Hire Bevell

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Perhaps the most criticized person in the Seattle Seahawks organization over the last three years has been offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. After some difficult-to-watch performances in the last two seasons, many fans are saying this is the breaking point for Bevell and that Seattle needs some significant changes to its coaching staff. I myself have grown more critical of Bevell and the playcalling in recent weeks, but after further reflection I’ve come to the conclusion that it is simply unfair to make anyone be an offensive coordinator for more than a decade straight.

Bevell should not be in the position where he has coached and designed plays for some of the best running backs and quarterbacks in NFL history, to put receivers and tight ends in the Pro Bowl, only to return year after year without getting an opportunity to lead a team of his own. This type of overlooking of a head coaching candidate is not quite like anything I can remember, perhaps best comparing it to Bruce Arians, who didn’t get his first opportunity until he was 61. And that turned out pretty well. Bevell is still only 47, but he’s also long overdue. “Fire Bevell” is not the mantra I believe in.

Hire Bevell is. And there’s plenty of reasons why Bevell is a better candidate than most of the names you’ll be hearing in the coming days.

After four years at the college level, Bevell began his NFL career as an offensive assistant under Mike Sherman for the Green Bay Packers in 2000. In that situation, Bevell was able to observe the inner workings of a top-10 offense led by a Hall of Fame quarterback and a running back who averaged 1,370 yards and 10 touchdowns per year from 2000-2004. Bevell may not be directly responsible for the early 2000s success of Brett Favre and Ahman Green, but he got to learn about how some of the best do what they do to become the best.

In 2003, Bevell was promoted to quarterbacks coach, putting him directly in the room with Favre and backup Doug Pederson, who is now one of the hottest names in pro coaching, helping the Philadelphia Eagles lead the league in touchdown passes this season. (Of course, the Seahawks finished second in that category this year.)

Bevell remained in that position through 2005, when the Packers traded up to spend a surprise first round pick on Aaron Rodgers. So in his first three years as a QB coach in the NFL, Bevell worked with Favre, Rodgers, and Pederson. Okay, seems like a good start.

In 2006, Sherman was relieved of his duties in Green Bay after a 4-12 finish and Bevell was hired away by an NFC North rival, becoming the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings under new head coach Brad Childress. Bevell’s incredibly difficult task for the Vikings was to start the post-Daunte Culpepper era after five years of mostly-dominating play ended with injuries beginning in 2005. The first slew of QBs at his disposal were a 38-year-old Brad Johnson and a 23-year-old Tarvaris Jackson, a second round pick for him to help develop.

In 2007, Minnesota then did the only thing they could do to make fans let go of the Culpepper-Randy Moss era: Draft the best running back in the NFL over the next decade. As a rookie under Bevell, Adrian Peterson rushed for 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns as the Vikings led the league in rushing yards and improved from 26th in scoring to 15th. (Side note that Steve Hutchinson blocked for MVP Shaun Alexander in 2005 and Offensive Rookie of the Year Adrian Peterson in 2007. Yeah, he’s probably a worthy Hall of Famer.)

Peterson was a super-prospect at running back, but Minnesota had seen similar opportunities like that slip away before: Herschel Walker was a disappointment (in more ways than one), and the Vikings had previously spent top-10 picks on running backs Tommy Mason (1st overall), Clint Jones (2nd), and Darrin Nelson (7th). Peterson led the NFL in yards/game as a rookie under Bevell, then did so again in 2008, also leading the league in total rushing yards and yards from scrimmage.

In five seasons with Bevell, Peterson averaged 1,350 yards, 13 touchdowns, 4.8 Y/C, and 262 receiving yards. He was the most successful running back in the NFL from 2007-2011 under Bevell. He may have been the best running back in the NFL from 2012-2015 but injuries derailed him in 2014 — and there was another running back in the league who was dominating during that time, leading the league in rushing over that period of time and helping his team reach two Super Bowls.

And he also played for Bevell.

But first, go back to the 2007 Vikings. Backup running back Chester Taylor averaged 5.4 YPC behind Peterson and Mewelde Moore had 20 carries for 113 yards. Fullback Tony Richardson was also a Pro Bowler that season, and three offensive linemen (Hutchinson, Matt Birk, Bryant McKinnie) were Pro Bowlers or Pro Bowl alternates.

In his second season, Jackson went 8-4 as a starter but Minnesota’s playoff hopes were killed by going 0-4 with Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger under center. None of the quarterbacks had good numbers, but hindsight also gives us perspective that the receiver talent was lacking; Troy Williamson was already a bust and Sidney Rice was a rookie who was not ready by then. The Vikings top two receivers were Bobby Wade and Robert Ferguson.

In 2008, Minnesota was quick to pull Jackson after an 0-2 start and turned to a 37-year-old Gus Frerotte, who did lead them to an 8-3 record in his games. When Jackson took over again late in the year, he led the Vikings to a necessary Week 17 win over the Giants to make the playoffs at 10-6. Jackson had nine touchdowns and two interceptions on the season. He did so with Bernard Berrian as his new number one receiver.

In 2009, the Vikings got even better, going 12-4 after the team kept Favre away from retirement for what would end up being two more years. When Bevell first worked with Favre, he was a three-time MVP and well established. When Bevell got him back again in 2009, Favre was a quarterback who everyone had given up on after a 22 TD/22 INT season with the New York Jets.

Back with Bevell, Favre had 33 touchdowns/seven interceptions, and a career-best passer rating of 107.2. That was 7.7 points better than any other season in his historic 20-year career.

Favre, Peterson (18 touchdowns), Rice (1,312 yards, eight TDs), Visanthe Shiancoe (11 TDs), and Percy Harvin (790 yards, six TDs) pushed Minnesota to finishing second in scoring and then a 34-3 win over the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round of the playoffs. In the NFC Championship, the Vikings scored 28 points in a 31-28 overtime loss to the eventual-champion New Orleans Saints.

Things turned sour in 2010 when Favre turned 41 before our very eyes (11 TD/19 INT) and Childress was fired after a 3-7 start. That disaster of a season is what opened the door for Bevell to work for one of the most successful head coaches in football history beginning in 2011.

After acquiring Marshawn Lynch in the middle of the 2010 season, the Seahawks felt they were starting to build the offense they felt they needed to win a Super Bowl. They just needed the quarterback and an experienced coach to help them do the right things. Pete Carroll fired Jeremy Bates after just one season — a habit he’s not often wont to do after sticking with so many other assistants through the years — and hired Bevell to take over the offense. He also signed Jackson and Rice to make Bevell feel at home.

Jackson was about as decent as Jackson could be expected to be in 2011, throwing for 14 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and 6.9 Y/A. Lynch rushed for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns. Rice had 484 in nine games. Rookie Doug Baldwin came from nowhere to put up 788. Seattle went from 19.4 PPG to 20.1, but bigger improvements were just ahead. Again, they just needed the quarterback.

Bevell, who starred as a quarterback at Wisconsin 1992-1995, was given a Green Bay backup and a third round rookie who also made a name for himself with the Badgers. As such, Bevell was in attendance at Russell Wilson’s pro day in 2012. As Deadspin called it during the 2012 season, Wilson was “The quarterback Bevell always wanted.”

For whatever reason, the Seahawks decided to add one more quarterback of the future, drafting Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin in the third round. Perhaps they wanted to humor Bevell (who attended Wilson’s pro day, at his alma mater) by letting him grab another one of his typical projects.

The team went with “the Bevell guy” over “the prototypical guy” and improved to 25.8 PPG in 2012, finishing 11-5. The 2012 Seahawks finish seventh in net yards/pass attempt and third in rushing yards. They scored 150 points in a three-week span. They saw what Washington was doing with Robert Griffin III, they copied it, and they mastered it with their baseball quarterback who knows how to slide out of harm’s way.

Wilson set rookie records and as you know, has continued to be a benchmark quarterback in most passing stats in his six years under Bevell. You could argue that Wilson could be even better than what he’s done so far, but he’s already one of the best QBs in the league and his 3rd round status means he’s heavily outplayed his draft status; even if he fell because of size or height issues, Seattle has done a phenomenal job along the way of suiting the offense to his strengths and avoiding his weaknesses — mostly.

Think of all the quarterbacks in the last six years who were “better than Wilson” or “will surpass him along the way” who have faded off. Think of all the quarterbacks in the last 50 years who had good first or second seasons, only to become cautionary tales because they didn’t adapt. Wilson and Bevell have both adapted — these last two seasons have not given them the results that they wanted with said adaptation, but it’s undeniable that the Seahawks were forced to change and they should be trying to change. Even if in 2018, they try to change back to what they were doing in 2012-2015.

In his six years as the offensive coordinator, Bevell has seen the following players make the Pro Bowl: Wilson, Lynch, Baldwin, Russell Okung, Max Unger, and Jimmy Graham.

In 2013, Seattle improved their net yards/pass attempt ranking and remained fourth in rushing yards en route to routing the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. In 2014, they were first in rushing yards and yards per carry. Wilson remained an efficient passer while also throwing for 20 touchdowns and a 95 rating. In 2015, needing a whole new plan because of Lynch’s aging process, the Seahawks were fourth in yards and point as Wilson went on an historic tear in the second half, throwing 24 touchdowns and one interception over a seven-game span. With Thomas Rawls, an undrafted free agent, they were third in rushing yards and Rawls led the NFL in DYAR and yards per carry. Baldwin led the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions.

The two post-Lynch, post-Okung seasons have not been as kind, but Wilson has remained effective, leading the NFL in touchdown passes in 2017. The only team that had more was the Eagles, who as mentioned earlier, are coached by a former player of Bevell’s. And if Bevell returns to be offensive coordinator in 2018 for the Seahawks, he might have his most comfortable start to a season since 2015 because the team now has Duane Brown under contract for another year at left tackle.

This time hopefully getting an entire training camp, preseason, and offseason with the offense. He’ll also have Justin Britt, a player who has developed from a late second round pick at tackle to being one of the top centers in the league. We don’t know that Graham will return, but Wilson had the best run of his career in 2015 after Graham was injured, so it’s not like there isn’t a way for the offense to adapt to how things were before he arrived. Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Amara Darboh, Nick Vannett, Chris Carson also come back for another year. It could setup nicely for Bevell, but forget about “What if he’s fired?”

What if he’s hired?

At this time of year, you’re hearing a lot of names in the interview process who don’t have a notable fraction of the experience of Bevell. It’s rare to ever see a coach be an offensive coordinator for more than 3-5 years, because they’re either fired or hired away, but Bevell’s been doing it in each of the last 12 years. 12 years! Far be it from me to use exclamation points, but 12 straight years as an offensive coordinator is a little insane. That is certainly somewhat due to Bevell’s inconsistency as an offensive coordinator, but how in the hell does a coach even get a chance to be inconsistent? Either you’re bad and you’re gone or you’re good and you’re a head coach but Bevell has survived because of some significantly good results from individuals and top-five marks in many categories along the way. He’s also been the most criticized and derided person along the way because if you don’t want to blame Carroll or Wilson — blame Bevell. “He’s not someone who I have any special connection to like Carroll and Wilson, so let’s change that guy out.”

Okay, there was also “the slant” but I digress. It still could have been a great call and terrible execution.

Josh McDaniels has similar experience with 10 years as an offensive coordinator (nine with the Patriots) and two as a head coach. Pat Shurmur has six as an OC and two as a head coach. Todd Haley has eight as an OC and three as a head coach. Paul Guenther has four as a defensive coordinator. Matt Patricia has six as a DC. But then you’ve also got someone like Mike Vrabel getting interviews, and he has one year as a DC. Steve Wilks has one year as a DC. John DeFilippo had one year as an OC, with the Browns in 2015, and I’m sure how you can guess how that went.

Bevell has 12 years as an offensive coordinator and he’s seen just about every defense you can think of in the last decade. He’s about as experienced as any candidate in the world who hasn’t been a head coach. He’s worked with Favre (twice), Rodgers, Wilson, Peterson, and Lynch. Three of the best QBs of the last 30 years and the two best running backs of the last 10. He’s won a Super Bowl. He’s gone to three NFC Championship games. He won two of those. He nearly won the third. From 2011-now the Seahawks have mostly been a good offense. And if you don’t like his playcalling, well he’s probably gonna have to hire his own offensive coordinator anyway. Not that Baldwin would agree.

Bevell is deserving and I wouldn’t at all feel bad about handing a rookie franchise quarterback to him as I would to do so with Hue Jackson. I’d be perfectly okay with handing him the keys to Mitch Trubisky. I’d give him an opportunity to welcome back Andrew Luck. I’d be fine with letting him go over the playbook with Josh Rosen on the Giants or Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals.

He’s had interviews in the past, but as of today I have not seen any reports of him talking to anyone about the vacancies. If I were an owner or GM, I don’t know that I’d be ignoring him just because I was looking for the next Sean McVay (younger, flashier, newer) or Kyle Shanahan (coming off an historic season on one side of the ball). Even if you don’t want to hire him because Seattle didn’t have their best offensive season in 2017, at least give him a look because of what he’s done over the previous 11.

It’s not a resume you’re likely to see from a guy who has never had the opportunity to be a head coach. Let’s change that.

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