SEATTLE – It’s not easy for a son to make his own way in the shadow of a father who’s the seventh-winningest coach in NFL history.
But for Brian Schottenheimer to embark on the path to – he hopes – someday carve out a football coaching career as illustrious as his father’s, he first had to defy Marty Schottenheimer.
It was the summer of 1993 and Brian Schottenheimer had just finished his freshman season as a redshirt quarterback at the University of Kansas when he approached his father with a drastic decision.
“I kind of realized, ‘You know, I’m not really good enough to play at the next level (the NFL), but I knew I wanted to be involved in football for the rest of my life,’ ” Brian Schottenheimer said. “And I was like ‘You know, I want to try to get a Ph.D. in coaching.’ ”
The Jayhawks’ offense was based on using the quarterback as a runner. Brian Schottenheimer wanted to transfer to a program that ran a more cutting-edge and varied offense so he could learn as much football as possible.
When he told Marty, though, his father replied, “No, you are not transferring,” Brian Schottenheimer recalled in a recent interview with The Seattle Times.
Marty, then the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, felt his son had made a commitment to Kansas and should stick to it.
“I was like, ‘Well, that’s your opinion, but I’m leaving,’ ” said Brian, who had driven roughly 7 hours to the Chiefs’ training camp in River Falls, Wisconsin, to deliver the news.
Eventually, Marty relented and Brian transferred to Florida, where he saw sparing action but spent four years soaking in all he could about football from Steve Spurrier. That move put Brian Schottenheimer on the path to where he is today: the 45-year-old offensive coordinator of the Seahawks at the beginning of a pivotal rebuild.
Brian’s long coaching road to Seattle included three stints working for his father and the likes of Dick Vermeil, Rex Ryan and Jeff Fisher. Brian also has tutored quarterbacks such as Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Brett Favre, and worked nine years as an NFL offensive coordinator.
Schottenheimer was hired last January to revive a struggling offense that led to the firing of Darrell Bevell and the reshaping of the Seahawks’ offensive staff.
In the seven months since, coaches and players have raved about Schottenheimer’s energy on the field – he likes to personally deliver immediate feedback whenever possible – and communication skills in meeting rooms.
But Schottenheimer knows all that really matters is what happens on Sundays (and the occasional Monday or Thursday) in the fall.
“It’s a unique profession,” he said. “My dad got fired after going 14-2 (with San Diego in 2006). It can be a great profession. It can be hard. It’s hard on families. And there are good years and there are bad years. But I love it. There is nothing I enjoy more than being on the field with these players and coaches and just watching them work.”
As Schottenheimer takes the latest step in a journey that began with that drive to see his father, here’s a look at some other key moments and core beliefs formed occurred along the way.
From a player to a coach
The Schottenheimer family moved regularly in the ’70s and ’80s as Marty worked his way up before settling in Kansas City in 1989 to coach the Chiefs for 10 seasons.
As a senior at Blue Valley High School in Stilwell, Kansas, Brian led his team to the 1991 Kansas Class 5A state football championship and was named first team all-state.
That led to a scholarship at Kansas, where the offensive coordinator at the time was Pat Ruel, who became the Seahawks’ assistant offensive line coach in 2010.
“Growing up around it, he just knew how to do things correctly,” Ruel said.
Ruel was one of the coaches Schottenheimer had to break the news to when he decided to leave Kansas.
“He made the right decision. He learned more football there,” Ruel said last week.
In a recent phone interview with the Times, Spurrier said he and Schottenheimer both knew the quarterback wasn’t coming to Florida to be anything other than a backup and groom himself for a future coaching career.
“He wanted to come and see how we were doing it,” Spurrier said.
Schottenheimer threw just 38 passes in three seasons at Florida with two touchdowns.
One of his touchdowns – the first of a 1996 season that would culminate in the Gators winning the national championship and quarterback Danny Wuerffel winning the Heisman Trophy – gave Schottenheimer a quirky place in Florida history and resulted in a story Spurrier loves to tell.
The Gators opened that season heavy favorites against Southwestern Louisiana at home. But the offense struggled early, and a few series in, Spurrier inserted the second-string offense at every position other than receiver.
“Southwestern Louisiana blitzed and Schotty checked to a little hitch pass to (future first-round selection and 12-year NFL vet) Ike Hilliard,” Spurrier said. “Ike caught it and dodged like five guys and went for a touchdown.”
“I was, of course, very excited and I came off the field expecting jubilation from coach,” Schottenheimer said. “And he was excited, but he said, ‘Good job. Danny’s back in.’ And I was like, ‘Really?’ ”
That was the last touchdown pass of Schottenheimer’s career.
The “me-to-you factor”
After leaving Florida, Schottenheimer said he intentionally bounced around to get exposed to varying coaching methods and strategies.
That led to one-year stints with the Rams under Vermeil, at Syracuse and then at USC, where, in 2000, Schottenheimer was tight ends coach under Paul Hackett.
Hackett was fired at the end of the season and replaced by none other than Pete Carroll.
But before Schottenheimer and Carroll crossed paths, the young coach inevitably ended up back with his father.
While working under his father with the Chiefs in 1998, Schottenheimer met the other coach he considers a significant influence: Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, who was then Green Bay’s quarterbacks coach.
“A lot of my quarterback fundamentals and beliefs and protections of the quarterback comes from Mike,” Schottenheimer said. “He’s had a huge impact on my career.”
From 2002-05, Schottenheimer worked under his father again as the Chargers’ quarterbacks coach, and he worked with Brees and Rivers.
There, he devised one of his favorite sayings: the “me-to-you factor.”
To Schottenheimer, that phrase reinforces the trust a quarterback must have in his receivers and vice versa. The QB knows the receiver will be where he throws it, and the receiver knows if he is open the quarterback will find him.
“We were throwing a lot of back-shoulder fades and things like that and you kind of learn that the trust element was critical,” Schottenheimer said. “Me-to-you, that just means trust. You trust that guy will throw it where he can catch it.”
It’s a phrase Schottenheimer already has ingrained in his new Seahawks players.
“I’ve been saying for a long time, that’s the magic of the passing game, the me-to-you factor, the trust between Russell (Wilson) and Tyler (Lockett) or Russell and Doug (Baldwin) or Brandon (Marshall),” Schottenheimer said. “That’s the magic of it that they have a great feel for one another.”
Learning the value of the run game
Schottenheimer’s first coordinator job came in 2006, with the New York Jets under Rex Ryan. There, his reputation for favoring a strong running game began to take hold.
Brian had seen it work for his father. In nine of the last 10 years of Marty Schottenheimer’s coaching career, he had just two losing seasons and won 12 or more games four times. In that time period, Marty Schottenheimer’s teams ranked in the top nine in the NFL in rushing yards.
“The running game is critical because if you don’t have balance, you are pretty easy to defend,” Schottenheimer said.
The Jets advanced to the AFC title game two consecutive seasons behind quarterback Mark Sanchez and an offense ranked in the top four in rushing each season, coupled with a strong defense.
The key, Schottenheimer said in his first news conference as a Seahawk, is to be able to run successfully even when the defense knows it’s coming.
Many football analysts took that comment to task, questioning if it’s foolhardy to run if a defense is expecting it, and noting that the traditional notion of running to set up the pass can be disproved statistically.
Schottenheimer doesn’t back down when confronted with that criticism. He said it’s not quite that simple and that his offense will be tailored to suit both the strength of its personnel and traits of its next opponent. Plus, as many have noted, Wilson might be the best quarterback Schottenheimer has had as a coordinator.
Schottenheimer said the real key to his offensive strategy is rooted in the magic number: 53. In his career, Schottenheimer has found hitting that number through any combination of pass completions and runs in a game is one of the biggest predictors of victory.
“If you rushed the ball, say, 30 times and throw 23 completions, that was like the second determining factor of wins and losses after turnovers,” Schottenheimer said. “Some weeks, it’s going to be different and it’s going to be 33 completions and 20 rushing attempts. But we are always going to go in with the understanding that we should be able to run the ball, and believing and expecting we can do it at a high level.”
A “weird” call from Pete Carroll
Schottenheimer was the Rams’ offensive coordinator from 2012-14, then, after a year as the OC at Georgia, he became the Colts’ quarterbacks coach for two seasons.
That job sounded good until Andrew Luck suffered a shoulder injury and sat out last season. In Luck’s absence, the Colts withered, and head coach Chuck Pagano was fired. Before Schottenheimer left for his usual postseason vacation at a family house in Florida, he was told he could pursue other jobs.
A few days later, a call came from Pete Carroll, whom Schottenheimer knew, but had never worked for. Only, Carroll didn’t initially say he had a job available in Seattle.
“We just started talking real general stuff about Russell and quarterbacks and just kind of had a fun, little conversation,” Schottenheimer said.
Afterward, Schottenheimer told his wife, Gemmi, that Carroll had called and said, “That was weird.”
A few days later came a second call with more in-depth talks about coaching and strategy.
Finally, on a third call several days later, Carroll got to the point. He said he wanted to interview Schottenheimer – who also knew Seattle general manager John Schneider from their time together in Washington and Kansas City – about a job.
Carroll told Schottenheimer his first goal was to revive a running game that had fallen to 101.8 and 99.4 rushing yards a game the past two seasons after averaging at least 136.4 every year from 2012-15 and ranking in the top four in the NFL each season.
“He realizes the same importance from looking at it from a defensive standpoint,” Schottenheimer said. “If you can’t stop the run, it’s a bad feeling on defense. Offensively, if you can’t run the ball, it’s a bad feeling. So that was a big part of our discussions of how we kind of envision ourselves being offensively with the running game and tying that into the play (action) pass.”
Great opportunities, great challenges
The football coaching life might be tough on families. But the Schottenheimers always tried to take advantage of what football can offer to keep a family close. As a kid, Brian, the only son of Marty and Pat, was a regular fixture on the sidelines of his father’s games.
Brian now has two children of his own: a son, Sutton, 13, who’s a regular at Seahawks training camp, and a 12-year old daughter, Savannah.
Marty and Pat now live in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Marty, 74, is battling Alzheimer’s.
It’s not a topic Brian Schottenheimer evades, thanking a reporter for asking about his father’s health.
“It’s a terrible disease,” he said. “We are not at the stage where it’s as bad as it sounds like it gets with some people. … He still remembers everybody. He’s still very active. He gets confused from time-to-time, like, ‘Where am I coaching? What is going on?’
“But he is in good spirits and we feel like we’ve got a good plan to help take care of him.”
For now, that plan includes trying to treat life as normally as possible. Brian said Marty and Pat will come to Seattle for a few weeks this season, and in November, the Seahawks play the Panthers in Charlotte.
“You take the good with the bad,” Brian said. “We try to laugh a lot. We try to make light of the situation. And when he forgets to do something, or he comes out with two different shirts on or something, we try to kind of make light of it and have fun with it because I think if you don’t do that, it will rip your heart out.”
In a different and less serious way , Brian has learned football can do that too. He said he’s no less enthusiastic for a new coaching beginning than he was 25 years ago.
“Each year is different,” he said. “I have been hired, I have been fired. It’s not always what you did or what you can control. There are a lot of extenuating factors. So I just came into this year and said, ‘Hey, look, I’m going to be who I am.’ ”
Now, to see if stamping Schottenheimer’s identity on the Seahawks’ offense allows it to rediscover the one Carroll feels it has lost.
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