As his final practice on the USC campus ended in 2001, coach Pete Carroll asked Kris Richard — then a senior cornerback for the Trojans — what he wanted to do when his playing days were over.

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It was the easiest question Kris Richard had to answer during his four years as a student at USC.

As his final practice on the USC campus ended in 2001, the day before the team headed to play a bowl game in Las Vegas, coach Pete Carroll asked Richard — then a senior cornerback for the Trojans — what he wanted to do when his playing days were over.

Carroll regarded such a moment as a regular part of his duties as a coach, trying to make sure he had, as he has said, “a good exit’’ with his graduating players.

Kris Richard bio

Born: Oct, 28, 1979

Family: Wife Chandra, sons Aiden and Asher and daughter Alyssa

Coaching career:

2008-09 — USC, graduate assistant/defensive backs

2010 — Seahawks, assistant defensive backs

2011 — Seahawks, defensive backs/cornerbacks

2012-14 — Seahawks, defensive backs

2015 — Seahawks, defensive coordinator

To Richard, though, the question “kind of came out of nowhere.’’ Richard thought about it and told Carroll he’d like to be just like him someday, be a coach. It wasn’t something he had necessarily talked a lot about — next on his to-do list was playing in the NFL and that’s where his thoughts usually ventured when others asked about his future.

But Carroll’s question helped crystallize his thoughts.

“In that moment, I … knew that I wanted to be a coach,’’ he said. “But I’ve always known.’’

Carroll told Richard good luck and to look him up when his playing days ended.

It’s a moment Richard said is the biggest reason he found himself Aug. 13 standing on the sideline at CenturyLink Field, calling the defensive plays for the Seahawks as a first-year defensive coordinator for a team that has gone to two consecutive Super Bowls, at 35 the NFL’s youngest defensive coordinator.

Early on-the-job training

Richard said the real breeding ground for his coaching career was the football fields of Carson, Calif., where he spent a happy childhood playing on teams coached by his father, Kenneth. Richard’s mother was 17 when she gave birth to his older brother, Kenny.

“They didn’t have the opportunity to pursue their aspirations and things like that because they had us,’’ Richard said. So his parents threw themselves into ensuring that he and his brother could take advantage of the opportunities they had missed.

“We didn’t have much,’’ he said. ”And they sacrificed all that they had to make sure that we had all that we needed.’’

Their lives largely revolved around sports, particularly football. Richard played quarterback (a position he also played at Serra High in Gardena, Calif.) and recalls being allowed to call his plays at 10 years old.

“We were always talking about game situations and how to make plays and call plays,’’ Richard said of the conversations he’d have with his father and an uncle who helped coach.

A high school All-American at Serra High where he also was the student-body president as a senior, Richard signed with USC, becoming a three-year starter during one of the lower points in the program’s history.

After a 5-7 season in 2000, USC coach Paul Hackett was fired and Carroll was hired, handed the daunting task of taking one of college football’s more-storied programs off life support.

All of which set the stage for Richard to help give Carroll the type of life-changing moment Carroll later would give Richard.

Turning point for Trojans

Many viewed Carroll as damaged goods when he was hired at USC in 2001 after being fired by the Jets and Patriots, and spending the 2000 season out of football.

A rocky start to his first season in 2001, which included a last-play loss at Washington, didn’t inspire much confidence in the hire. (Mike Riley and Dennis Erickson were among those reported to have turned the job down before USC turned to Carroll.)

Standing at 2-5, USC headed to Tucson for a game against Arizona. In his 2010 book “Win Forever,” Carroll writes of that game that “there always seems to be a critical moment when things either come together or go south.’’

With under two minutes left, Arizona had the ball and a chance to pull out a win in a seesaw game that stood tied at 41, and things for Carroll and the Trojans appeared ready to head south.

It was then that Richard changed the direction of not only the game, but in what quickly became USC lore, the Trojans’ season and the program under Carroll.

With 1:50 left, Richard stepped in front of a pass near the sideline from Arizona quarterback Jason Johnson and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to give the Trojans the victory. That started a season-ending, four-game win streak that got the Trojans into the Las Vegas Bowl.

After the game, Carroll excitedly told his team, “We don’t have to lose anymore,’’ a phrase that became a mantra for the rest of the season.

In “Win Forever,” Carroll wrote about that game, including Richard’s interception return and its impact on the program.

“When I look back on that night in the desert, I realized we had reached a crossroads we are all faced with now and then, where an opportunity presents itself for things to change forever,’’ Carroll wrote. “I will always be grateful for that weekend when all seemed lost.’’

Richard said it simply was all in a night’s work. Early in the game he had misplayed a pass and was beaten for an Arizona touchdown. Afterward he felt redemption as much as anything else.

“I felt like a guy in the right position just doing what he is supposed to do,’’ he said.

From player to coach

Richard was selected by the Seahawks in the third round of the 2002 NFL draft and spent three years with the team. But he started just one game during a time when the team’s cornerbacks included Marcus Trufant, Shawn Springs and Ken Lucas. Richard had brief stints with the Dolphins, 49ers and Raiders before his career ended in 2007.

In 2007, he found himself helping out at a USC summer camp, something he had done during his playing days. He reminded Carroll of his hopes to be a coach and Carroll’s invitation to look him up someday.

“He was a man of his word,’’ Richard said. Their talks led to Richard accepting a position as a graduate assistant with the Trojans in 2008 and 2009, working with the secondary. When Carroll became coach of the Seahawks in 2010, Richard was one of a handful of USC assistants he brought along, initially serving as assistant defensive-backs coach.

Back in Seattle, Richard soon found himself coaching a quartet of talented defensive backs barely younger than him.

As the Legion of Boom grew to prominence, so did the level of credit Richard received for helping groom them.

“He’s been instrumental in everything that we have done as a defensive-backs group,’’ cornerback Richard Sherman said.

Sherman points specifically to Richard’s “attention to detail’’ and ability to point things out in film study.

“I mean, he’s just meticulous, incredibly strict about the details,’’ Sherman said. “And understanding the details and the nuances of the game that allow someone to play fast. Everybody can study film, but some people can study film and not know what they are looking at or what you should be looking.

“He does a great job of explaining what you should be looking for or giving you situations and the plays that (the opponent) runs on a weekly basis so that when we get out on the field on Sundays we play fast.’’

New responsibilities

Richard became the third defensive coordinator for the Seahawks under Carroll when he was promoted in February to replace Dan Quinn, who left to become the Atlanta Falcons coach.

Carroll was a longtime defensive coordinator, so the overall structure of the defense will never vary much even if coordinators change. Richard said last spring, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. What we’ve done around here, we’ve been pretty successful, so we’re going to keep the ball rolling.”

Players said changes have been subtle. One example: They line up the rush end in passing downs outside of the tight end instead of inside more often.

Linebacker K.J. Wright calls Richard’s style a mix between Quinn and Gus Bradley. “He can get fiery (like Bradley), but he can be like DQ (who was known for being a little more reserved and analytical). I think it’s the perfect combo for us.’’

In contrast to Quinn, who called games from the press box, Richard is working from the field, saying he wants to keep as close of a connection to the players as he can.

It was a little strange at first, he said, not being able to immediately celebrate a good play with the defensive backs, having instead to focus on calling the next play.

But ultimately it felt like a good fit, the same, he said, as it does being the NFL’s youngest defensive coordinator and taking over a defense on a run as dominant as any in recent NFL history.

“It’s no pressure, because all we have to do is be ourselves,’’ he said. “That’s the truth about it.’’

Big shoes to fill
Kris Richard is the third Seahawks defensive coordinator under coach Pete Carroll. Here is a look at how the defense has performed in previous seasons.
Year Defensive coordinator Avg. yds allowed (NFL rank) Avg. pts allowed (rank)
2010 Gus Bradley 368.6 (27) 25.4 (25)
2011 Bradley 332.2 (9) 19.6 (7)
2012 Bradley 306.2 (4) 15.3 (1)
2013 Dan Quinn 273.6 (1) 14.4 (1)
2014 Quinn 267.1 (1) 15.8 (1)