Almost three weeks after the firing of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., the Seahawks appear to be putting their defensive coaching staff in place.
Defensive line coach and assistant head coach Clint Hurtt is expected to soon be named the Seahawks defensive coordinator, sources close to the team told The Seattle Times.
The Seahawks also are expected to add Ed Donatell as a defensive assistant, sources confirmed. ESPN reported the expected hiring of Donatell earlier Friday.
Seattle also hopes to add former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai to its defensive staff.
All three have worked with Vic Fangio, a longtime defensive coordinator who was the Denver Broncos coach the past three seasons, each spending two years together under Fangio with the Bears in 2015-16. Each of the three were among the four known candidates for the DC job, the other being Joe Whitt Jr., the defensive passing game coordinator for Dallas.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is promoting Hurtt and bringing in Donatell with hopes to incorporate Fangio’s system into his own as the Seahawks attempt to revive a defense that finished 28th in the NFL in yards allowed in 2021.
Fangio’s scheme is generally described as one that features predominantly zone defensive looks out of a two-high safety defense, but with lots of variety. The Seahawks favored a Cover Three defense this season, meaning three players deep with each covering a third of the field.
The Los Angeles Rams revived their defense in 2020 by hiring away Fangio disciple Brandon Staley, who worked with Fangio with the Bears and Broncos. Staley had so much success with the Rams that he left after a season to become the Los Angeles Chargers coach.
Fangio has been a defensive coordinator or head coach for 22 years in the NFL, including from 2011-14 with the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh. Five of his last 11 defenses have ranked third or better in the NFL in fewest points allowed, including this year with Denver.
Donatell was the defensive coordinator under Fangio with the Broncos the past three seasons and worked with Fangio with the Bears. Hurtt also worked with Fangio with the Bears in 2015 and 2016 before coming to Seattle. Desai has been with the Bears since 2013. Fangio was defensive coordinator with the Bears from 2015-18 before becoming the Broncos coach.
Hurtt, 43, has been Seattle’s defensive line coach since 2017 and added the title of assistant head coach in 2018.
Hurtt, the Seahawks’ second-longest-tenured assistant on defense, was known to be a candidate for the defensive coordinator job at the University of Miami, his alma mater. But that spot was filled this week by Kevin Steele. This will be Hurtt’s first time as a coordinator.
The expected hiring of Donatell to a role still to be determined based on whether Seattle can also add Desai would reunite Carroll with one of his longest coaching friends, as the two first worked together at the University of Pacific in 1983 and with the New York Jets from 1990-94.
Donatell, 65, was the Jets secondary coach in 1994 when Carroll was the coach.
Donatell has been an NFL defensive coordinator for 10 years and during the 2008 season at the University of Washington. He was defensive-backs coach with the Bears from 2015-18 when Fangio was the defensive coordinator and followed Fangio to Denver.
The last piece of the puzzle could be Desai, who was promoted to defensive coordinator with the Bears last year after having been defensive quality control coach from 2013-18 and safeties coach in 2019-20.
Desai, 38, learned this week he would not be retained on the staff of new Bears coach Matt Eberflus. Desai interviewed with the Raiders on Thursday for their defensive-coordinator position. The Raiders also are interviewing Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.
The Seahawks have also reportedly talked with former Seahawks assistant Nick Sorenson about returning to coach the secondary in some capacity. Sorenson left the Seahawks after the 2020 season to become Jacksonville’s special teams coach. But for now, Seattle appears hoping to lure Desai.
If Desai comes to Seattle, he could hold the title of passing game coordinator, a spot that became open when the Seahawks fired Andre Curtis along with Norton.
Carroll fired Norton after four years as defensive coordinator. The Seahawks defense did not rank lower than 11th in yards allowed from 2011-17, but dropped to 16th, 26th, 22nd and 28th under Norton.
Seattle allowed 379.1 yards per game this season, third most in franchise history. The 2019 team allowed 381.6, second most.
The Seahawks also got off to especially poor starts on defense each of the past two seasons. They allowed 453 yards or more in four of the first five games this season, as well as 26 or more points in three of the first five, all losses. They finished 7-10, their first losing record since 2011.
The 2021 Seahawks also struggled to force turnovers, ranking just 25th in the NFL with 18, and were also near the bottom in sacks, ranking tied for 21st with 34.
The Seahawks gave up many yards in 2021 in part due to their passive bend-but-don’t-break style that concentrated on stopping the run. They did that effectively, allowing just 3.8 yards per carry (tied for second in the NFL), led by the strong play of the interior line, coached by Hurtt.
That helped Seattle allow just 366 points, 11th in the NFL.
But Carroll noted at the end of the season that the Seahawks had to get more sacks and turnovers, and the promotion of Hurtt could mean altering the team’s scheme.
Hurtt, who attended Gates Chili High in Rochester, New York, as well as one year at a prep school in Milford, Connecticut, was a three-year letterman at Miami as a defensive lineman in 1997 and 1999-2000 before a knee injury derailed his career.
He began his coaching career at his alma mater as a strength and conditioning coach and graduate assistant, and later had stints there as defensive-line coach and recruiting coordinator.
He later had a four-year stint at Louisville, during which time he received a two-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA for recruiting and violations incurred while at Miami.
Hurtt entered the NFL in 2014 as assistant defensive-line coach with the Bears and coached outside linebackers in 2015-16 before coming to Seattle.
Hurtt will become the fifth Seahawks defensive coordinator since Carroll arrived in Seattle, all of whom had previous ties either to the team or Carroll.
When he joined the Seahawks in 2010, Carroll retained Gus Bradley as the team’s defensive coordinator, in part due to a recommendation from his mentor, Monte Kiffin.
When Bradley left following the 2012 season to become Jacksonville Jaguars coach, Carroll brought back Dan Quinn, who had been the assistant head coach and defensive-line coach in 2009-10.
When Quinn left to become the Atlanta Falcons coach after the 2014 season, Carroll promoted Kris Richard, who had been coaching defensive backs.
And when Richard was fired following the 2017 season, Carroll brought back Norton, who began coaching with Carroll at USC in 2004 and had been Seattle’s linebackers coach from 2010-14 before leaving to become the Raiders defensive coordinator.