In a move few could have foreseen when they began the season with one of the NFL’s most-prolific offenses, the Seahawks announced Tuesday they have parted ways with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
The Seahawks announced the move on Twitter: “Brian Schottenheimer is a fantastic person and coach and we thank him for the last three years. Citing philosophical differences, we have parted ways.”
Schottenheimer spent three seasons as Seattle’s offensive coordinator, hired after Darrell Bevell was fired following the 2017 season.
The Seahawks ranked among the NFL’s top nine in scoring all three seasons, and this year scored 459 points, the most in team history, becoming the fifth team since the 1970 NFL merger to start a season 3-0 and score 35-plus points in each game.
But the offense sputtered down the stretch, as the Seahawks were held to 20 points or fewer in four of the final six games, including Saturday’s 30-20 loss to the Rams in a wild-card playoff game.
Coach Pete Carroll on Monday somewhat sidestepped a question about possible changes on his coaching staff when speaking with reporters, saying it was not something he would discuss, then adding, “I’m counting on everybody coming back.”
But ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that “after meeting (Monday) night, it was evident there were philosophical differences between Schottenheimer” and Carroll and that “they decided a parting was in the best interests of both sides.”
Carroll also began his Monday news conference by volunteering that the Seahawks must return to running the ball more in 2021, and that may have foreshadowed that the Seahawks wanted to go in a different direction with their offense than Schottenheimer may have preferred.
Specifically, Carroll said he wanted to run the ball more to get defenses out of playing so much soft, two-deep zone, which he felt teams had used to stop Seattle’s explosive plays in the second half of the season.
“We have to run the ball better,” Carroll said. “Not even better — we have to run it more. We have to dictate what’s going on with the people that we’re playing, and that’s one of the ways to do that. And I know the fans aren’t really jacked about hearing that, but Russ (quarterback Russell Wilson) knows it, too. We need to be able to knock those guys into the scheme that we want to throw at … which was happening more earlier in the season and we took full advantage of it.”
Though it’s unclear who will take over, the NFL Network reported that one likely candidate is Shane Steichen, the offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers. Steichen just concluded his first full season as offensive coordinator with the Chargers, who were 18th in points and ninth in yards this season, after taking over midway through the 2019 season. The Chargers, however, do not have a coach after firing Anthony Lynn. Pro Football Focus recently referred to Steichen as “the highest-rated play caller in our offensive play caller ratings in 2020.”
The Rams loss included a botched fourth-down play in the fourth quarter from Seattle’s 34-yard line. Carroll said he essentially overruled the play call, which helped result in the team leaving the huddle late and getting a penalty that led to a punt.
With the team hurrying to the line of scrimmage after huddling, left guard Jordan Simmons was called for illegal motion, and Seattle, which trailed 23-13 with 9:32 remaining, had to punt. The Rams were stopped on their next drive, with Carroll saying he was okay with a punt and hoping to stop LA to get the ball back. But Seattle’s D.J. Reed fumbled the punt, the Rams recovered and then scored to take a 30-13 lead, and Seattle didn’t get the ball back again until 4:46 remained, the game hopelessly out of reach.
Carroll, who has often said his general view is it’s best to stay out of the way of a coordinator’s play-calling duties during a game, admitted he interjected, a power play Schottenheimer maybe viewed as stepping out of bounds.
“We were talking it over and we discussed some plays, and I kind of got in the middle of it,” Carroll said. “Then we just got late. That’s why we wound up jumping; we screwed it up. It just wasn’t clear enough.
“(But) that’s one play. We didn’t function the way we needed to right there and so we had to punt the football. Punting the football wasn’t a bad idea, either. Just to get them on down, and take them to the next couple sequences. But I would have really liked to have made that, and so that’s why we went ahead and tried to get the chance, and then we just didn’t function cleanly like we needed to.”
Carroll also acknowledged that after the Seahawks lost three of four games at midseason — losing 10 turnovers in the three losses — he wanted the offense to become more conservative and careful with the ball.
In what turned out to be his last session with Seattle media last Thursday, Schottenheimer appeared on board with the switch in approach, saying, “The thing I’m most proud of is the way we’ve taken care of the football.”
The Seahawks did that down the stretch, committing one or fewer turnovers in a four-game winning streak that clinched the NFC West title and gave the Seahawks a 12-4 record. Carroll noted several times that Seattle was 12-0 this season when having one or no turnovers.
But the Seahawks were held to 278 yards against the Rams, a season low, and couldn’t reverse a late-season offensive nosedive.
That downturn came as Seattle faced some of the NFL’s best defenses, including three games against the Rams. But during that time the Seahawks had a perceptible shift to winning with lower-scoring games and fewer turnovers, which Carroll appears to want to return to permanently.
Carroll also several times late in the season said he wished the offense had adjusted better to defenses taking away big plays.
“I feel like we lingered in kind of the glow of the first half of the season,” Carroll said. ” … We needed to adjust a little bit, and we didn’t do it well enough, fast enough, to feel better about it.”
Wilson threw 28 touchdown passes in the first eight games of the season but had just 12 in the final eight.
And Seattle’s rate of explosive plays also dropped dramatically in the second half. After having 22 passes of 25 yards or longer in the first eight games the Seahawks had just eight in the final eight.
Running more didn’t seem like it would go counter to Schottenheimer’s philosophy, When Schottenheimer was hired, he and Carroll said the coordinator’s experience in run-heavy offenses attracted them to each other.
Schottenheimer said in 2018 that when Carroll approached him about the job, Carroll emphasized wanting to get back to a powerful running game after a 2017 season in which Seattle had only one rushing touchdown from someone other than Wilson.
During Schottenheimer’s time with the New York Jets, they featured a run-heavy offense that twice got them to the AFC title game, ranking first and second in the NFL in rushing attempts in 2009 and 2010.
“He realizes the same importance from looking at it from a defensive standpoint,” Schottenheimer said then. “If you can’t stop the run, it’s a bad feeling on defense. Offensively, if you can’t run the ball, it’s a bad feeling. So that was a big part of our discussions of how we kind of envision ourselves being offensively with the running game and tying that into the play (action) pass.”
The Seahawks got back to being a better running team the past few years, ranking first in rushing yards in 2018 and fourth in 2019.
But they dipped to 12th this season at 123.2 per game, compared with 137.5 in 2019 and 160.0 in 2018.
But somewhere along the way, the philosophy that Carroll and Schottenheimer seemed to share became frayed.
Schottenheimer, the son of former longtime coach Marty Schottenheimer, this season decided to call games from the press box instead of from the field. He credited that as a reason for offensive success during the first half of the season.
“He feels he is in great command of what’s going on,” Carroll said early in the season, when Wilson threw 14 TDs in the first three games. “He’s really comfortable with it, and obviously it’s working out well. He and Russ are really hitting on all cylinders, and so it’s a great start to that transition.”
Despite the slow finish, Wilson set a team record with 40 passing touchdowns, DK Metcalf set a team record with 1,303 receiving yards, and Tyler Lockett set a team record with 100 receptions.
But the limp to the finish line — and maybe the face plant against the Rams, and the inability to get the passing game going and counter it with a solid running game — compelled Carroll to make a change.
The urgency is greater than ever to maximize the career of Wilson, who is on a Hall of Fame track but who will turn 33 in November. Seattle has not advanced past the divisional round of the playoffs the past six years.
Wilson, who this year entered the first year of a four-year contract paying him an average of $35 million a year, tweeted a tribute to Schottenheimer shortly after the news broke: “Schotty… I’m grateful for how much you meant to me over the past three years. God blessed me with you, we won a lot of games, threw a lot of touchdowns and had a blast in meetings and our bible studies. The best days are ahead for you. Go be Great. God first.”
The new offensive coordinator will be the third of Wilson’s nine-year career. Carroll hired Bevell in 2011 — the year before Wilson arrived — after firing Jeremy Bates following his first season as coach in 2010.
The move came a few hours after the Seahawks announced that general manager John Schneider had signed a contract extension through the 2027 draft, which came a few months after it was announced Carroll has a new deal through the 2025 season.
Seattle already will undergo some change on its offensive coaching staff with run-game coordinator Brennan Carroll — Pete Carroll’s son — accepting a job as offensive coordinator at the University of Arizona.
Passing-game coordinator Dave Canales has also been reported to have interviewed for the offensive-coordinator job at Vanderbilt.