RENTON, WA – For more than a decade, since the beginning of his journey as a football coach, Shane Waldron has been admiring Pete Carroll from afar.
It started during his three-year stint as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame, where Waldron, a native of Portland, Oregon, served as a graduate assistant under head coach Charlie Weis. During that span, Carroll’s USC Trojans captured three straight victories over the Irish, including a 38-0 beatdown in 2007.
“He got the better of us a couple times there,” Waldron smiled. “But that was really the start of my appreciation of him as a head coach and as a person.”
That respect carried over into the NFL after Waldron worked his way up the coaching ladder and transitioned to Los Angeles as part of Sean McVay’s first staff with the Rams in 2017. Over the past four years, he’s been on the sideline opposite of Carroll for nine rivalry games serving a variety of roles under McVay, including most recently being the passing game coordinator in 2020.
Though the two men didn’t have a relationship aside from coaching against one another until recently, Carroll’s appreciation for Waldron apparently was mutual. Immediately upon the departure of Brian Schottenheimer, who reportedly left due to “philosophical differences,” he turned his attention towards Waldron as a top candidate to replace him as offensive coordinator.
Without any prior play calling experience at the NFL level, it would have been understandable if Waldron pressed during the interview process, particularly with a coach he holds in such high regard. But as he told reporters during his introductory press conference on Tuesday, the pair talked football for several days and it became clear quickly that they would be an amicable fit teaming up together in Seattle.
“It wasn’t like an interview where you’re trying to sell yourself to win the job in any sort of sales pitch,” Waldron remarked. “It was a conversation and it was a football discussion that had so many things in alignment that it felt like a natural progression as we got to know each other and talk through things… that’s where it felt really good about the process.”
For those hoping he would spill the beans about everything he planned to do as Seattle’s new play caller from a scheme perspective, Waldron’s responses may have been a letdown as he displayed ample proficiency in “coach speak” dodging questions about specifics. He wasn’t going to delve into how often the Seahawks would run outside zone, or what type of route concepts to expect in the passing game, or how often they would run plays from under center.
However, from a general standpoint, Waldron indicated he and Carroll shared similar visions for how Seattle’s offense should look in 2021. He consistently emphasized establishing a balanced, complimentary offense, focusing on fundamentals in everything from blocking to catching to how players take handoffs, and above all else, protecting the football, checking off three boxes that were highly appealing to Carroll in the search process.
“We’re going to be a balanced offense that’s going to have that ability to create explosive plays with that attacking mindset. We want to be the one that puts the foot on the gas pedal,” Waldron stated while also making it clear balanced doesn’t mean conservative. “There’s going to be a wide variety of pieces to this offense, but that mindset is never going to change and how we get to that is really all going to be based on the players.”
When Schottenheimer first arrived in 2018, Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson both mentioned that 70-75 percent of Seattle’s offensive concepts carried over from the previous coaching staff. Rather than reinvent the wheel with a new playbook, wrinkles from the Air Coryell system were blended into the west coast scheme previously coordinated by Darrell Bevell.
Though he again chose to sidestep specifics, Waldron indicated he has Carroll’s full support building the offense as he sees fit. While there will be some overlap considering Seattle’s tremendous offensive success over the past three years, he intends to leave his mark with his own concepts to help accentuate the strengths of Wilson and players around him such as DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
“I have a core set of beliefs that I’m going to stick to, but we’re going to build this thing together,” Waldron explained. “I think the one thing with Russell and the rest of the players on this team, they have a great foundation and they’ve won a lot of football games together. So will there be parts of stuff that carries over? Absolutely because there are great things they’ve done together in the past.”
“But for me, I’m really more worried about 2021. There’s a lot of things from the past we all learn from and I think we grow from those experiences, but really everything moving forward is going to be about this year and how this group of players fits together, how this group of coaches fits together, and how we can attack that with that competitive mindset.”
Along with having meaningful discussions with Carroll about offensive philosophy, Waldron also has spent extensive time talking to Wilson both before and after accepting the coordinator position. The star signal caller told reporters last month he wanted to be proactively involved in the search and based on these comments, it’s clear the organization obliged to that request.
“I had a great chance to get to know him as a person,” Waldron said of his conversations with Wilson. “We talked a lot about our families and really getting to know each other more as people. I do think, the football part of it is going to be an important part of it when the time is right, but our conversations really centered around who we are as people. You’re in a room with some guys for a lot of hours every day when that season gets rolling.”
In terms of compatibility, Waldron sees a lot of similarities between himself and Wilson, citing the seven-time Pro Bowler’s “unrelenting desire to get better” and competitive nature.
“He’s an exciting guy to get to work with,” Waldron said. “At any point, this guy can explode and create a game-winning play. He’s the type of quarterback, which I love, where there isn’t any scenario that he’s entered in life where he thought he was going to fall short. He’s got that mindset that he’s going to be the best. He’s going to attack every day preparing himself to be the best. That’s the exciting part about it.”
Ultimately, Waldron’s success or failure as coordinator will ride on getting the most out of Wilson, who struggled throughout the second half of the 2020 season. After throwing 28 touchdowns in the first eight games, he threw only 12 in the final eight as Seattle’s offense scored 20 or fewer points four times during that span.
At the center of those problems, Wilson held onto the ball too long at times and with opponents taking away the deep ball, he wasn’t near as efficient throwing in the short-to-intermediate game. He also made uncharacteristic mental errors on numerous occasions, which played a role in throwing a career-high 13 interceptions.
Still, Waldron remains confident he can craft an aggressive, multi-dimensional attack to bring out the best in Wilson in his 10th NFL season. Considering the wealth of talent around him personnel-wise, he’s eager to see what they can accomplish together in Seattle.
“From a positional standpoint, he can make every throw you need to make. He can run any part of any offense that you want to get to,” Waldron stated. “I think the best thing for us is going to be finding out with this marriage, where we fit together, what things he loves, what things fit offensively and then moving forward from there. I couldn’t be more excited to work with him.”
With Carroll in his corner and Wilson thrilled about his arrival, Waldron has both of the franchise’s key power players on his side as he begins his next venture returning to the Pacific Northwest. Keeping it that way will be critical and there may be some bumps along the way trying to mesh Carroll’s desire for a strong run game and Wilson’s desire for an up-tempo attack and vertical passing concepts.
But from his time as a player at Tufts College to his time as a high school coordinator to his most recent positions as an understudy for McVay, Waldron has been working for this opportunity for a long, long time. Given his vast array of experiences under multiple quality coaches while coaching multiple position groups, he believes he’s more than ready for the challenge.
“I think it’s one of those things I’m ready to get going with and ready to attack that opportunity… I want to have a really consistent approach and in my mind, that preparation began a long time ago and I can’t wait for this chance to go ahead and do it.”