Young GM finding the right pieces to the puzzle.
RENTON — The morning of the first NFL draft that truly belonged to him, Seahawks general manager John Schneider went to mass, hoping for a little divine intervention before he went looking for the first new pieces for his broken-down ballclub.
After that mass, he asked the priest to offer a special prayer for draft night.
“I’m the new general manager of the Seattle Seahawks, and I’m running my first draft,” Schneider told the priest. “I would like to pray for guidance and wisdom, would you be willing to say a prayer for me real quick?”
They bowed their heads, the priest put an arm around the Hawks’ general manager and prayed that the draft would bring Schneider comfort.
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“Thank you very much. That’s was great,” Schneider told him. “That was awesome.”
“Now tell me again,” the priest said to the boyish-looking GM. “What do you do for the general manger?”
Schneider tells that humbling story on himself, and his laughter clatters off the walls as he delivers the punch line.
“It was just a great day,” Schneider said, remembering that time in April 2010.
The rebuilding of the Seahawks began in earnest that day. The partnership between Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll was forged in the preparation and execution of their first draft together.
In that draft, they chose their left tackle for the future, Russell Okung. They got an all-star safety, Earl Thomas, and, in the fifth round they chose a starting safety-in-waiting, Kam Chancellor.
After the Hawks chose Okung and right before they selected Thomas, Schneider was on the phone in the war room, talking to another team about a possible trade.
Owner Paul Allen was on a special television feed from Portland. Team president Tod Leiweke was hovering over the table and Carroll was alongside Schneider, getting antsy, waiting for him to hang up and draft Thomas. The draft clock was ticking.
“What are we doing? What are we doing? Why are we taking up all of this time,” Allen was asking. “Why are we talking to another club? We’re not going to make a trade, are we?”
Carroll calmed down Allen, who wanted Thomas badly. Schneider turned down a trade offer, and Thomas became a Hawk. The new kid was well on his way to passing his first test.
“It was like it was fourth-and-goal and they were waiting for me to get the play in,” Schneider said. “There was a little bit of chaos, but it was cool because I had this sense of peace about it.”
The Schneider-Carroll partnership is working. They’re building something in Renton. Aggressively, but smartly, they are putting a contender together.
In the draft last year, they plugged two more offensive line holes, but they also found a starting linebacker, K.J. Wright, in the fourth round and a starting cornerback, Richard Sherman, in the fifth.
They got starting corner Brandon Browner from the CFL and signed undrafted free-agent receivers Doug Baldwin and Ricardo Lockett. They found players where other teams weren’t looking.
“We always preach to our scouts that we’re always looking for the positives,” Schneider said. “The key to a great scouting department is finding out what a guy can do. And you tie that in with Pete’s innate ability to instill confidence in people.
“Pete did it with me when I ran that first draft. He told me, ‘Hey, you’re so prepared. Trust your work. You’re going to nail it.’ He’s good that way.”
The free-agent market still is open, but the Hawks have completed most of the heavy work. The draft looms in a month.
They re-signed their two most important free agents, running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive end Red Bryant.
They signed former Tennessee Titans passing-rushing tackle Jason Jones, expecting him to resurrect his career in the same way defensive ends Chris Clemons and Rasheed Brock have done here.
Schneider said Jones wanted to play in Seattle. He saw what Clemons and Brock had done and knew that the noise at CenturyLink Field gives defensive linemen the opportunity to jump quickly off the ball.
And the Hawks patiently wooed and negotiated and discovered the missing piece in their complicated puzzle, signing free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn.
“His confidence, his demeanor and his competitiveness are impressive,” Schneider said. “He’s one of those guys who’s always kind of under the radar a little bit, but when he’s called upon he just goes in and kicks your ass.
“He didn’t truly dazzle anybody in the spring workouts, but when you watched the film, what was he doing? He was keeping plays alive. He was using his eyes, and he was making correct decisions. And he was accurate. (Green Bay coach) Mike McCarthy told me that nothing fazes this guy.”
And nothing is fazing John Schneider.
In his third season with the Hawks, Schneider has given the Seahawks more than a prayer.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org