JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The guy who built the Seattle Seahawks into a young Super Bowl team with apparent staying power is a 42-year-old Wisconsinite who went to the University of St. Thomas to study history and secondary education.
Of course, John Schneider also crossed the border to play football. But that dream didn’t last beyond a couple of shoulder injuries during his freshman year.
Two years later, with his passion for the game still eating away at him, he said he took a wild chance by writing a letter to then-Packers General Manager Ron Wolf, asking if he could join the team as a scout. Then, as Schneider tells it, he went to the chapel on campus and prayed. Hard.
That led to a summer internship with the Packers, which led to a spot under the legendary Wolf’s wing, which, long story short, led to the Seahawks walking around The Westin Jersey City hotel talking about playing the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
The guy who brought many of them together, including franchise quarterback Russell Wilson and defensive/verbal leader Richard Sherman, was Schneider, the team’s general manager and brain trust partner with coach Pete Carroll since 2010.
“I was with John for a while in Green Bay, so you kind of get a feeling for what you think a guy can do,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “There are a lot of ways to get your foot in the door in this business. He’s done a really nice job for himself.”
That would be an understatement. With 21 years in the NFL, he literally has spent half his life working toward those three hours or so that will come on Sunday.
“I like to call it a machine,” receiver and former Vikings star Percy Harvin said of the team that Schneider and Carroll have built. “One person down, the next person up. That’s just how we work. Everybody is ready to play.”
“Top to bottom, the roster is unbelievable here,” said special teams leader Heath Farwell, another former Vikings player. “The 53rd player on is a heck of a player.”
Where Seattle is has a lot to do with where Schneider has been. He worked as a Packers scout from 1993 to ’96 before moving on to the Chiefs as director of pro personnel from 1997 to ’99. A year as Seattle’s director of player personnel in 2000 led to a one-year stint in Washington as vice president of player personnel.
Schneider returned to the Packers as essentially General Manager Ted Thompson’s right-hand man from 2002 to ’09. Then, the Seahawks stepped in and hired Carroll as coach and Schneider as general manager in 2010.
“We’re both real guys — no ego,” Schneider said. “We want to be very successful and do whatever we can to be competitive in anything we do, whether that’s Pete throwing the ball 50 yards in the pregame or us competing in cornhole [bean-bag toss], when we first met.
“We were the only two people in the building. Just competing in everything we do and knowing that as long as you’re pushing every single day, in every area, whether it be in our video department, in the cafeteria, whatever we’re doing, nutrition, sleep for the players, all that. As long as we’re doing that, it doesn’t matter [who gets the credit].”
Schneider helped establish the Seahawks’ big, physical offensive and defensive personalities in his first season. In 2010, he traded for running back Marshawn Lynch and started piecing together the secondary that’s now called the “Legion of Boom” on the league’s top-ranked defense.
The league’s best safety tandem of Earl Thomas (first round) and Kam Chancellor (fifth) were drafted in 2010, along with cornerback Walter Thurmond (fourth). A year later, Schneider took Sherman, possibly the NFL’s best cornerback, in the fifth round and cornerback Byron Maxwell in the sixth.
A real bargain
But Schneider’s finest draft moment wouldn’t come until he landed the unheralded 5-11 Wilson out of Wisconsin in the third round in 2012. Two seasons later, Wilson is 27-8 as a starter, including 3-1 in the postseason.
Carroll credits Schneider for spotting the NFL potential in Wilson and having the steely nerve to let him fall to the third round when Carroll was ready to pull the trigger in the second.
“Really, it was John who led the charge,” Carroll said. “John had it pegged perfectly.”
Schneider used the second-round pick to select Bobby Wagner, now a starting middle linebacker. One round later, Schneider landed a player who quickly became a franchise quarterback with a 2013 salary cap figure of only $690,000. In other words, jackpot.
“To a certain extent, quite honestly I prayed about it a bunch,” Schneider said about waiting to pick Wilson. “We try not to panic in our room. We listen to Reggae music and we don’t have the TVs on. When we have the TVs on, we have the volume turned down. We try to keep a very calm atmosphere where if we need to have discussions, we can talk about it.”
With so little cap space invested in his starting quarterback — by comparison, Peyton Manning counts as $17.5 million against Denver’s cap — Schneider was able to create one of the deepest and most talented defensive lines by signing free agents Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril last offseason.
Schneider also was able to get aggressive at receiver, where he traded for Vikings receiver Percy Harvin and signed him to a six-year, $67 million deal.
Having played only 39 snaps in two games all season because of injuries, Harvin has yet to prove himself worthy of the money and the three draft picks that the Seahawks gave up for him. Of course, that could begin to change quickly with Harvin going full speed with fresh legs in a Super Bowl.
Schneider and Carroll have come a long way since making more than 300 transactions in their first year in Seattle. But neither one appears to be nearing complacency anytime soon.
“John’s done a great job of having the competitive will to keep pushing and fighting and clawing and scratching,” Carroll said. “Everything we’ve done really is an attitude of competing and going for it. Because John and I just have to look at each other to make these choices, it’s pretty easy for us. We really don’t care about what other people think.”