The Seattle Seahawks fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and defensive passing game coordinator Andre Curtis, a major reshuffling of Pete Carroll’s coaching staff on the heels of the team’s worst season in addition to a decade.
The Seahawks announced the changes Tuesday.
Seattle has already begun its search for a new defensive coordinator, asking permission to speak with Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Donatell, 64, has coordinated and coached NFL secondaries for decades.
Norton, 55, Carroll’s longtime assistant, has served as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator for the past four seasons. The 2021 season typified the mixed nature of his tenure, with the Seahawks finishing fifth in worst yards allowed (379.1 per game) and tied for 11th in points allowed (21.53).
For the second season in a row, Seattle’s defense slashed at a historic pace early on before bouncing back with a solid finish. Carroll mentioned this trend last week while citing several things that went wrong for the Seahawks during a 7-10 season in which they suffered the most losses since 2009, the year before he joined with general manager John Schneider.
“Defensively, we haven’t started this season fast enough yet,” Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle a day after the Seahawks’ season finale. “It’s been twice in a row that we haven’t started fast enough, and we found ourselves and got some good numbers that indicate how you play. It just didn’t happen soon enough.”
The 2021 team has allowed for at least 450 yards in four consecutive games (Weeks 2-5), a franchise record and tied for the longest streak in NFL history. The defense got on the right track after an upset at cornerback in which Tre Flowers was benched (he was later released) and DJ Reed returned to the right side.
The 2020 team has allowed the most passing yards in nine games in league history and surpassed the previous mark in just eight games. He has allowed the fewest points in the NFL in the final seven weeks of this season.
At his season-ending press conference on Jan. 10, Carroll declined to comment on whether Norton and freshman offensive coordinator Shane Waldron would return.
“I don’t talk about any of those things,” he said. “It’s that day when a lot happens in the league for the coaches. It’s a day that we respect differently from others. Until you’re there, you can’t really understand the whole thing. impact of that day. But our coaches worked hard. They did a great job. We started our end-of-season meetings today, and I’m going to meet all these guys before I leave here. I I’m really proud of the work everyone has done, and I feel lucky that we’re doing this thing together.”
Curtis joined Carroll’s staff in 2015 as an assistant secondary coach in charge of safeties. He was elevated to defensive passing game coordinator in 2018.
Norton, a former Pro Bowl linebacker, played for Carroll in 1994 and 1995 when Carroll was the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Norton coached under Carroll for 15 of the previous 18 seasons dating back to their time together at USC.
One question now is whether Carroll will re-hire one of his former assistants to lead his defense or step out of his own coaching tree. Dan Quinn, Kris Richard and Norton had all previously worked under Carroll or were already doing so when they became Seattle’s defensive coordinators. Gus Bradley, a holdover from Jim L. Mora’s 2009 team, was the only exception among the four defensive coordinators Carroll had in Seattle.
Seattle defensive line coach and assistant head coach Clint Hurtt is the highest-ranking defensive assistant on Carroll’s staff.
Carroll brought Norton with him to Seattle from USC in 2010 as the Seahawks linebacker coach, the same role he held in the previous six seasons with the Trojans. The Raiders hired Norton as defensive coordinator in 2015 and fired him midway through the 2017 season. Carroll brought him back to Seattle in 2018 as defensive coordinator after parting ways with Richard.
This change coincided with the transition of the famous Legion of Boom secondary. Kam Chancellor suffered a career-ending neck injury in 2017 and Richard Sherman was released after that season. Earl Thomas held on through the 2018 offseason and only returned to fracture his leg in Game 4. He then left for free agency.
In four seasons under Norton, the Seahawks ranked 11th, 22nd, 15th and tied for 11th in runs allowed. They were 16th, 26th, 22nd and 28th in yards allowed.
The 2021 Seahawks finished 25th in takeouts and tied for 22nd in sacks despite hoping their rush for loaded passes would be one of their greatest strengths. Strong safety Jamal Adams, who set the NFL sack record for a defensive back with 9.5 in 2020, did not record a sack last season while blitzing less often. He landed on injured reserve due to a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 13.
Norton played in three Pro Bowls and was once named a first-team All-Pro during his 13-year NFL playing career. He holds the distinction of being the only player in NFL history to have played for three consecutive Super Bowl winners: the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and 1993 and the 49ers in 1994.
The son of former heavyweight champion Ken Norton Sr., Norton Jr. says experiencing the ups and downs of his father’s boxing career as a child helped prepare him to do facing the scrutiny he faced when Seattle’s defense struggled.