RENTON, Wash. — During his search to find Pete Carroll’s replacement as Seattle Seahawks head coach, general manager John Schneider was struck by something he heard on a podcast about hiring.
The message, according to Schneider, was that regardless of the industry “it’s all about who’s changing the marketplace.”
“And it just hit me,” he said. “Like, OK, when we’re interviewing all these people, who’s going to change the marketplace?”
That was among the reasons Schneider tabbed Mike Macdonald for the job, calling the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator “a disruptor” while citing his top-ranked unit in 2023 as evidence. And it’s why Schneider was willing to wait as long as he did just for an opportunity to interview Macdonald for the first time before making him the NFL’s youngest head coach at age 36.
“This is the future right here, this is where it’s going,” Schneider said Thursday, seated next to Macdonald during his introductory news conference at Seahawks headquarters. “I think you’re going to learn in getting to know Mike that he’s a special dude.”
Macdonald, who was born in Boston and moved to the Atlanta suburb of Roswell, Georgia at age 6, called it a “leap of faith” to take the Seahawks job, with him and his wife having both grown up back East.
“Going through the process and meeting John and the leadership team, I think the first thing that really popped to me was the parallels of the organization that I’ve been working for for 10 years and where I’ve really grown into the person and the man and the coach that I am today,” he said, referring to the Ravens. “And that was extremely appealing to me. To hear John talk about people and how important that is was the driving force of why we want to be here. It is a leap of faith, but this is a special city and this is a great football city, man, and we’ve got the best fans in the world.
“I understand where this organization wants to go and I feel like we’re aligned on how we want to get there. I’m just juiced to go do it.”
Macdonald wore a dress hoodie underneath a blue sport coat that had a “12” pin fixed to its lapel. He had to cobble together the outfit after a frenetic few days that included interviews with the Washington Commanders and Seahawks following Baltimore’s loss in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.
The Seahawks were also eying Ben Johnson for the job, having conducted an initial interview virtually with the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator during the first week of the playoffs. But, as Schneider explained Thursday, administrative holdups following the decision to move on from Carroll kept the Seahawks from speaking to Macdonald virtually that week while the Ravens were on their first-round bye. Because of that, NFL rules prohibited the Seahawks from an initial interview with Macdonald until after the Ravens’ season ended.
Schneider joked that he went church on the morning of the conference championship games and was “praying my tail off” that the Ravens and Lions would lose, which they both did.
Schneider and the rest of the Seahawks contingent flew to Detroit on Monday afternoon for an interview with Johnson, who later informed Seattle and the Commanders that he was staying with the Lions. The Seahawks flew to Baltimore on Monday evening to meet with Macdonald the next morning.
“He crushed it,” Schneider said. “We flew back here and it was on.”
Macdonald thanked Seahawks owner Jody Allen for empowering Schneider and having the patience to wait on him.
“Thank you for hanging in there,” he said. “I was wishing that we would have to wait a couple more weeks but it did happen fast, but [we] felt like it was a first-class operation. Her investment in this city and how much she cares about this team became very obvious to me, and that was very appealing.”
Would Schneider have waited two more weeks had Baltimore made it to the Super Bowl?
“The reputation was really strong,” he said. “So I can’t tell like 100 percent, but the reputation was so strong [and] we didn’t have to get there. I don’t have to answer that question because we didn’t have to get there.”
During the wait to meet Macdonald, Schneider gathered intel on him from several league sources, including others who had interviewed him for head-coaching vacancies. Schneider had already been impressed by what Macdonald’s defense did to Seattle in a 37-3 win over the Seahawks in November.
When they finally met face-to-face, Schneider became convinced that Macdonald was ready to be a head coach.
“It was communication, leadership, clarity,” he said. “It jumps off with Mike. I had talked with several people that had interviewed him already, and they were like, ‘Wait until you look in this guy’s eyes, man. He’s there, he’s present, he’s on it.’ And he was, and everybody in that room felt it.”
Allen gave Schneider a directive to find a coach who would maintain the Seahawks’ “positive culture.” Macdonald has never met Carroll — who agreed to move into an unspecified advisory role with the team — but has admired him from afar.
“Pete has a great personality, but it’s his and it’s authentic to who he is as a person,” he said. “I think that’s why the players resonate with him and why he has such a great reputation and his track record is what it is. I have a different personality and you’ll get to know me, but my plan is to be myself every day and you’re just going to get me.”
Macdonald had no update on how his coaching staff is coming together except to say he and Schneider have already started the process.
A report from Pro Football Talk on Thursday said Alabama offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, who followed Kalen DeBoer to Tuscaloosa from the University of Washington, is a candidate for the Seahawks’ OC job. Grubb has not coached in the NFL, though Macdonald said NFL playcalling experience is not near the top of his list of requirements for the role.
“We’re looking for the right person to come in here and build this thing, so we want someone that’s open-minded, that has a growth mindset, that can connect with their players and build a system that’s unique to the Seattle Seahawks, that’s going to live here a long time and he’s going to be the one spearheading it,” he said.
As for his defense, Macdonald plans to call plays initially and then eventually hand over those duties to a coordinator “when it becomes obvious that someone else is ready to go and we see it the same way.” Ravens linebacker coach Zachary Orr had been a candidate to become Macdonald’s DC in Seattle, a source told ESPN, but he was promoted to that job in Baltimore.
Regardless of who is coordinating his defense, Macdonald said it will continue to be adaptable and that it won’t necessarily mirror what he ran with the Ravens.
“The spirit of how we play and the principles of how we play, what you’ve seen on the tape in Baltimore, will be the same,” he said. “But I can’t guarantee you the schematics will be the same here because we’re not sure what we’re good at yet.”
Schneider and Macdonald have a decision to make this offseason on whether to proceed with quarterback Geno Smith, who is under contract for two more seasons and $47.5 million. That includes a $12.7 million base salary for next season that will become fully guaranteed if he’s still on the roster Feb. 16.
Backup Drew Lock is set to be a free agent.
“We’ve played against Geno,” Macdonald said. “He’s a really good player; I’m pretty sure he’s at the Pro Bowl right now. But we’re going to build it around the quarterback. You’ve got to. Just like we said on defense, we built a system around the players on defense. We’re going to build it around the players on offense and the most important player is the QB.
“So we’ll see how the whole situation shakes out over time, but excited to get to meet those guys. … I talked to Geno briefly after our game and told him how much I respect him — not anticipating I’d see him in six months or three months or however long it’s been.”