RENTON — John Schneider, who won’t turn 50 until next year, has been one of the leading figures in Seattle sports for almost a decade now.
He came to Seattle as the Seahawks’ general manager about a week after Pete Carroll was hired as coach in January 2010, the two given the task of turning around a then-flailing team.
By any measure, the marriage has been one of the greatest in Seattle sports history — a team that had won a combined nine games the previous two years has averaged exactly 10 regular-season wins each of the 10 years since (not to mention advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs seven times).
But if Seattle is where Schneider has made his name as one of the NFL’s best general managers — even if he somehow has never won the league’s Executive of the Year Award — Green Bay will always be where it all began. The Seahawks face the Packers on Sunday in a divisional-round playoff game in Green Bay, Wis.
Schneider grew up in De Pere, Wis., about six miles from famed Lambeau Field, then worked for 12 years in the Packers’ front office in two different stints after initially getting a foot in the door when he wrote a letter to legendary Green Bay GM Ron Wolf and asked for a job of any kind (a few more phone calls helped, too).
This week he returns with a chance to get a win that would represent an accomplishment that might rank as impressive as anything in his time in Seattle.
Sure, the four-year rise it took to win Seattle’s first Super Bowl may never really be topped, nor getting back to the Super Bowl a year later, something only 17 teams have done.
But reaching another NFC title game five years after the last appearance — but first after a massive retooling of the team two years ago — would in its own way rank as significant as any other accomplishment in the Schneider/Carroll era.
While the Seahawks are in the NFC’s final four for a seventh time in 10 years — and third since the back-to-back Super Bowls — teams that have recently represented the conference in the Super Bowl such as Atlanta, Carolina, Los Angeles and the Eagles are on the outside looking in, with futures that can be called at best as uncertain.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, are again in the divisional round with a team that includes just seven players remaining on the roster from the last Super Bowl, three of whom have been signed in the past few months as injury replacements (Marshawn Lynch, Luke Willson and Robert Turbin).
It’s an accomplishment illustrating that Schneider has achieved what he said was his main goal when he got the job, to make the Seahawks “a consistent, championship-caliber team.’’
That’s all he really wanted when he grew up in Green Bay during the post-Lombardi haze of the ’70s and ’80s and first became a fan — the Packers earned just two playoff berths from 1968-92.
“That was at my core, because growing up in Green Bay then, they never had a winning season,” Schneider said in an interview with The Seattle Times a few years ago. “So I was wondering like, ‘What are they doing over there? Are they getting better?’ I’d run out to get the paper every day wondering, ‘Did they make any transactions?’ I always wanted the hope that they have a chance, instead of like, ‘Ah, we’re going to be 8-8 again or 6-10 or whatever.’ ”
Hope is something Seahawks fans have unquestionably had throughout the past decade. Even during the 7-9 season of 2011, the team went 5-3 down the stretch and showed that something special seemed to be brewing. Every year since then, they’ve made the playoffs or entered the final weekend with a spot on the line.
That the Seahawks have had quarterback Russell Wilson as a foundational piece to build around since 2012, of course, can’t be ignored. Green Bay also has just seven players left on its roster from the 2014 team that played the Seahawks in that epic NFC title game but also has had a future Hall of Fame QB in Aaron Rodgers to build around. With a great QB, anything is possible.
But it was Schneider and Carroll who brought Wilson to Seattle (and to hear Carroll acknowledge it at the time, more Schneider than Carroll). And it was Schneider who assured Wilson would be staying deep into the next decade, famously working until midnight last April 14 to meet Wilson’s deadline for a new contract.
Schneider was famously picked by Carroll from a list of four candidates he was handed after being hired as coach — an uncommon way for a team to form a power structure but something Carroll was willing to accept to essentially have veto power on all moves, something he’d lacked in his previous two NFL coaching stops. They had met just once before Schneider’s interview a few days after Carroll was hired.
Carroll recalled this week that when he told Schneider he had the job, “I said I’m going to try to make you the best general manager in professional sports, and I’ll do everything to support you.”
Carroll said he felt that promise to Schneider was important “to initiate the relationship that is so crucial in this setting in professional sports so that we could start with a really good premise. We would always know what we’re doing. We’re going to stay together. We’re going to figure it out. We’re going to work together.”
Through 10 years, the results – as well as the fact that both have signed contracts in recent years keeping them together through at least the 2021 season – indicate they have done just that.
“John is so creative,” Carroll said. “He’s a real competitor. He loves to go for it. As you’ve seen over the years, we’ve taken those kinds of shots and we’ve never backed off from that kind of thinking. The constant competitiveness about him has kept us in so many situations that just all of the sudden, they blossom into something good for us.”
That creativity was never more on display in 2019 with moves such as turning Frank Clark into a first-round draft pick, a second-round pick and the cap space to then get Ziggy Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney.
Or, later, the trade for Quandre Diggs (with Carroll and Schneider never afraid to admit they need an upgrade, even at a spot where they have drafted heavily the past few years) or the signings of Willson and Lynch.
“I think,” Carroll said this week, “it is the key relationship in this whole 10 years.”
One that has meant Schneider always will be able to call Seattle home, as well.