A not-brief history of Brian Schottenheimer

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The Seattle Seahawks are expected to hire Brian Schottenheimer to be their next offensive coordinator, per several reports that have gone undenied for most of Saturday. This news has been met with zero enthusiasm by Seattle’s fans, because Schottenheimer doesn’t seem to be a significant departure from Darrell Bevell, the person he is replacing that so many wanted to see replaced.

Like Bevell, Schottenheimer has a ton of experience as an OC (nine years), but with much worse results overall.

The best season by a Schottenheimer-called offense was the 2010 New York Jets, who finished 11th in yards and eighth in points. They were also first in rushing in 2009 and went to the AFC Championship in both of those years. In 2009, they were 11th in rushing by DVOA and in 2010 they improved to 10th. For nearly a decade of OC’ing, this is admittedly not a good result.

But results are only part of the equation. Bill Belichick has not proven to be nearly as successful without Tom Brady. (Yeah, the New England Patriots went 11-5 with Matt Cassel in 2008. That’s also their lone miss from the playoffs since 2002 and they’re a regular 12-win team with Brady, which in this case was the difference between the posteason/Super Bowl contending and not doing that.) Pete Carroll has not been as successful without Marshawn Lynch. Coaches need to get the most out of their talent, but they also must have talent — exceptional talent — to begin with.

Going over his personnel history as a coach, I’d say that Schottenheimer has lacked talent necessary to be a consistent top-10 offense. The players he has had have not really proven to be better without him with enough regularity to wonder if he’s a detriment to the success of those players. He has never had a quarterback like Russell Wilson before, other than Brett Favre’s lone season with the Jets in 2008, and that was a season with so many variables that it’s hard to really know what Favre’s ceiling was that year compared to the following one with Bevell in Minnesota.

(Favre played for Schottenheimer and Bevell in consecutive seasons, which is a coincidence — or is it?)

None of which is to say that Schottenheimer will be successful for the Seahawks in 2018. His track record leaves a ton to be desired but the record does suggest that Seattle does not plan to change much of the offensive gameplan that the 66-year-old Pete Carroll has found to be a winning formula over the course of his career and the foundation of what he planned to build for the franchise from the moment he was hired in January of 2010:

To run the football better than any team in the NFL.

With Wilson throwing the ball 553 times and leading the team in rushing by 407 yards, you (I) may have assumed that the team was leaning towards a philosophy that involved a Drew Brees-like transformation in the second-third of his career, but Seattle’s offensive deficiencies in 2017 (slower starts than ever, worst running back production in the league, 3.5 PPG less than what they were scoring in 2015) imply that it simply won’t work. Not today, and not while Carroll is still young enough to keep coaching.

Instead, the Seahawks want a Brees-like transformation — the 2017 version: Two dynamic running backs leading the offense, NFL-record 72% completion percentage, league-best 8.1 Y/A.

Schottenheimer’s track record and personnel history does not suggest a future in which Wilson wins MVP, but one that is potentially boring yet effective … if executed properly with the best personnel available to them. The problem there being that Seattle might have a very difficult time finding running backs and offensive linemen capable of executing it by next season.

Or they might. Instead of speculating though, let’s just take a brief look at the players — not the results — that Schottenheimer has in his past.

1994-1996 Florida Gators (Backup QB)

Played for: Steve Spurrier

Backed up: Danny Wuerffel

Just a note that as a player Schottenheimer played for the national champions in 1996, backing up a Heisman trophy winner that season. As the son of an NFL coach, he was also probably already picking the brain of Spurrier, one of the greatest coaches in college history. This is just some backstory, as are the next few entries.

1997 St. Louis Rams (Assistant)

Worked for: Dick Vermeil

Quarterbacks: Tony Banks

Notable offensive players: Isaac Bruce, Orlando Pace, Eddie Kennison

As a 24-year-old, Schottenheimer was already gaining professional coaching experience, in this case for a team that was two years away from winning the Super Bowl with an historic offense. He also saw the development of Pace, a rookie left tackle in 1996.

Here’s what Vermeil had to say about hiring the young coach in ‘97:

“I always spent a lot of time with Brian getting to know him as a kid when he was deciding what he wanted to do in high school, going to college, and everything else. But he always knew he wanted to be a football coach.”

“I had such respect and admiration for Brian, and I know where his passion was,” Vermeil said. “Of course I had great respect for his dad. I wanted to surround myself with those kinds of people, and help ‘em grow and help our whole coaching staff grow. Because I had an older staff, and you can develop young people to come on up and take over it.”

While with the Rams, he was with one of the most veteran staffs in the league, but since he had grown up around coaching he wasn’t as intimidated as he could have been.

“You’ve got these legendary coaches,” Schottenheimer said. “I mean to sit there and listen to Bud Carson put in a ‘fire zone’ is something I’ll remember the rest of my life. But more importantly, I remember how great those guys all were to me — a young coach wanting to break in. They got it, and they went out of their way to help me and to give me some insight.”

Schottenheimer soaked up everything he could from that astute group.

“He worked with everybody on the offensive staff,” Vermeil recalled. “He worked with Jerry Rhome and myself. He helped out wherever he could. But we had him work more specifically with the quarterbacks.”

Schottenheimer was already off working with QBs, the first of which was Tony Banks.

1998 Kansas City Chiefs (Assistant)

Worked for: Marty Schottenheimer

Quarterbacks: Rich Gannon, Elvis Grbac

Notable offensive players: Brian Waters, Tony Gonzalez, Derrick Alexander, Andre Rison

The next year he went and worked for his dad for the first time, working nearby another Hall of Fame lineman (Waters), as well as the greatest tight end of all-time. He may have picked up a lot or a little from his time there, I’m not speculating either way. Sometimes it can be something as small as “Tony Gonzalez had the most success when he did (X)” is something Schottenheimer could tell a young tight end today, though Gonzalez was only in his second year in 1998.

The Chiefs went 7-9 that year, in part because Gannon got injured and missed six starts. The next year, Gannon went to the Raiders and showed how good he could be. Though his four Pro Bowl years in Oakland were quite unexpected.

1999 Syracuse Orange (Wide Receivers)

Worked for: Paul Pasqualoni

Notable receivers: David Tyree

One year at Syracuse.

2000 USC Trojans (Tight Ends)

Worked for: Paul Hackett

Notable tight ends: None (Antoine Harris)

One year at USC, just before Carroll arrived. Carson Palmer was the quarterback.

2001 Washington (Quarterbacks)

Worked for: Marty Schottenheimer

Quarterbacks: Tony Banks, Jeff George, Kent Graham, Sage Rosenfels

Schottenheimer went back to the NFL to work for his dad for the next five years, the first of which was in Washington. This is also when he started to specifically coach quarterbacks, by title. He was also back again with Banks.

2002-2005 San Diego Chargers (Quarterbacks)

Worked for: Marty Schottenheimer

Quarterbacks: Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Doug Flutie

Schottenheimer took over a Chargers team that had drafted LaDainian Tomlinson and Brees in 2001. On Schottenheimer, here’s what Brees had to say about what he thought of the hire:

“Oh, great,” Brees was thinking. “I go from Norv Turner to some kid.”

Brees sat for his rookie season, meaning that Schottenheimer helped him with his first year as a starter, which was pretty good: 17 TD, 16 INT, 76.9 rating, 60.8% completions. That may not seem like a lot, but in 2002, that was one of the better seasons by a young QB ever:

The only 23-or-younger QBs with a better passer rating up to that point: Dan Marino, Daunte Culpepper, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Bernie Kosar, and Michael Vick.

But what else did the Chargers have in those years? Tomlinson and Antonio Gates.

When Brees (and the rest of the team) faltered to 4-12 in 2003, they drafted Rivers and opted to reboot at quarterback while the other guy was still around. Schottenheimer was also tasked with coaching the first two years of Rivers’ career, then left when Brees did to take a promotion with the Jets.

2006-2011 New York Jets (Offensive Coordinator)

Worked for: Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan

Quarterbacks: Chad Pennington, Kellen Clemens, Brett Favre, Mark Sanchez, Mark Brunell, Greg McElroy

Notable offensive players: Leon Washington, Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery, Tim Dwight, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Thomas Jones, Alan Faneca, Damien Woody, Shonn Greene, Tony Richardson, Braylon Edwards, Ben Hartsock, Matt Slauson, Vlad Ducasse, LaDainian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, Jeremy Kerley, Plaxico Burress, Bilal Powell

I’m adding more notable offensive players now because Schottenheimer’s responsibilities expanded at this point and it gives us a better idea of what he likes and what he’s good at. I think what I found is that he likes and is good at a lot of the things that the Seahawks like and were/are good at.

All of the quarterbacks in Schottenheimer’s six seasons are bad with the exception of Favre, who I mentioned earlier. Pennington, the starter in 2006 and some of 2007, also had his good career moments. On Pennington’s inability to throw the deep ball, Schottenheimer had this to say in 2007:

“I think playing quarterback is about a lot of things and the ability to throw the ball accurately and things like that are more important,” Brian Schottenheimer said yesterday. “He’s doing a nice job, he throws a good deep ball and gives the guys a chance to go get it, so I don’t necessarily see the issue with it. The most important thing with me is that it is accurate and it’s catchable.”

Pennington had 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 2006 and the Jets went 10-6.

The problem with looking at Favre’s season with the Jets (22 TD/22 INT) and comparing it to his season with Bevell and the Vikings (33 TD/ 7 INT) — besides the fact that they had entirely different teams built around him and played in different conferences against much different schedules — is that Favre could bounce up and down in production every year in his career regardless of his coaching. He posted better numbers in New York than he did in Green Bay from 2005-2006, which was only two years earlier.

The bigger takeaway from the Jets though is his offensive linemen and running backs:

The first two picks for New York in 2006 were linemen: Ferguson and Mangold. They also eventually added Faneca and Woody to build a run-first line that opened up consistent ground production by backs that had been left behind by other organizations.

In 2005, the year before Schottenheimer, the Jets finished 31st in rushing yards, 18th in rushing DVOA, and 31st in overall offensive DVOA.

In 2006, the Jets were 20th in rushing yards with Washington as the lead back; Seahawks fans will know that Washington is a fun player, but not a lead back. They improved to 12th in offensive DVOA.

In 2007, they added Thomas Jones and he rushed for 1,119 yards but only one touchdown. From 2008-2009 however, Jones rushed for 27 touchdowns and over 2,700 yards.

In 2008, the Jets were ninth in rushing yards, fifth in yards per carry, fifth in rushing DVOA. That was also the year they added veteran fullback Tony Richardson, a potential sign of things to come for the Seahawks — which is to say, “things to come back.”

In 2009, the Jets were first in rushing yards, fifth in yards per carry, 11th in rushing DVOA. Schottenheimer even turned down an interview with the Bills for their head coaching position after the season. That was also the year they added tight end Ben Hartsock, who was considered perhaps the best blocking tight end in the NFL during his career; PFF once gave him the best grade in the NFL among all tight ends, despite Hartsock catching 31 passes in his entire 10-year career. (Which is to say as much about the quality of PFF grades as it is to note that it’s still fair to say he was an exceptional blocker.)

Should we expect the Seahawks to sign a tight end then who will play no part in the passing game? I mean — besides in the way that Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, and Nick Vannett played no part in the passing game, which was, unintentionally bad for most of 2017. Should we also expect them to look to retain Graham, since Schottenheimer also has experience with Gonzalez and Gates?

On scheme, his father Marty had this to say: “Don’t try to get something done with a scheme that you think is brilliant, find out what your players do best, play to the strength of the personnel available to you.”

In 2010, Schottenheimer got back his old friend Tomlinson, who rushed for 914 yards as a 31-year-old. Greene entered the fold and had 766 yards as his backup as the Jets finished fourth in rushing yards and eight in yards per carry. Despite having Sanchez at quarterback, New York went to the AFC Championship in both 2009 and 2010. It wasn’t so much because of offensive effectiveness (because the Jets were built on what Seattle wants to be built on: defense) as it was offensive philosophy.

The Jets’ plan got them one third-down stop from potentially make the Super Bowl in 2010 in spite of Sanchez. Seattle doesn’t need to do much “in spite” of Wilson, but they do need to support him with a running game that brings playcall diversity and shorter third down attempts.

In 2011, Greene rushed for 1,054 yards, but the Jets finished 30th in yards per carry and Rex Ryan (++staff) was fired — that was so close to not being the case though. New York started 8-5 and they had been scoring a lot in early December, but lost their final three games. Not only were Mangold and Ferguson Pro Bowl linemen that year though, but so was right guard Brandon Moore.

Still, the Jets were not good and Schottenheimer’s offense was a big part of that. He was available to be had and at least one coach saw 7-9 potential in him.

2012-2014 St. Louis Rams (Offensive Coordinator)

Worked for: Jeff Fisher

Quarterbacks: Sam Bradford, Clemens, Austin Davis, Shaun Hill

Notable offensive players: Steven Jackson, Daryl Richardson, Danny Amendola, Chris Givens, Brandon Gibson, Lance Kendricks, Isaiah Pead, Rodger Saffold, Jared Cook, Jake Long, Tavon Austin, Zac Stacy, Tre Mason, Kenny Britt, Greg Robinson

Tasked with the development of Bradford in a way that would be much more successful than what happened with Sanchez, Schottenheimer did help him show improvement in years three and four. After missing six games in 2011, Bradford threw 21 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 6.7 Y/A and had a career-high rating of 82.6.

On working with Schottenheimer that summer, Bradford had this to say:

“I really like working with Schotty. I think he’s a very smart coach, a very smart coordinator. I’ve really enjoyed learning his offense and getting to know his offensive philosophy. I think what we’re doing this year is gonna be really good for us as a team. And like you said, I think it’s excited everyone in our offense. In the meeting rooms everyone seems more in-tuned, everyone’s eager to learn what we’re doing because I think everyone believes that if we go out and execute his plan we will have success.”

In his second year with Schottenheimer, Bradford posted a rating of 90.9 and was on pace for over 30 touchdowns, but he tore his ACL after seven games. Clemens, who has literally spent most of his career with Schottenheimer (seven seasons and yes, he’s going to be a free agent), started the other nine games unsurprisingly less effective, throwing touchdowns at a much lower rate and interceptions at a much higher rate than what Bradford was doing.

Bradford missed all of 2014 and the starts were split between Austin Davis and Shaun Hill. Without much talent on offense, those QBs still combined for 20 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and a rating of 84.9. He is of course now re-paired with Davis, though that could be temporary. Schottenheimer was criticized for how he used Tavon Austin from 2013-2014, but with three years of hindsight we can see that Austin is simply not a good player for the NFL. Even Sean McVay has proven that the best use of Austin is no use of Austin. The Rams also spent the number two pick in 2014 on Greg Robinson, but it turned out that Robinson is just a bad pick. Much of that must fall on Les Snead and Fisher.

The Rams went 6-10 and Schottenheimer left for a college coordinator job. The prospect of working for Fisher was so unappealing to candidates after that, he was unable to secure notable interviews. People are hesitant to want to work for a head coach who has outdated ideas/philosophies, which Fisher definitely qualifies as. In fact, Fisher promoted Frank Cignetti, his QB coach, then fired him after only 12 games. He replaced him with Rob Boras and then St. Louis finished 32nd in offense in 2016, getting everyone, including Fisher, fired.

So are the Rams a “Fisher problem” or a “Schottnheimer problem”? I think the answer to that is obvious, though we can’t say for sure that the appeal of Schottenheimer to Fisher isn’t a red flag.

2015 Georgia Bulldogs (Offensive Coordinator)

Worked for: Mark Richt

Quarterbacks: Grayson Lambert

Notable offensive players: Nick Chubb, Sony Michel

Schottenheimer went back to college for one year, coaching an offense led by two running backs who the talk of NCAA for much 2017. The duo rushed for almost 1,900 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2015, which increased to over 2,500 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2017. A “dynamic duo” back attack is en vogue this season with the Saints, Titans, and Eagles, as well as committees for the Patriots, Jaguars.

The Seahawks may lean in that direction as well. They might not have a choice and Schottenheimer is going to be the guy they rely on to find the best duo or trio among the options. Drafting one is definitely on the table, but without a second or third round pick, Chubb and Michel may be hard to acquire this year.

2016-2017 Indianapolis Colts (Quarterbacks)

Worked for: Chuck Pagano

Quarterbacks: Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien

Notable offensive players: Frank Gore, T.Y. Hilton, Robert Turbin, Phillip Dorsett, Jack Doyle, Dwayne Allen, Donte Moncfrief, Anthony Castonzo, Ryan Kelly, Marlon Mack, Brandon Williams

After Richt left Georgia to go to Miami, Schottenheimer went back to the NFL to coach one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. With Schottenheimer, Luck had the best season of his career:

63.5% completions*, 31 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 7.8 Y/A*, 96.4 rating, 71.2 QBR*

*career-high

Who knows what we would have seen if Luck didn’t miss all of 2017 with a shoulder injury. (An injury that lingered during his career 2016 season). The Colts traded for Jacoby Brissett last minute and he ended up doing better than many people expected:

58.8% completions, 13 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 6.6 Y/A, 81.7 rating

His numbers are not great, but “Work with the personnel that you have.”

Schottenheimer admired coaching Luck, and he’s likely going to love working with Russell Wilson just the same. On Luck:

“It’s the challenge of coaching someone so smart,” Schottenheimer explains, “so bright, so conscientious, so caring and such a perfectionist that it makes you want to work your (butt) off to make sure, before you ever walk into a meeting, you’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s.”

Luck also credited Schottenheimer with helping him reduce “bonehead plays.” Limiting Brissett to seven interceptions over 469 attempts and 16 games, also highlights an emphasis on limiting mistakes. The Colts were 30th in scoring but A) remember he was the QB coach, not the offensive coordinator and B) are a very untalented team.

The Seahawks are not untalented, but they do have work to do to get better, and the hiring of Schottenheimer based on what we’ve just learned could point to how they want to get better.

2018-??? Seattle Seahawks (Offensive Coordinator)

Quarterback: Russell Wilson (& Austin Davis/Kellen Clemens?)

Other notable offensive players: Duane Brown, Justin Britt, Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Mike Davis (RFA), Thomas Rawls (RFA), Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise, Germain Ifedi, Nick Vannett, Ethan Pocic, Amara Darboh

Schottenheimer started out studying quarterbacks from the time he realized he’d never make it in the NFL as a player and began learning from Spurrier and Wuerffel at Florida. He worked his way around the league with Banks, Gannon, Brees, Rivers, Flutie, Pennington, Favre, Sanchez, Bradford, Clemens, Hill, Davis, Luck, and Brissett. With Wilson, he has an opportunity to prove that he can continue to do good things when he has a good quarterback, just like he did with Luck two years ago.

Wilson made more “bonehead plays” than usual in 2017, in part because he was asked to do too much and may have felt that pressure. An improved run game (with running backs, not with Wilson) should ease some of that burden, but perhaps Schottenheimer can also just reduce interceptions (Wilson’s rate is at 2% over the last two seasons after it was at 1.6% in the previous two) and running into awful sacks for huge losses.

Schottenheimer knows that he only needs to tweak Wilson, not change him. If those tweaks work for the better, Wilson can become the best quarterback in the NFL.

We also can assume that Schottenheimer is going to focus on an improved rush attack. His offenses with the Jets always focused on run-first and he got incredible production from Thomas Jones when he was in his 30s. Seattle may open up their running back search to veterans, perhaps ones who he has worked with before. (Though the 35-year-old Frank Gore would not be the most ideal choice.)

The addition of Hartsock by the Jets was a huge reason for their top-ranked rush attack during the AFC Championship game years, so adding a blocking tight end could be a high priority. Schottenheimer has worked with two Hall of Fame receiving tight ends, but as an OC that was not as much of a priority. The Rams added Jared Cook for Schottenheimer, but he wasn’t as productive as many had hoped. Not many people expect the Seahawks to retain Graham, and adding Schottenheimer doesn’t seem to imply that they will. Instead, Paul Richardson seems like more of a “Schottenheimer-type” weapon, as the Jets were inclined to go after veteran “highlight” athletes like Burress, Holmes, and Edwards.

The Seahawks also probably want to go back to being a good run-blocking unit, so we could see them search for a blocking fullback and “road graders” on the offensive line.

Schottenheimer is not an “exciting” hire, and he may not turn out to be a great one, but I’d be pretty optimistic about the experience that he brings to the job. He’s not being tasked to be the head coach of the Seahawks, he’s being tasked to do the job that Pete Carroll is asking for, and most fans are defensive and supportive of Carroll as a leader. What Carroll is asking for is a team that can run the ball as successfully as they did from 2012-2015, as well as someone who can tap into more of Wilson’s potential, and Schottenheimer has 20 years of NFL experience even though he’s only 44. He’s coached some of he best, worked for some of the best, and grew up around some of the best.

His results have been mostly “not best” but I’m willing to find out how he plans to use that experience to help a team that’s not far removed from being the best.

And Wilson has the talent to make a lot of people believe that Brian Schottenheimer is better than he’s being given credit for right now.

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