There’s a new show in town. With the departure of Mike Holmgren, who has decided to take at least a year off from coaching, the Seahawks coaching staff has a bunch of new faces.
Former mainstays John Marshall and Gil Haskell are gone.
Marshall had been with the team since 2003, serving first as the team’s linebackers coach, and later as the team’s defensive coordinator when Ray Rhodes stepped down for health reasons.
Haskell joined Holmgren in Green Bay when Holmgren got the job in 1992, and has spent all but one season with the former coach since then.
A lot of things are bound to change, both offensively and defensively, though they may not be wholesale changes.
Jim Mora, the team’s new head coach, had been in waiting as the team’s defensive backs coach and assistant head coach.
Mora, the son of Jim E. Mora (Seattle’s Mora isn’t a “Junior,” but Jim L. Mora), got his first big break as the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator in 1999. Oddly enough, he replaced John Marshall when he took the job.
Under Mora, there is sure to be a significant shift, as Mora is a defense-oriented coach, a stark change from Holmgren, widely considered an “offensive guru.”
Mora, however, is a proponent of the West Coast Offense, something Holmgren helped pioneer, and though the version the team has chosen to run will likely be more conservative than that of Holmgren, it won’t be a wholesale change.
Also, it is clear that the team will put a greater emphasis on the Cover Two defensive scheme. Though Mora may not be a purveyor of the defense in its purest form, an offseason interview of Rod Marinelli and the eventual hire of Casey “Gus” Bradley were indicative of the change.
Mora was widely criticized for poor defensive back play last season. He was in charge of the unit, and they were widely considered one of the team’s weaknesses, despite impressive 2007 seasons from Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings.
However, even the most stubborn pessimists should examine the recent roller-coaster path that DeAngelo Hall’s career has taken. Under Mora’s tutelage, and a zone-based scheme in Atlanta, Hall established himself among the elite cornerbacks in the NFL.
After being traded to the Oakland Raiders before the 2007 season, Hall’s play and production dropped off, struggling to adapt to a man-coverage-based scheme in Oakland, and in 2008 he was released. He’s returned to form, at least partially, in a more familiar scheme playing for the Washington Redskins.
If Trufant and Jennings, as well as Josh Wilson and recently acquired Ken Lucas can form one of the league’s formidable secondaries, with help from Deon Grant and Brian Russell, familiar with the Cover Two from his days in Minnesota, Mora’s hiring may be a major coup for Seattle early.
Gus Bradley is a relatively inexperienced coach. He spent a year as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive quality control coach in 2006, a title that seems fit for a factory worker, after spending a decade at his alma mater North Dakota State.
His coaching career began in 1990 when he became a graduate assistant at NDSU. He also spent four years, and held various titles at Fort Lewis College. No, not that Fort Lewis.
After a decade-and-a-half coaching lower-level college football, the Bucs took a flyer on the coach and made him their linebackers coach.
Bradley learned under Monte Kiffin, one of the pioneers of the “Tampa Two,” which is certainly reason for optimism for Seahawks fans.
The Tampa Two is a more aggressive hybrid of the Cover Two.
Bradley comes to Seattle with high praise from Kiffin, who left the Bucs to coach with his son and former Oakland Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin.
Bradley’s something of an unknown commodity at this point. He’s got very little big-time coaching experience, but an endorsement from a defensive mind like Kiffin, and the Tampa Two’s relative success should give Seahawks fans hope going into 2009.
Stepping into replace Haskell is former Raiders, Falcons and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. I went into detail about Knapp’s offense, and its philosophical opposition with the Cover Two.
However, while each cites Knapp’s tenure in San Francisco as an indication that Knapp’s offense will be more balanced than the run-heavy description I gave, the viewpoint may be misleading.
Both O’Neil and Stevens pointed out that Knapp’s only time spent as both an offensive coordinator, and with an adequate, veteran quarterback was in San Francisco. There’s undeniable truth to that statement. Knapp’s quarterbacks in Atlanta and Oakland were Mike Vick and JaMarcus Russell respectively.
The following table shows the 49ers rank, and quantity of both pass and run attempts throughout Mornhinweg and Knapp's tenures as the team's offensive coordinator:
Knapp coached Jeff Garcia in San Francisco. Garcia and Terrell Owens were both coming off of Pro Bowl seasons under Marty Mornhinweg in 2000, despite a 6-10 record that year, when Knapp took the job in 2001.
Both Knapp and Mornhinweg coached under Steve Mariucci, an offensive-minded coach, but clearly each had a pretty distinct influence on the team’s play selection. Though, Knapp would coach under Dennis Erickson in 2003.
Alarmingly, while Mornhinweg and Knapp both saw similar regressions in terms of team success during their time as the 49ers offensive coordinator, they changed their play calling in very different ways.
Part of Stevens comments said “As for the offense, Knapp indeed seems so hell-bent on "balance" that he could pursue it to a fault at the detriment of the offense.” With numbers attached, that seems more insightful.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that a team that is losing more frequently would pass the ball more often.
Mornhinweg did just that, even with the retirement of Steve Young, Mornhinweg passed the ball more frequently during Garcia’s first year as a full time starter than in any other year in San Francisco.
Knapp by contrast, called less pass plays in the team’s worst year with him at the helm than in its best, 85 less.
While the injury to Garcia would seem to indicate that the playbook was made more pass-conservative for Tim Rattay. However, in Rattay’s three starts he averaged 28.7 passes per game, compared to the team’s season-long average of 25.7.
Knapp’s years in Atlanta and Oakland, with inadequate and inexperienced passers notwithstanding, the Seahawks and their fans may be due for an awful lot of ground game, hopefully awful isn’t the operative word.