RENTON, WA - In the 224 days since his hiring became official, new Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has been a hot topic in the Pacific Northwest. After Seattle's offense fell into complete and utter dysfunction towards the end of the 2020 season, fans have looked to Waldron as a beacon of hope—a savior to right the wrongs of years past.
Despite making the playoffs in nine of 11 seasons under head coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks are widely viewed as a group of underachievers by many in their fan base. Seeing the team fail to make it past the divisional round of the playoffs since its heartbreak in Super Bowl XLIX, that "championship or bust" mentality has only grown stronger as each season goes by.
Whether that's an unrealistic—and unfairly high—bar to set is up for debate, but the players in Seattle's locker room confidently share that same mindset, particularly Russell Wilson. Aside from Waldron, much of the Seahawks' offseason was dominated by rumors of a potential split between the star quarterback and the only NFL organization he's ever known.
Driven by an undying passion to win at all costs, the historically reserved Wilson ruffled quite a few feathers this offseason by uncharacteristically speaking out against his pass protection and attempting to twist Seattle's arm by threatening an exit from the team altogether. In the end, heart-to-hearts were had between Wilson, his coaches and teammates and the dramatic saga of this offseason has been put to rest, for now.
“I think the whole thing got a little bit confused and everything else," Wilson told reporters on Thursday. "I think I said it to you guys a long time ago but I’m excited to be here, be ready to play and perform. My standard every day is to win, I wake up every day for that. I wake up every day to put my cleats on and go prepare that way. Waking up at 4:30 a.m. every morning in the offseason is the only option. For me, I’m excited about being with these guys and what we can do. I think that we have a great opportunity to be really special this year. My dad always used to say that potential doesn’t mean anything because you haven’t done it yet, so we have to do it again and better than we’ve ever done it before. That’s the only way I think.”
But if Waldron, a rookie play-caller, cannot get on the same page with Wilson this year and the Seahawks once again fall short of their goal, will the cycle repeat itself? And this time, could it lead to real consequences?
With those questions looming, there is, undoubtedly, a mountain of pressure to perform on Waldron's shoulders. This may come off hyperbolic, but when taking a step back and looking at how all of this could play out, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that Waldron holds the keys to the entire future of the Seahawks' organization.
Throughout all the turnover in player personnel the franchise has undergone over the past decade, Wilson has been one of the few constants keeping Seattle's championship hopes afloat. Those hopes ultimately live and die by his sword, so if he were to force his way out of town in a few months time, that would likely spell the end of one of the most dominant runs the NFC has ever seen.
It's a lot to take on for a first-time coordinator, but Waldron recognizes the assignment at hand. He feels he's up to the task, preparing himself over the years for this moment while contributing to a Rams franchise that has gotten where the Seahawks want to go more recently than they have.
“A few things, 'just be you,'" Waldron said of the advice he's been given by his peers. "There are a lot of different things coming and they come about in the course of a regular season game, which of course is a different feel than those preseason games. You’re really preparing the same way you would for every practice and every preseason game like we preach to the players. I’ve had a few of those texts or a few of those conversations where it’s: 'nothing is changing now that it’s a regular season game and you have to maintain that approach.'”
Waldron got an early vote of confidence from Wilson himself during the hiring process, reportedly being the candidate the eight-time Pro Bowl selection zeroed in on. The Seahawks had seemingly scoured every inch of the football world for their next offensive coordinator, with new names being reported by the handfuls each day throughout the month of January. But it quickly became apparent Waldron was the desired target and the two sides finalized an agreement before the month was out.
Wilson, upset with the sudden departure of his friend and former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, wanted someone that could take his and his teammates' games to the next level. After seeing the Rams mow down opposing teams for the last half-decade with an offense that emphasizes tempo and creating space, getting someone from that coaching tree was a very appealing opportunity.
“I think he’s a wizard," Wilson referred to Waldron. "He really understands what he wants to get to. I think he has a great opportunity to be special in coaching this game for a long time. I think that he’s calm, he brings confidence to himself and to the guys. He’s thoroughly enjoying it, he’s a Pacific Northwest guy. He loves some Damian Lillard and the Blazers so he’s a Seattle guy in a way. It’s fun and I think he’s really excited about it. I’m excited to be working with him every day and all of the coaches really. It’s going to be a great year, I think, and we have to go for it.”
Watching from afar, Carroll has noticed a great bond being built between Wilson and Waldron. They may not be as tight as Wilson was with Schottenheimer, but that can only come with time. Nevertheless, getting off on the right foot was crucial, and the two immediately clicked from their first meeting onward.
“It’s been great," Waldron exclaimed. "It’s every day. We didn’t have a relationship prior to when this job came about. From the very early stages where we got a chance to talk and get to know each other over FaceTime. Then being around each other in the offseason program in that same scenario to now being around each other every day in person. We’re just continuing to grow that relationship. It’s an easy thing to do when you’re around a guy like him that’s in there to work every single day. Like I’ve said in the past, football is number one for him. He’s got a lot of great things going on in life in general, but football is such a high priority for him that we have that common theme right off the bat and it just grows from there.”
But while their chemistry appears strong, the duo has never worked together in a game before. Wilson, along with a few of the team's other veteran players, sat out the entire preseason to avoid any possible risk of injury. Now, the regular season is here and dozens of questions remain unanswered.
From press conferences to preseason action, Waldron has played things close to the vest for the most part. He's offered a few glimpses at how tempo will be implemented—from pre-snap motion to fly sweeps and quick throws—but none of it has come in droves. And the talent under center, frankly, could never come close to replicating the skills of Wilson.
On Sunday, Waldron's vision for the 2021 Seahawks will become clearer to the viewing eye. But while the offense's success—or lack thereof—falls on him, it's also up to Wilson to adapt to Waldron's ideals and marry his style with the new system. Last year's woes were propelled by multiple key figures in the organization—Wilson included—operating in completely opposite directions of one another. That cannot happen again or else more dysfunction will ensue and disaster will follow shortly thereafter.
Starting out strong and alleviating some of the uncertainty shrouding this new partnership is of the utmost importance this weekend. But the challenge ahead is no soft landing spot, with a Colts defense featuring the All-Pro talents of Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner aiming to play spoiler in Waldron's debut.
As the season goes along, however, things will change. Waldron will naturally grow more comfortable and adjust to the league as it adjusts to him. The Seahawks—and the city of Seattle—eagerly await his first move.