Many have questioned the hiring of Ken Norton, Jr as the Seahawks new defensive coordinator, but do not count former Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin among them. In fact, Irvin would probably say that Norton has been responsible for him not just having a career as an NFL starter but also for becoming a suitable role model as a person and teammate.
Not a small accomplishment for a guy who had character concerns going into the 2012 draft and then was also nominated by the Raiders for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2017.
On Friday, Irvin honored Norton at the Coaching Corp Game Changer Awards in San Francisco, a gala for Bay Area athletes to give thanks to their mentors and idols. As reported by The Mercury News, Irvin thanked God for bringing him and Norton together in Seattle in 2012 and then again when he signed with the Raiders in 2016. Irvin told a story about how he had become despondent after the Seahawks signed some big name defensive ends to take his place.
In 2013, back when both were with the Seahawks, the two had a life-altering conversation. Irvin, in his second season, had slipped hopelessly on the depth chart after Seattle signed veteran defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. “It kind of put me on the back burner,” Irvin said, “so I was kind of feeling down on myself.
That’s when Norton approached Irvin in the players’ lounge and asked him switching positions to linebacker.
“And my exact words were: ‘I ain’t smart enough. There’s too much thinking,” Irvin recalled. “I barely know how to spell linebacker, let alone play linebacker.”
Norton gave Irvin the encouragement he needed to continue with the linebackers, and would meet with him early to give him all the advice he wanted. Not just on football, but on life, and Irvin began to leave his past behind for a fresh start.
“He’s changed my life in so many ways,” Irvin said on Friday night. “When I came into this league I was a lost young kid. He molded me into a man. He molded me into a guy who believes in himself.”
Irvin has started all 32 games for Oakland in the last two seasons, recording 15 sacks. But the Raiders fired Norton as defensive coordinator on November 21, to which Irvin responded:
— Bruce Irvin (@BIrvin_WVU11) November 21, 2017
(Irvin was upset over the firing of course, but whether he likes it or not, did have five sacks in the following three games after Norton was let go.)
Norton responded on Friday, telling Irvin was the reason he coaches.
Unless Irvin is released by Oakland though (a potential outcome because Irvin is one of many players on the Raiders to have no guarantees in his deal left), Norton will have to coach for a bunch of other reasons. The Seahawks certainly have a host of young players who could use the guidance that Irvin describes, like Malik McDowell, Frank Clark, and Dion Jordan. As Seattle potentially transitions into a future without Avril and Kam Chancellor, plus question marks around Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Michael Bennett, perhaps it is some of that “non-football stuff” that Pete Carroll sees in Norton that others are reluctant to acknowledge after two and a half unsuccessful seasons as the defensive coordinator in Oakland.
After all, Carroll is still going to run “Carroll-style” defense regardless of who the coordinator and assistant coaches are, but maybe he’s looking for some more leadership to guide the ship through potentially choppy waters. It’s fine for fans to question that approach, but a former Seahawk who still has a lot of support in Seattle and who believes he has a life and career because of Norton, clearly doesn’t want to hear any of that.