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Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks adjusting to fewer basketball hoops, new coach in Mike Macdonald

Seattle general manager John Schneider, left, and new head coach Mike Macdonald field questions during a Feb. 1 news conference.  (Kevin Clark/Seattle TImes)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash. – Geno Smith reacted out of instinct.

As he’d done so many other times in his previous five seasons with the Seahawks, Smith reached for a basketball off the rack that stood against the wall in the walkway that led down to the front rows of seats in the auditorium of the VMAC as he walked in for a meeting earlier this week.

Only this time, when Smith entered the room to hear for the first time from rookie head coach Mike Macdonald as the Seahawks began their voluntary offseason program, his reach came up empty.

Gone was not only the rack but also the basketball hoop that, for the past 14 years, populated the left-hand corner of the room against the stairs that led to the stage and the lectern from which Pete Carroll had given so many speeches.

“That was the weirdest thing,” Smith said. “’Cause I really walked over there to grab a basketball (and) it’s not even there.”

That was just one of many changes players noticed this week as the offseason program began. They know many more are to come.

“It’s been three days,” receiver Tyler Lockett said Wednesday, one of four veteran players the team made available to talk to reporters about the beginning of a new season and a new era in Seahawks football. “The biggest difference is no basketball hoop. But we’ve still got one in the indoor (practice facility) unless they take that one out.”

Word is that, for now, that one remains.

As a change, the removal of the hoop may seem like a cosmetic one.

The hoop had come to define Carroll’s “Always Compete” strategy, allowing him to stage a competition in the meeting room at a moment’s notice.

The hoop was so important to him that he made sure the team had one shipped overseas when they played Tampa Bay in Munich during the 2022 season.

Far more important to the success of the Macdonald era will be the larger shifts afoot in scheme and game plans and how meetings and practices are run.

As Lockett noted, it’s early for those to have sunk in. Via NFL rules for teams with new head coaches, the Seahawks are beginning their program a week earlier than most other teams, but for the first two weeks are confined solely to meetings, rehab and strength and conditioning drills.

Still, Macdonald’s opening talk to the team marked a turning point as he began to lay the foundation for his tenure as coach.

“He’s got a vision,” Smith said of Macdonald, who was the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens the past two years. “He’s got a plan. He already laid it out for us as a team, and it’s our job to help him and his job to help us get there. … But when we played them last year with that defense (a 37-3 Baltimore win), you could tell how his scheme worked and just how good they were as a defense last year and just how they excelled as a defense. So we know the type of scheme that he has but also the type of leadership that he brings, the type of man that he is and overall just being a great coach.”

What kind of vision is that? Lockett described it this way:

“Just being able to understand that we want to go out here, we want to be physical, and (that) dominance is very, very important and not really letting stuff slip under the rug.”

Not that there won’t be some learning moments for both sides along the way.

The Seahawks went from the oldest coach in the NFL in the 72-year-old Carroll to the youngest in the 36-year-old Macdonald, who is barely three years older than Smith.

“I didn’t expect that,” said Smith, who will turn 34 in October.

For those who had been around, such as Smith and Lockett, returning to the VMAC this week meant leaving the Carroll era in the past.

Lockett, in his first comments to media since the news last January that Carroll would not return, said, “I mean, I was shocked” when he first heard of the change. “I think everybody was shocked.”

Smith had grown so close to Carroll that he made sure to attend his final news conference.

“That day is a day I will probably remember forever just because of how things happened for me here,” said Smith, who was a backup to Russell Wilson for three years before becoming the starter in 2022, a move that revived his career after seven seasons as a reserve. “Obviously, coach Carroll was a big influence on my career, helped me out a bunch when I came to this organization. Really helped me, thrust me into this spotlight that I’m in now. For me, it was kind of a terrible moment to see someone that I love so much, (to) have to part ways with him.”

As much as learning the new schemes, players and coaches in these early days will mostly begin learning about each other.

Carroll had been around so long and was so well known that even players who came to Seattle having never met him felt like they knew him.

With Macdonald, whose full-time coaching résumé dates only to 2014 – the year after Carroll led the Seahawks to their only Super Bowl title – and has worked with only the Ravens and Michigan Wolverines, everything is new.

That includes Macdonald’s role as head coach, something he has never been at any level.

“I feel like he’s starting to loosen up a little bit now,” outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu said. “His first day was like, you know, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know if he was nervous or just that’s how he is. But I feel like he’s loosened up a little more, and when you get around a new team, first-time head coach, I’m sure there is some nervousness that goes with it. But he’s handling it pretty well, and I can’t wait to learn about him a little more.”

Nwosu said he thinks the change in coaches has also led to a change in atmosphere.

“Just being like a breath of fresh air,” he said. “Last year was kind of frustrating, and sometimes when you get change it can bring out the best in everybody. I see a lot more smiles on people’s faces, people are more happy, they are more energetic, I feel like. I don’t know if that’s just because it’s a new year, a new season, or it could be the coaching change and a new opportunity. But everybody has kind of come along together and everybody is talking more, everybody is hanging out more and it just feels like it’s bringing the locker room closer.”

What hasn’t changed, Nwosu said, are the high expectations.

“I feel like it’s time to really get over that hump,” he said. “We’ve got all the players, I feel like we’ve got the right coaches now. These coaches seem committed, they have really put in the time and the effort so far. That’s what you want to see.”