RENTON – Of course, the man who coaches the Legion of Boom would look like he’s capable of running onto the field and shutting down a wide receiver.
Kris Richard, the Seahawks’ defensive backs coach, is just 34. He’s fit and energetic. He so looks the part that players will challenge him during practice to show off his athleticism. Richard laughs and replies, “Leave those questions unanswered.”
He’s satisfied being the man behind the Boom. It just might be the best coaching job in the NFL.
Over the past four years, Richard has helped the Seahawks’ defensive backfield become the most dominant force in the NFL. And he’s not just a guy lucky enough to have elite talent. Free safety Earl Thomas, the No. 14 overall choice in the 2010 NFL draft, is the only high draft pick of the bunch, yet the Boom has produced three All-Pros and created a pipeline of tall, physical cornerbacks who hit the field capable of playing at a high level.
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Credit the success to a combination of great talent evaluation, hungry and competitive athletes, the right scheme, a creative approach and quality coaching. Over the years, the players have been quick to praise Richard for his role in the Boom phenomenon.
“He’s our leader,” cornerback Richard Sherman says.
“I’m very grateful to have a coach like that,” says Thomas.
“All the learning, all the preparation, all the discipline — that’s where it starts, with him,” safety Kam Chancellor says.
True to the Seahawks’ nature, Richard isn’t grinning as he collects praise. The entire organization is on a mission to maximize success. The Seahawks are constantly seeking the next challenge, and for the defensive backs, the new task has been made clear with the NFL emphasizing its rules for defensive holding and illegal contact beyond 5 yards.
Many consider this an effort to minimize the Seahawks’ physical, press-coverage style and keep the rest of the league from copying those methods. Behind their smiles and carefully-worded responses to this scrutiny, the Seahawks have grown more and more irritated with the notion that this rules emphasis is the antidote for the league’s best unit. They’re motivated to show their success isn’t about mauling the opponent. They focus on technique, study film and play with discipline, as well.
“Our sole focus is just to stay true to who we are,” Richard said. “Rules are not designed to help us or not help us. We have 5 yards to use our hands. After that, we’re not trying to push the limits by holding or illegal contact. We coach against it. We teach the right way to do things.
“But after those 5 yards, we can’t magically disappear. We still have the right to defend the wide receiver, within the rules.”
Richard’s passion is obvious whenever he’s on the field. He’s a natural because, even as a player, he was making plans to coach. His father and uncle coached football. It’s in his blood. He started playing football at age 9, but sometimes, it seems like he was born with a whistle around his neck.
Coaching has allowed Richard to do something he couldn’t do as an NFL player — make a major impact for the Seahawks. Twelve years ago, the Seahawks drafted him in the third round.
Injuries hindered his progress early in his career, and then the Seahawks traded him to Miami after three seasons. He sipped some Gatorade with the Dolphins in 2005, then finished that year and 2006 with San Francisco. And that was it for his NFL career. He was out of the league in 2007, at age 28.
But Pete Carroll, who coached Richard during his senior season at USC, hired his former player as a USC graduate assistant in 2008. Six years later, he’s one of the best young assistant coaches in the NFL. Richard has gotten over how quickly his playing career ended because of how quickly he came to love coaching.
“Everybody has a vision for how their NFL career will go,” Richard said. “Everybody wants to play for 10 years. But I don’t know anybody whose career has gone exactly the way they planned. So, for me, coaching is absolutely God’s favor, man. The awesome part is I’ve coached in the last two places I played a lot — USC and here in Seattle. That’s a blessing. I recognize it’s a gift. In this situation, I’m able to give the best of all I’ve got and receive the best of what I didn’t get (as a player).”
The Seahawks have plenty of coaches who have contributed to the Legion of Boom’s dominance.
Carroll, a former defensive backs coach who understands nuances of the press-coverage style the Seahawks employ, is the mastermind. Rocky Seto, the team’s defensive passing game coordinator, is a great teacher of the game. Former Seahawk Marquand Manuel is entering his third year on the staff as a defensive assistant. In an interview, Richard praises them all and adds the leadership of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
But the Legion of Boom is an irrepressible and opinionated group, and it takes a strong position coach to channel their energy properly. Richard is the ideal personality to lead the unit.
“It’s their level of preparation and their care that separates them,” Richard said. “They do not want to let each other down. They play for each other. It’s humbling to have the honor to work with them.”