he puts together for us week-in and week-out."
One reason that relationship has a chance to be so productive is that Schottenheimer and Wilson have a lot in common in how they approach their jobs. Wilson, known for his "no time to sleep" hashtags on social media, has always been known for a work ethic that boarders on obsessive. Schottenheimer, the son of longtime NFL head coach Marty Schottenheimer, also believes in outworking an opponent. Yet in other ways they're different—Schottenheimer says he's fiery while Wilson is the calm one—and that dynamic has worked well so far.
"It has been terrific," Schottenheimer said of Wilson. "I didn't know what to expect. Obviously I've been a fan of his from afar, just the things he and this organization have done. The first thing you notice when you're around the guy is that he's just the ultimate competitor. He works like crazy. That's the way I am—I take the mentality that you can outwork people. So he and I kind of see things in the same in regards to that. But easy guy to get to know. I think all players care about is, 'Can this guy help me get better, and do they care about me?' What we want to know as coaches is, are these guys committed to football, will they work, will they do the things we ask them to do? And from the get-go, it has been terrific. It has been really, really good. He's good for me. I'm a very emotional person, I get fired up, get angry; he's calm. I think I'm good for him because I push him, I like to press him and hold him accountable, things like that. But I couldn't ask for a better working relationship. I just love being around quarterbacks, and having coached them at so many different stops, he's by far one of my favorites."
That Schottenheimer comes to this job willing to push an established quarterback was one of the main reasons Carroll made him Seattle's offensive coordinator. For example, early in offseason workouts, Schottenheimer asked Wilson, a five-time Pro-Bowler who led the NFL in passer rating in 2015 and in touchdown passes last year, to tweak his three-step drop. The very early returns weren't great, but the two kept working together on it and eventually found common ground.
"We're asking him to do some different things fundamentally," Schottenheimer said. "Again, it's trying to hold him to the standard that he has set, not that I've set or the organization has set, but he has set in terms of his ability to play this game at an elite level. Just the challenge in making him continue to do some different fundamentals that he's getting comfortable with has been fun. One of the first days of the job, we're having him do a simple three-step drop drill, and he kind of has a way that he does his drop, and I changed it a little bit. He threw the first pass, wasn't very good, threw the second pass, wasn't very good, and I saw him shaking his head. But he just kept working through it, I said, 'Just keep working on it,' and we got there."
And don't take Schottenheimer coaching Wilson hard as a sign that he doesn't like what he sees in the quarterback. If anything, Wilson has been even better than Schottenheimer was expecting, both in terms of his physical ability and in the way he sees the game. But like Carroll, who has often noted that quarterbacks continue to improve years into their careers, Schottenheimer sees even bigger things in Wilsons' future, especially after seeing so many impressive things from the quarterback in their first few months working together.
"I think there's a ton still out there for him," Schottenheimer said. "When I first got here, I didn't realize what a talented passer he is. I don't think he gets enough credit for that around league circles. They think he just runs around and improvises, that's not the case. I think he's a top-notch passer in this league, one of the best deep ball throwers I've ever been around. And the other thing you don't realize when you're watching from afar is how instinctive he is. The guy just sees things that a lot of quarterbacks don't. So that has been fun. I kind of compare it to the year I was with Brett Favre (with the New York Jets). Brett would come off the sideline, and I'd see something and we'd be going back and forth about something, and he'd be like, 'no, here's what I saw.' I had seen it differently, and sure enough I'd look at it and say, 'Damn, he was right. He saw it exactly right.' And Russ is that way… The instincts jump out at me with him. But again, there's things he can do from a fundamental standpoint that he's challenging himself, that he's enjoying doing. And it's fun to watch a guy who has played so well for so long be excited about trying different things."
Wilson describes his time so far with Schottenheimer as "a great relationship." One of the main reasons Carroll wanted to change things with his offensive coaching staff to have one voice leading the way, unlike in past years when Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable both had a big hand in running Seattle's offense. Only time will tell how the change works out, but what is clear already is that it means a lot of one-on-one time for Wilson and Schottenheimer, something the quarterback is embracing.
"We talk all the time, talk about ball, what we're trying to do and why, the whys of football, diving into the details," Wilson said. "We've implemented a lot of stuff that we've done before that I know really well, then we've added a bunch. And Coach Schottenheimer and (offensive line coach Mike) Solari have done a tremendous job of really making it a smooth, smooth transition for our football team, but also competitively really trying to figure out, 'hey, how are we going to attack a defense.'
"So I think Schottenheimer is great because, one, he's been around the league for so long, he understands the game, he's a ball coach, he really is invested in the details and invested in the system and all the different things we want to do. And it's very expansive, there's a lot of different things going on, a lot more terminology and everything else, in a good way for us. I think that's good for us."
As for the notion that Schottenheimer is coaching him hard, Wilson downplays that talk, saying, "He's super competitive, very much like me. so when he says coaching hard, he's not the type who's going to scream at you just to scream at you, he's more like, 'Let's get on it, let's get on it,' very motivating, very on the details. And that's very much how I am. He's tremendous in that way, and that's why I think it has been great so far."
And just as the Seahawks see Schottenheimer as a coach who can help them get the most out of their offense, he sees this organization as one that can help him thrive as a coach. Seahawks general manager John Schneider has said in the past that the two most important people in the building are the head coach and the quarterback, and few teams in the NFL offer a better combo there than Wilson and Carroll.
"It's awesome," Schottenheimer said. "This is hard for me to say, because I obviously hold my father in very high regard, but Pete is probably the best head coach I've ever worked for in regards to the culture he has built here. There's a plan, there's a way that we do things, and that makes it easy for the assistants to do their job. You know what's expected, it's very positive, there's a lot of energy. What we do day-in and day-out for a long period of time can wear on people, but Pete does an awesome job of keeping loose, keeping it light, so that's fantastic. I feel like I learn something new every day just from being around Pete and from his experience, so that's awesome. Then with Russ, you get challenged every day, because I know he's going to be prepared, I know that when he walks into the meeting tomorrow, he's going to be prepared, and if I'm not prepared equally or more, there are going to be things he's going to be like, 'Did you see that on the film from last year when they played so and so?' So those are the things that get you excited about getting up every morning."
Photos from Thursday's practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos.