In a significant shake-up of their defensive coaching staff, the Seahawks are expected to part ways with defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and defensive passing game coordinator Andre Curtis, sources close to the team told The Seattle Times.
Clint Hurtt, Seattle’s assistant head coach/defensive line coach, is expected to be a candidate for a promotion as the new defensive coordinator, a source told The Times. Veteran NFL assistant Ed Donatell is also on the shortlist of candidates to replace Norton, sources told The Times.
Norton, 55, has overseen the Seahawks defense for the past four seasons, with mixed results.
En route to a disappointing 7-10 finish this season, the Seahawks defense got off to a historically bad start for the second year in a row, surrendering an average of 451 yards through the first five games, on a pace to allow the most yards in NFL history.
But for the second season in a row, the defense rebounded with a strong second half and finished the 2021 regular season ranked No. 11 in the NFL in points allowed (21.5 per game).
Still, the Seahawks finished the season allowing 379.1 yards per game, the second most in team history behind only the 399 of the 2001 team.
That ranked 28th in the NFL and continued a decline in defensive numbers in recent years.
Seattle finished 22nd in the NFL in yards allowed 2020, 26th in 2019 and 16th in 2018 after finishing no lower than 11th from 2011 to 2017.
Seattle specifically struggled with its pass defense, ranking 31st in the NFL in yards, allowing 265.4 per game and undergoing a complete revamping of the team’s cornerback position after the third game of the season. That was second highest in team history after the 2020 team that allowed 285 yards per game.
Head coach Pete Carroll said during his regular year-end session with the media last week only that he had nothing to announce about his coaching staff. But he has been meeting with coaches over the past week, after he and general manager John Schneider held their annual meeting with team chair Jody Allen on Thursday.
“Our coaches worked their tails off, they did a great job, we started our season-ending meetings today, and I’ll get with all of these guys before we get out of here,” Carroll said last Monday. “I’m really proud of the work everybody has done. I feel fortunate that we are doing this thing together.”
An official announcement from the team could come by Wednesday.
Hurtt, 43, has been the Seahawks defensive line coach since 2017. He added the title of assistant head coach in 2018.
Hurtt played in college at Miami in 1997 and 1999-2000 before entering coaching. After coaching in college from 2001-13, he was assistant defensive line coach with the Bears in 2014 and inside linebackers coach in 2015 and 2016 before coming to Seattle.
He has not been a coordinator.
Donatell, 64, has been the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator since 2019, and he spent five seasons working alongside Carroll with the New York Jets, from 1990-94. Carroll was the head coach of the Jets in 1994 and defensive coordinator from 1990-93.
Donatell also spent one season as the defensive coordinator at the University of Washington, during the Huskies’ winless season in 2008.
Donatell’s son, Tom, was defensive quality control coach with the Seahawks from 2017-2020. He was the Chargers assistant secondary coach this season.
Curtis, 45, has been with Seattle since 2015, first as assistant secondary and safeties coach then taking over as defensive backs coach in 2016 and since 2018 serving as defensive passing game coordinator.
This is Norton’s second stint with the Seahawks. He came to Seattle with Carroll in 2010, having been linebackers coach and assistant head coach with USC from 2004-09.
He then served as linebackers coach with the Seahawks from 2010-14, helping groom Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright into one of the best linebacking duos in the NFL, and in team history.
Wagner has the most career tackles with the Seahawks with 1,381; Wright is third with 934.
Norton left in 2015 to become the defensive coordinator with the Raiders after Seattle promoted defensive backs coach Kris Richard to defensive coordinator after Dan Quinn — who was the DC for Seattle in the Super Bowl years of 2013 and 2014 — left to become head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
Norton was fired by the Raiders on Nov. 21, 2017, with the Raiders ranked 26th in the NFL in team defense.
He returned to Seattle to become the DC in 2018 after Richard was let go.
Norton took over as the original Legion of Boom was dismantling — 2017 was the last year for Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, and safety Earl Thomas was then injured four games into the 2018 season and never played for Seattle again.
The 2017 season also marked the last year for defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.
Seattle has struggled since to replicate the success of the Super Bowl teams when the Seahawks allowed the fewest points in the NFL for four years running from 2012-15 — only the second team in NFL history to accomplish that feat.
Seattle began the 2021 season allowing 453 or more yards in four of its first five games in falling to 2-3 before the team made significant change at cornerback — releasing Tre Flowers and moving D.J. Reed from the left side to the right — after which the defensive improved.
“Once we got the cornerback position settled, I thought things started to groove a little bit,” Carroll said last week on his radio show on 710 ESPN Seattle.
Ultimately, the Seahawks felt a change was needed.
Norton, who played in the NFL for 13 seasons, won three Super Bowl rings and is the son of former heavyweight boxing champ Ken Norton, was also under fire early in the 2020 campaign before the Seahawks turned things around.
He said later that year he understood the realities of the business.
“I don’t really hear it,” Norton said of criticism. “I mean going back to, I was 6 years old, my father gets knocked out. So I’ve been dealing with criticism and family issues through my father’s career, through his friends’ career. So when it comes to me, I have a certain way to deal with it.
“I understand it, and I get it. Everybody loves a winner, and everybody has all the answers for the guys who aren’t playing well, so I totally understand that and I get it. So it’s a matter of us taking care of our business. And we take care of our business, we do our work, we play the way we are supposed to, and then, you know, you quiet the noise.”