Let’s Set Expectations: The Stakes for New Seahawks Coach Mike Macdonald


Free agency is over. The draft is over. As the NFL calendar slides into a relative pause, it’s a worthy time to assess the Seahawks nearly four months after the chair of the Paul Allen trust, Jody Allen, swapped out an aircraft carrier for a Zodiac. Which is not to suggest that Mike Macdonald won’t succeed in replacing Pete Carroll, but expecting someone who, at 36, has never been a head coach at any level to have quick success is . . . well, we really don’t even know what we don’t know.

Searching for perspective on how he will be perceived by his own curious players, I turned to another Macdonald, comedian Norm, still my favorite Macdonald, even ahead of Ronald. Norm was riffing on his troubles with imposter syndrome.

“I could not ignore their withering glances,” he said. “They looked at me the way real vampires look at Count Chocula.”

It doesn’t help that Macdonald’s offensive coordinator, Ryan Grubb, has never coached in the NFL. Aden Durde has coached in the NFL, but never as defensive coordinator. In Seattle, his assignment may become a tad prickly because Macdonald is preparing to call the plays on the side of the ball where he made his chops with the Baltimore Ravens the past two seasons. When the opponent lines up at fourth-and-two in the red zone, which coach says what to whom when and how?

When the Seahawks were appearing in consecutive Super Bowls, Macdonald, an intern, was fetching coffee for the coaching staff in Baltimore. So his ascendancy has been steep. Besides a locker room full of players new to him, he has to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the 22 coaches new to the staff, while staying atop the intricacies of salary-cap management, which is the province of football ops chief John Schneider and others, but nevertheless influences every personnel decision.

Credit Macdonald for candor regarding the prioritizing of formidable tasks. At the end of last week’s rookie mini-camp, he told reporters, “I think I need to figure out how to run a practice first.”

Hey, there’s a first for everyone who climbs the professional ladder. But the direction isn’t always up. Carroll would testify to that. In his first NFL head coaching job with the New York Jets in 1994, he was fired after one 6-10 season. Three years later, his second chance came with the New England Patriots, where he lasted three years and had a 27-21 record but still was fired by owner Robert Kraft. Carroll went back to college to find his true coaching vibe and became hugely successful at USC. If you’ve read this far, the guess is you know the arc of his story since his January 2010 arrival in Seattle.

Macdonald’s hire represents a distinct narrative change here. He’s the first Seahawks coach since the initial one, Jack Patera (1976-82), to have no previous experience as a head coach. The rest — Chuck Knox, Mike McCormack, Tom Flores, Dennis Erickson, Mike Holmgren, Jim L. Mora and Carroll, were NFL bosses elsewhere, except for Erickson, who had been a highly successful college coach when the Seahawks hired him away from the University of Miami in 1995.

By itself, inexperience isn’t necessarily a recipe for early failure, as evidenced by Sean McVay. When he was hired by the Los Angeles Rams in 2019 at 31, he was the youngest head coach in the NFL’s modern era. Since then, he has a 70-45 record, three division titles and was the youngest head coach to win the Super Bowl after the 2021 season.

The flip side of NFL kid coaches is Josh McDaniels. He was 33 and the Patriots offensive coordinator under Bill Belichick when he was hired in 2009 by the Denver Broncos to replace Mike Shanahan. His tenure didn’t quite last two seasons before he was fired after an 11-17 record, including a scandal in which he failed to report to the NFL that an assistant coach had secretly videotaped an opponents’ practice prior to a game in London.

McDaniels was hired as OC by the St. Louis Rams, then returned to New England in 2011 in the same capacity, winning a third Super Bowl ring in 2018. In 2022, he was hired as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. Again he failed quickly, fired Oct. 31 after a 9-16 record.

The careers of McVay and McDaniels roughly describe the alpha and omega of those in the current NFL era who were seen to be child prodigies. Where Macdonald’s ends up on that spectrum will be the highest Seahawks drama of the 2024 season. As with the presidency and many CEO jobs, it will be defined by crisis management. That may be where things got away from Carroll.

The most noteworthy clue regarding his firing came from Schneider in his presser Jan. 16. Talking about the 9-8 season that failed to qualify for the playoffs, he said, “I think everybody was very disappointed. We had several games that just got out of control a little bit.”

Losing control is about the worst chronic development for an NFL coach, and it was evidenced in the second half of the opener. The Seahawks collapsed unexpectedly and lost at home to the underdog Rams, 30-13. Against Macdonald’s defense in Baltimore, the Seahawks looked helpless in a 37-3 loss. Then there were the two decisive losses to the division rival 49ers, 31-13 and 28-16. It’s true that talent is a larger issue than coaching, but in the parity-soaked NFL, coaching is a difference-maker. Carroll and his staff lacked consistent answers for in-game free falls.

That will be the crucible for rookie Macdonald and his newbie staff. We haven’t seen this sort of proposition since the Seahawks’ expansion years. The best way I can think of to learn what we don’t know is to follow the TV cameras as they pan the Seahawks sidelines.

Look for the vampire side-eyes seeking Count Chocula.

Art Thiel
Art Thiel
Art Thiel is a longtime sports columnist in Seattle, for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now as founding editor at SportsPressNW.com.


  1. Thanks, Art. Excellent review of the past Seahawk seasons. Look forward to your analysis of the new coaching staff as the season unfolds. Any radio things on the horizon? I would love to see a show featuring you and Steve Kelly!

      • As with TV stations, newspapers and magazines, radio stations are not hiring, only firing. Appreciate your encouragements, Hairy and Mike, but my guess is the world doesn’t need another podcast.

        • You’re right.
          The world doesn’t need the mindless, artificially concocted controversies/perspective “provided” by most podcasts.

          But – as proven by your insights over the last couple of decades – I’m absolutely certain yours would be thoughtful, compelling and provide a refreshing and unique perspective to what we typically see. And besides – the Wayback Machine is too cool to just lock away in the garage forever!

          It’s your life to live of course – but I (along with many many others who’ve followed you for decades) would celebrate and support any effort in this regard.

          Just sayin’….

  2. Mr(s):

    My favorite would have been Mr. Art and Mr. Steve Rudman, with Mr. J. Michael Kenyon. 3 HOF classics. Alas–not gonna happen.

    On any subject. For as long as they wanted.


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