With the Seahawks announcing Tuesday they have parted ways with defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., the inevitable question is what happens next?
When it comes to Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator hires, you usually don’t go wrong thinking he will bring in someone he already knows.
In fact, of the eight defensive coordinators he has hired in his 25 years as a head coach in the NFL and at USC, six were coaches he had worked with previously.
That includes three of his four previous coordinators with the Seahawks – Norton, Kris Richard and Dan Quinn, who had all been assistants with Seattle under Carroll for at least a season before being named DC.
The only exceptions are his first DC with the Seahawks, Gus Bradley – who was already on staff and came with a heavy recommendation from Carroll’s mentor, Monte Kiffin, with whom Bradley had worked for three years – and Steve Sidwell during Carroll’s three-year run with the Patriots. Sidwell had no coaching ties to Carroll but was coming off a nine-year run acclaimed as one of the best DCs in the NFL with the Saints and interestingly was later the DC for Seattle from 2000-02.
It’s been thought to be two reasons for this:
1. Carroll made his name as defensive backs coach and coordinator before becoming a head coach and is thought to have always had a heavy say in the defense of any team for which he has been the head coach. Carroll was his own DC at USC from 2001-05, then named Nick Holt as DC in 2006. But when Holt left USC for UW in 2009, one perceived reason is that Carroll continued to call the plays, and Holt wanted to go somewhere he had full control.
2. Due to his defensive experience, Carroll has clearly defined ways he wants things done. Most notably may be Carroll’s way of teaching cornerback play, specifically, the step-kick technique. Any DC working under Carroll will have to do certain schematic and fundamental things his way.
That may be in part why the two names that sources said would get immediate consideration have ties to Carroll – Ed Donatell and Clint Hurtt. ESPN reported Tuesday afternoon that the Seahawks had officially requested permission to talk to Donatell.
Here’s a quick look at each:
Donatell, 64, has been the defensive coordinator with the Broncos the last three years, working under Vic Fangio. Fangio was fired last week, leaving the fate of the assistants unclear. Donatell has known Carroll for almost 40 years. His first full-time coaching job was as the defensive backs coach at the University of Pacific in Stockton, California, in 1983 when Carroll was the DC. Donatell later worked on the defensive coaching staff of the Jets as 1990-94 when Carroll was the DC from 1990-93 and then head coach in 1994.
UW fans may remember Donatell as the defensive coordinator of the 0-12 team in 2008 coached by Tyrone Willingham. Donatell was hired in January that year to a two-year contract to replace the fired Kent Baer. He had been let go as DC of the Atlanta Falcons in 2006 and served as a special assistant with the Jets in 2007. Donatell also worked as a graduate assistant at UW in 1981-82.
He has 10 years experience as a DC in the NFL, including a four-year run with the Packers from 2000-03.
Donatell was also the defensive backs coach for the 49ers from 2011-14 under Jim Harbaugh as head coach and Fangio as the DC. He was also secondary coach for the 1997-98 Denver teams that won back-to-back Super Bowls.
Donatell is also used to working under a head coach with a strong defensive background as Fangio called the defensive plays for Denver the last three seasons.
Hurtt, 43, appears to be the leading, if not only, candidate from the current staff.
Hurtt has been Seattle’s defensive line coach since 2017, also taking the title of assistant head coach in 2018.
He also has experience under Fangio, working under him as outside linebackers coach with the Bears in 2015-16 when Fangio was the DC. Interestingly, Donatell was also on the Chicago staff then as defensive backs coach in 2015-16. Hurtt was also the assistant defensive line coach with the Bears in 2014. His experience previous to that was all in college and on defense, though he has never been a coordinator at any level.
During his Seattle tenure, Hurtt has been lauded for his relationship with players, and the interior of Seattle’s defensive line (Poona Ford, Al Woods, Bryan Mone) may have been the most consistent area of the Seahawks in 2021, a key to Seattle allowing just 3.8 yards per rush, second-best in the NFL.
Hurtt played at the University of Miami from 1997-2000 before a knee injury cut his career short.
Other possible candidates
Given that Seattle was reported to have asked for permission to talk to Donatell almost immediately after the news was made official that Norton had been fired, he appears to be the clear Favorite. But of course, the Seahawks could consider other candidates.
Seahawks might wish for a return of Quinn or maybe even going after Fangio. But Quinn, now the DC with Dallas, is more likely to end up a head coach than make a lateral move as a coordinator. And it’s unclear what Fangio’s future holds. He has no ties with Carroll other than their many games competing against each other.
Here are a few other names:
Gus Bradley: Bradley, 55, is currently the DC with the Raiders and could be looking for a job depending on what happens with the head coaching position there – it’s unclear if interim coach Rich Bisaccia will be retained, with the Raiders on Monday firing general manager Mike Mayock. But would either Bradley or Carroll consider a reunion?