Seahawks’ new defensive coordinator Richard is up for a challenge

RENTON — Kris Richard still runs around the practice field full of energy, shouting positive feedback while looking more like a player than someone who has been coaching in the NFL for five seasons. But something was a little bit different for Richard Tuesday as the Seattle Seahawks opened organized team activities.

“I got a chance to roam,” Richard said. “It was a little different, but it was awesome.”

Richard was roaming Tuesday because after five seasons focusing on Seattle’s defensive backs, he is preparing for his first season as the team’s defensive coordinator.

Just 35-years-old, the former Seahawks defensive back has quickly climbed the coaching ranks from graduate assistant under Pete Carroll at USC in 2008 to NFL defensive coordinator. Less than a decade removed from his playing days, Richard now holds a job that has become a pipeline to head coaching gigs, with former Seahawks defensive coordinators Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn each moving on to head coaching jobs over the past three offseasons.

“Grace is really what it is, there’s no doubt about it,” Richard said when asked to describe his rapid rise in the coaching ranks. “It’s just staying true to who I am. Ultimately I’m going to be genuine, and my focus is truly to give you all that you need to help you be your best; that’s all I want to show each and every day. I’m gong to bring the energy, I’m going to bring the focus, I’m going to bring the attention to detail, and I demand the same out of you. That’s how we all get better.”

If Richard is feeling the pressure that comes with this promotion, he isn’t showing it yet. And no matter how well he hides it, being the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator comes with plenty of pressure. Even if Seattle’s defense was to fall off a bit for reasons out of his control, such as injuries or the loss of key players in free agency, Richard would still be known as the coordinator who oversaw the decline of a historically great defense.

He also now sits in a position that has seen its previous two holders promoted to head coach, so there’s pressure not just to succeed, but to earn another promotion. But rather than focus on the lofty expectations, Richard plans to do what helped him get this far in his career, and what has helped the Seahawks defense become the best in the NFL.

“We’re going to look to put our guys in the best possible place for them to be in in order for them to be successful,” Richard said. “What we’ve done around here, we’ve been pretty successful, so we’re going to keep the ball rolling.

“It’s no pressure because all we have to do is be ourselves — that’s the truth about it. If we come out and our whole focus is to be our absolute best that day, that moment, we’ll be fine.”

Of course it takes more than just positive energy, of which Richard has no shortage, to be a successful coach. Richard is also a master technician, the man who has helped turn relative unknowns into some of the game’s best cornerbacks. The techniques Richard teaches Seattle’s defensive backs are a big reason why the Seahawks’ defense is the best in the NFL without being exotic.

As Richard Sherman put it while lobbying for Richard to become a coordinator in January, “he took a rag-tag bunch of DBs in 2011 and made ‘em perennial All-Pros and Pro-Bowlers.”

Sherman went on to praise Richard’s ability to juggle different personalities, as well as his attention to detail: “His attention to detail and preparation of game-planning is meticulous. You have to know every fit, you have to know run game, he goes over basically every scenario you can be put in in a game, and he prepares us for that. You’re rarely ever surprised going into a ball game.”

On Tuesday, safety Kam Chancellor, another one of those “rag-tag” defensive backs, said, “He’s a great guy of character. He can teach you how to be a man, but he also teaches you the little things you need to know on the football field. I think being that he taught the secondary and our room the things that we know and how sharp he got our minds, I think by him being over the whole defense, he’s going to sharpen up the whole defense even more.”

And if there’s somebody in this world who can teach Chancellor how to be more of a man, well that’s somebody you want in charge of your defense.

While Richard will inevitably put his stamp on Seattle’s defense, what he won’t do is try to reinvent the wheel, not after the Seahawks just put together a historic stretch in which they led the NFL in points allowed for three straight seasons and yards allowed for two straight while appearing in back-to-back Super Bowls. While Quinn, a defensive line coach before becoming a coordinator, could lean on Richard and Rocky Seto to take care of the secondary, Richard knows he’ll have to rely on defensive line coaches Travis Jones and Dwaine Board and linebackers coach Michael Barrow “to make sure that our gameplan is intact.”

Richard has what it takes to be the next successful Seahawks defensive coordinator and an eventual head coach, and even if he looked like the same energetic coach roaming the field, he is taking on a new, high-pressure role in 2015.

“You just assume that you just take over, but it’s entirely different when you step in front of the whole group and now it’s your turn to set the tempo and critique for the entire body of guys,” Carroll said. “You’re talking to all position groups every day. He’s got meetings every day and he’s in front and he’s got to do it. It’s a challenge, because you don’t know how guys are going to handle it. … I’ve been in a bunch of Kris’ meetings and he’s hit it with his feet running and we’re off to a great start. I’m really excited about the transition. Obviously we lost a great coach, but I think we’ve put some guys in position to do a fantastic job now.”

Herald Columnist John Boyle:

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