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The Seahawks' front office is no longer secretly awesome -- NFL teams looking for rebuilds or reloads have raided the shelves for this franchise's front office execs and coaching staff, looking to get a piece of Seattle's methodologies and philosophies. Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley is gone, taking a head coaching job in Jacksonville and he'll propagate the Seahawks' competition culture and rather unique schemes; John Idzik is gone to the Jets, where he'll propagate the Seahawks' Draft-focused, team-friendly salary-cap managing methods. Before them, the Buccaneers stole Seattle's Assistant Director of College Scouting, Eric Stokes, to be their new Director in that same area, and with him, Stokes would be taking his expertise on identifying unique talents and skills in prospects, an expertise that was integral in Seattle's last few Drafts.
When John Schneider took the podium this afternoon in Indianpolis at the NFL Combine, he almost had a rock-star aura about him, just based on my twitter feed, with a multitude of media members professing their admiration and respect for the guy that had the balls to draft Russell Wilson (among many other great steals along the way).
The Seahawks now have a reputation for being savvy drafters, something I'm not sure a lot of people were saying a little under a year ago, when the general consensus was that Bruce Irvin was a total reach, Bobby Wagner wasn't who they wanted, and Russell Wilson was 'the worst pick in the Draft.'
So how is it that Seattle has been able to completely overhaul their roster in three years and have surprisingly quickly become legitimate contenders? From how I see it, and how it makes sense to me, it comes down to a harmony on the different levels of the organization, fom the front office to scouts to coaching staff to trainers. It starts with Carroll and Schneider, whom both work with a weights and balances system that has given Pete Carroll the final say, but allows Scheider to make a lot of decisions on his own.
Schneider was undoubtedly the Russell Wilson benefactor last year, and Carroll even had to warn the scouting team to act happy for John when the Seahawks were readying to take Wilson in the third round. That wasn't a popular decision, as it's come out, among some of the scouts, but Carroll took Schneider's back on that and I'd say that turned out pretty well. (I would think that Schneider now has a pretty strong trump card anytime someone doubts his judgement.)
Still, Schneider is very careful to foster a culture that looks to avoid groupthink and encourages differing opinions among scouts. "We take a lot of pride in giving our scouts a lot of leeway in terms of their opinions on players," said Schneider. "So there is a concern about that, but in giving our guys a lot of leeway and confidence in the job they do, they know they're going to be heard and at the end of the day we're going to take all the opinions and put them together. I don't feel we do anything necessarily different than other clubs. We try to work it where we feel like we don't have all the answers all the time. We're looking for more and more questions, and answers to be questioned. If that makes sense to you."
"We've been on the same page enough and been through this enough with the coaches where we know when we're putting our board together and we're choosing players, we're selecting players for the coaches that we know will fit the coaches' philosophy at each position and have a legitimate chance to compete," as he told Clare Farnsworth recently. "That's all you can ask for a coaching staff - guys that are willing to teach and let guys compete."
These aren't John Schneider's guys. They're guys that he thinks will fit perfectly in this system.
"We breakdown each player from just a pure athletic standpoint at the beginning. We breakdown their game as it is now," says Seahawks Director of College Scouting Scott Fitterer. "Then we put them through the filter for our team - because we grade specifically for our team, we don't grade for the NFL. So they have to fit our scheme."
This, unsurprisingly, was echoed by Schneider, this afternoon in Indy, "We grade for our team; we don't grade for the league. Our board basically represents that, if that makes sense to you. We grade a guy based on whether we think he can compete with Bruce Irvin, or Malcolm Smith, or Bobby Wagner, and that's the way our board falls."
It would be insanely interesting to see just how different Seattle's big board looks compared to most other teams around the league.
"Pete and his staff have done a great job of telling us what exactly they're looking for," Fitterer notes. "And then some guys just have such a unique skill set that our coaches are great at adapting and letting players come in. If they think they can make plays, they'll figure out a role for them. They'll create a role if they have to. The flexibility of this staff is incredible that way."
No square peg in round hole. Every player is chosen with a specific role in mind. Not, - 'oh, this guy is really good'.
John Schneider, echoing this sentiment today, said, "I can't speak for other organizations, but as for our group, we know our coaches have trust in us as far as acquiring players that fit what they're looking for, or fit a certain position. They're going to compete, and obviously for them to do that, the trust in the coaches to teach, work, and develop those players. And Pete's main philosophy is all about competition. So, he opens that door, and you have a chance to play."
"When we're selecting players, we're giving the coaches players who are legitimate competitors at each position. Rather than having a head coach who has his mind made up and he's not going to change and be flexible, Pete is very flexible in terms of the players that we can provide."
From what I understand, you can have a lot of tension between scouts and coaches and front office when scouts give high grades to players but the coaching staff or front office wants nothing to do with that guy. Carroll's philosophy is to find out what a player does well and then fit him into the system and allow him to do it.
"It gives you more flexibility to keep guys alive," Southwest region scout Matt Berry told Farnsworth. "If a guy can play, that gives you hope that they're going to find a way to make that guy's skill set fit with everybody else. So you try not to pick apart the things they can't do. You keep your focus on what they can do."
All that is a bit vague - I understand that. Finding guys that fit in your system sounds nice, but in practice, how does the "I like this guy" become "we got this guy" on Draft day?
Schneider, at the podium this afternoon: "The draft has so many different components to it - the evaluation process; knowing other teams, our personnel staff is very involved as well trying to figure out what other teams' needs are. Really, I thought our pro staff did a great job last year identifying who would be the teams that would be involved or interested in specific players. So we just had to look at our board and kind of work with specific teams and see what types of different trades were available to try to put us in a position where if we went back we weren't completely losing a player. Say maybe we had one of three players. Last year, it was one of two players. So we felt if we went back we'd be able to get one of those two players."
The numbers game. You like two or three guys where you're sitting? That allows you to trade back, with confidence, strong in the belief that you'll still get at least one of them at a specific number of slots back. I've always wondered how they gauge that. Turns out they have a dedicated staff assigned to espionage, more or less.
"A big part of my responsibility," Schneider told SIRIUS radio today, as transcribed by our friend Glen Peer, "is to know where guys are going to be taken. We have a pro staff of guys who do a great job of knowing other teams needs. They scour every paper, listen to interviews, do whatever to try and figure out who's "hot." Schneider specifically mentioned Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, and Bruce on names they monitored closely last year.
For instance, said Schneider, "Bruce's name got real hot about 10-15 days out from the Draft last year. So, it's about - are you going to be cute, or are you going to come away with a guy you want? So that's basically what we do."
You may remember interviews following the Draft last season, where Schneider said that he started to get worried because, about three or four days before the draft, nobody was talking about Bruce, and that's when he gets the most nervous - when names aren't being talked about close to the Draft.
More from Schneider soon...