Deep in the suburbs of Green Bay lies a quiet city, home to 25,000 people. Unknown to many, the city of De Pere is home to several historical figures, including a handful of senators, representatives, the famous author Stephen King, and many NFL executives and coaches. However, one name is often left out. John Schneider, one of the NFL's most brilliant minds - and current general manager of the Seattle Seahawks is a native of De Pere.
Little did John's parents know that on May 25, 1971 they would give birth to one of the brightest minds in the game of football -- a man that would revolutionize the sport and bring sustained success to sports franchises all over the United States. Known for his professional scouting and roster building abilities, very few people know that John Schneider was actually a former football player himself.
Growing up, Schneider lived and breathed the sport. Attending De Pere's Abbot Pennings high school, he found an incredible amount of individual player success. To this day, Schneider is one of the school's all time leading rushers. After high school, he would go on to attend the University of St. Thomas, a private Catholic school in Minnesota. In his freshman year at the University, Schneider had an opportunity to play for the University's football team. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury would cut his football career short. To this day, John's choice to quit the game of football haunts him:
"One of my biggest regrets is that I didn't keep playing football," Schneider said. "I stopped after one year because I had injured both of my shoulders. I was a playing behind Gary Trettel, one of the best guys ever to play in the conference."
Despite the sudden end to his career as a player, his love and passion for the game remained. As a junior still attending university, Schneider wrote several personal letters to Ron Wolf, the general manager for the Packers, seeking a scouting internship. Unfortunately, most of John's attempts to reach out were unsuccessful. Finally, after pleading with Wolf and the Packers to give him a shot, he finally got a call back. Schneider had just been accepted to one of the most prestigious internships in the sports industry. Years later, John confirmed the details over his first NFL opportunity:
"I basically stalked Ron Wolf," Schneider said.
The young man wouldn't take no for an answer. Schneider missed football with a passion - and would do anything to get an opportunity back into the sport. He elaborated on the experience:
"Before my senior year I sat down and wrote a letter to Ron Wolf, and asked him to take a chance and hire me for an internship," Schneider said. "Then I went to the St. Thomas chapel and prayed as hard as I could."
John's relationship with the Green Bay Packers began as an intern for the summer of 1992. This was the start of Schneider's professional football career as a football scout. Following the summer of '92 with the Packers, he returned to University to finish his studies. Upon completion of his collegiate degree in 1993, Schneider returned to Green Bay as a pro personnel assistant. To this day, he holds fond memories of his time at university:
"Some of the best friendships of my life I made at St. Thomas," Schneider said. "It's a place where I really developed as an individual and as a man. I just grew up during those years. I have very fond memories of Father Lavin burgers. My wife, Traci, and I met in the Quad back there, and we later got married in the St. Thomas chapel."
He supported the Packers in that position for four years. During that time period, Schneider reportedly "played an integral role in the signing of several free agents who would help make up the team that won Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans". During his four-year stint as pro personnel assistant, the Green Bay Packers went 42-22 while also bringing home the Lombardi in 1996. It was during this first time that Schneider was raised, trained, and groomed in Green Bay's football ideologies and philosophies. How to construct a roster, when to make moves for certain players, when to let players move on - these are all critical skills that he began to develop - skills that he would later catch fame for.
Schneider's NFL career began as a success. Naturally, executives around the league took notice of his talents - and soon he had received an offer from the Kansas City Chiefs to assume the position as the director of pro personnel. He left Green Bay in pursuit of the promotion with another franchise. During his time with the Chiefs, Schneider worked with Marty Schottenheimer, the Chiefs' head coach at the time. He would later follow him to the Washington Redskins. Among Schneider's many professional duties for the Chiefs, he heavily focused on scouting and free agent signings.
It was during these early years of learning and experience that Schneider gained his ability to identify, develop, and maintain talent. His football mind began to mature. Several years later, he received another NFL opportunity: this time with the Seattle Seahawks. Schneider rejoined Mike Holmgren and Ted Thompson, both individuals he had worked under in Green Bay.
Again, NFL executives were starting to take increasingly strong notice of Schneider's abilities - and teams were starting to desire his expertise. He brought a unique combination of abilities to the table: a supreme eye for talent and the talent to build a roster capable of sustaining success. One year later, Schneider received another offer from another NFL team - this time with the Washington Redskins.
Seattle recognized Schneider's talent - and desperately desired to keep him. The Washington Post reported this in 2001:
"The Redskins' lengthy search for a successor to Vinny Cerrato, who was fired by Coach Marty Schottenheimer in January, could take another twist. Schottenheimer said early in the search process he likely would not be able to hire Schneider, and Seahawks Coach Mike Holmgren said last week he would like to keep Schneider in Seattle. But Holmgren allowed Schneider, the Seahawks' director of player personnel, to interview for the job and said last week he would be gracious in allowing Schneider to leave Seattle if Schneider felt the Redskins' job was a better position."
One day later, Schneider accepted the job in principle, joining the Redskins as the VP of player personnel, providing oversight for the entire player personnel department, all levels of scouting, free agency, and player evaluations.
As the VP of player personnel, he hired new employees and acted as a direct advisor to Schottenheimer. Despite his longer NFL tenure, Schottenheimer backed Schneider up - recognizing what he brought to the table:
"He's a bulldog, and I think you have to be a bulldog on the personnel side," Schottenheimer said. "He's only 30 years old. That doesn't bother me. He's got nine years' experience. He's got a Super Bowl ring. I don't have a Super Bowl ring."
One year later, the Redskins fired John Schneider and Schottenheimer and replaced them with former management to the team. Upon the sudden end to his tenure in Washington, Schneider decided to return to the place his football career began: the Green Bay Packers. As a top personal assistant to the Packers' General Manager, he once again had the opportunity to continually develop his scouting abilities and knack for free agent acquisition. Schneider made a home for himself in Green Bay - preparing for a permanent stay.
Until the Seahawks came calling.
Fast forward to January of 2010. The Seahawks had just fired Jim Mora after a disappointing one-year stint with the team. The search was on for a new general manager and John Schneider was one of their top candidates. Less than two weeks after interviewing with team officials, John Schneider was named the general manager of the Seattle Seahawks.
"Leaving Green Bay was extremely difficult. Both my parents still live there. But I wanted an opportunity to help put my own stamp on an organization, and I was blessed I got this opportunity. You're in this business for a reason - to compete, to win championships and to provide for your family. It's very exciting to be here and help rebuild the program. Seattle is a great place - it's very green here."
Leaving Green Bay was tough for Schneider and his family. To get up and go, move your entire family, and leave your birthplace was a tough decision. But he wanted the job. And he believed for a brighter future in Seattle. Despite the optimism, the reality was grim: Schneider was joining a disappointing organization that had very little historical success.
This was a new franchise under new leadership. And they would not fail.
A unique competitive philosophy coupled with strong coaching, revolutionary drafting styles, and Schneider's unique roster management skills would establish Seattle as one of the best teams in the NFL. However, many individuals doubted them every step of the way. From the moment they arrived in Seattle, Pete Carroll and John Schneider were supposedly destined to fail. On January 11th, an article on the front page of ESPN read this:
"Regardless of how optimistic some Carroll supporters may be about this news, the man is going to fail in the NFL. He's already been fired by the New York Jets (whom he coached in 1994) and the New England Patriots (he was there from 1997 to '99), which is all you really need to know. A nine-year absence from pro football doesn't mean Carroll has learned how to be a better head coach at that level. It means only that he's become one more man who thought it was better to give up a cushy gig for a shot at the big time."
As the story goes, Seattle would select one of the best draft classes in NFL history (2012), build one of the best defenses in NFL history, draft a quarterback destined for the hall of fame, set numerous historical records, and win a Super Bowl while attending another.
And their run is nowhere close to being over. Good hire, Seahawks.