Seahawks assistant coach Rocky Seto said advice from former UW star Napoleon Kaufman helped ease his decision to leave the team to become a minister.
Rocky Seto says he first felt the call to become a minister while he attended a Christian school growing up in southern California.
“It was always in the back of my mind,” he said.
It was a feeling that continued to grow through is days as a player at USC, and as an assistant there under coach Pete Carroll.
When Carroll left USC following the 2009 season to take over the Seattle Seahawks, Seto thought about staying in the Los Angeles area to become a minister.
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Instead, he headed north, becoming a vital part of Seattle’s defensive coaching staff. He helped groom the Legion of Boom as an assistant defensive backs coach and then defensive passing game coordinator from 2012-14 before spending the last two years as the assistant head coach/defense. In that position, Seto helped devise weekly defensive game plans with defensive coordinator Kris Richard, who took over that spot after Dan Quinn left for Atlanta following the 2014 season.
But despite a steady stream of promotions in his football career, Seto said that with each season the pull to leave the sport and become a full-time minister grew stronger.
Last August, he said, he all but decided that the 2016 season would be his last with the Seahawks.
“I just had an overwhelming desire to do this,’’ said Seto, who on the day after the end of the regular season told Carroll he would leave the team.
Before Seto made his final decision, he did some research trying to find others who had made similar moves in their lives.
“How do you know for sure?’’ Seto said of walking away from a job that carries the kind of prestige and glamour as does a high-level assistant for an NFL team two years removed from making the Super Bowl.
In his research, Seto ran across the name of an NFL running back whose career he had followed but who he didn’t really know — former Husky standout Napoleon Kaufman.
After becoming a first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 1995, Kaufman walked away from the NFL six years later at the age of 27 to become a pastor in Livermore, Calif., a post he still holds.
Seto called Kaufman one day and said Kaufman told him a story of a game his final season with the Raiders when he was introduced as a starter before kickoff and looked into the famed Black Hole cheering section.
“He said he started weeping,’’ Seto said. “He wanted to minister to them so badly. And this is right before kickoff when your mind is usually on something else. And he said he felt right then ‘I have to do this.’ That resonated with me that he was so clear about it that he could walk away from his position and his contact and never look back. That really helped me to get perspective on it.’’
Seto said he has had talks with Carroll through the years about becoming a minister so he said the coach wasn’t taken aback too much when Seto told him of his decision (Seto has been talking seminary classes through Liberty University and has preached at schools, prisons and churches over the last few years).
Still, Seto said telling Carroll wasn’t easy. It was under Carroll that Seto got his first full-time coaching job at USC in 2003. He served as a graduate assistant for two years when Carroll first took over the Trojans in 2001.
“That was the hardest thing about leaving the Seahawks was not necessarily the game plans or the games or the practices, but the relationships that you have and especially with coach (Carroll),’’ he said. “We have always had a very open relationship and we have talked about this possibility.’’
Seto wanted to keep it a secret until the end of the season, not telling the team until he spoke to them as a group on the day after the divisional playoff loss to Atlanta.
Seto said it was then that the emotion of the decision hit him and “I kind of broke down.’’
Seto says he has no doubts it is the right move.
Seto and his wife, Sharla, have four children from the ages 5 to 11 and Seto said having more time to spend with them “is another positive’’ of his decision (while he has accepted a position as a minister, Seto asks that it not be revealed where yet since it has not been announced officially).
He said he hopes to stay in football in some way, possibly consulting with teams about a pet project of his — rugby-style tackling.
But Seto, who will be 41 in March, says he’s sure he’s found his life’s work.
“That’s really why I got into coaching is the influence that coaches have on people,’’ Seto said. “It’s kind of similar in that vein of shepherding and helping people along. A pastor is very much more specific in teaching about Jesus Christ and teaching about the bible. But it still comes down to teaching, it’s just the content will be different. It’s still about relationships with people.’’