Oakland Raiders Announce Ken Norton, Jr. as Defensive Coordinator


Jan 29, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. at press conference at Arizona Grand in advance of Super Bowl XLIX. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders have FINALLY hired a defensive coordinator, announcing today that Ken Norton, Jr. had accepted the position after spending the past four seasons as the linebackers coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Norton, a former NFL linebacker, was a teammate of head coach Jack Del Rio with the Dallas Cowboys for three seasons under head coach Jimmy Johnson. Norton is the third former Del Rio teammate hired to the coaching staff and the seventh former NFL player. Norton and Del Rio, as well as Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave, were all briefly teammates on the 1991 Dallas Cowboys before Musgrave was cut in preseason. Norton and Musgrave were teammates again on the 1994 Super Bowl Champion 49ers team. Norton, who is the son of late former Heavyweight Champion and US Marine Ken Norton, is a UCLA alumni and spent his entire coaching career with Pete Carroll, first at USC and then in Seattle. Norton, who was a three time Pro Bowler and two time All-Pro at the position, has been a linebackers coach for Carroll since 2004, following him from USC to Seattle. He was on three consecutive Super Bowl champions as a player – 1992 and 93 with Dallas, 1994 with San Francisco – and has also won a Super Bowl ring as a coach with Seattle. He was also a part of a college national champion at USC in 2004.

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Norton has stated that he wants to instill some elements of the Seahawks’ defensive philosophy and mentality  in the Raiders this upcoming season, though his lack of experience as a coordinator suggests that Jack Del Rio’s philosophy and scheme will be the basis of the Raider defense, at least in the near term. Norton’s linebacker unit of KJ Wright, Malcolm Smith and Bobby Wagner were key to the success of the Seahawks defense over the last four seasons that helped them win two consecutive NFC Championships and Super Bowl XLVIII. Jack Del Rio and Pete Carroll’s defensive philosophies are highly compatible, which suggests that Norton may bring a number of Carroll’s defensive concepts and install them within the framework of Del Rio’s defense right away, in much the way that Bill Musgrave plans to install many of Chip Kelly’s concepts within the offense. While it’s unclear what this would look like, it could conceivably mean some variety in pass coverage schemes: Del Rio is a fan of frequent blitzing while the corners play man coverage with safety help, while Carroll’s defenses tend to play press cover 3 zones and use linebackers more heavily in coverage.

Norton has never before held the position of Defensive Coordinator at any level, but he is a highly accomplished linebackers coach, moreso than Del Rio himself was before his first DC posting. In Norton’s six year tenure as the linebackers coach at USC, he coached eleven future NFL draft picks, including Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing, and Rey Maualuga. His linebacker units in Seattle have been key to that defense’s success, though not quite as visible as the “Legion of Boom” secondary. Malcolm Smith, who he coached at both USC and in Seattle, was the MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII, and Bobby Wagner was a first team All-Pro this year. Norton will likely play a large role in the development of young Raider linebackers Khalil Mack and Sio Moore going forward. The Raider coaching staff is now essentially set for the 2015 season.