The name Ken Norton is not a new one to sports fans. Ken Norton, Sr. was a professional boxing champion who beat Muhammad Ali in 1973 and was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1989. Ken Norton, Jr. played 13 years in the NFL as a linebacker and is the only player in history to win three consecutive Super Bowls.
The name will be even more familiar to Raiders fans this year. Ken Norton, Jr. was named the Raiders defensive coordinator February 6, 2015.
The dynamic former linebacker spent the past five seasons as the Seattle Seahawks linebackers coach under the direction of head coach Pete Carroll. It was with Coach Carroll that Coach Norton learned a great deal about coaching.
"Every day you're learning something," said Coach Norton of Coach Carroll. "If you're talking football-wise; if you're talking defense-wise - hard work, discipline, practice, mindset, believing in something and really being convincing so everyone else believes the same thing with you. There's rules, things to go by, but it just comes down to understanding who you are and believing in exactly what you want to do and doing it."
He learned from Coach Carroll, and understood from his many years as a player, the importance of communication.
One of Coach Norton's most impressive qualities is his ability to read people and understand how to communicate. "You have to learn your learners and understand this game is about people and you have to learn how to have good relationships so they listen," said Coach Norton.
Because of that skill, he knows when to yell, when to just talk, when to be upbeat, and when to be tough. "I have a lot of coaching styles; it kind of depends on the moment," he explained.
Coach Norton also brings a deeper knowledge of what it is to be a professional football player. He, and several other members of the new Raiders staff, spent years in the NFL and bring substantial experience to the table.
"We've been there before so I don't think there's many situations that are new to us," said Coach Norton. "I think we know how the players feel. We know what it's like to hurt. We know what it's like to win. We know what it's like to lose. We know what it's like to cry and to miss a tackle or miss an interception or lose a big game or break a bone, tear a knee. We know those things that other people don't know so we're able to relate to them in that matter and they know that we know. That builds strong relationships."
The coaches also understand, however, that they will have to work hard to not just be former players turned coaches, but to also become teachers and earn the respect from their squad. "We have to go from being great players to great teachers, and that takes time, energy, effort, knowledge, and that's what I'm banking on, becoming really great teachers," said Coach Norton.
But Coach Norton has the ever-important knowledge of what it feels like to win. He knows what it takes to win from a player's and a coach's perspective.
"If you want a great team, you have to have a great environment. You have to surround yourself with a lot of great players who completely believe that no matter what happens, we're going to win this game, and we're going to win it in the fourth quarter," he said. "We're going to outlast you, we're going to do things better than you, and that's the only option that we have. It's hard to get that many people believing at the same time, because you know football is the ultimate team game. There's a lot of moving parts. You have to have the whole group of people, yourself included, on the same page."
And if anyone is going to be able to bring an entire defensive unit together, it's Coach Norton, at least according to Coach Carroll, new Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and Seahawks General Manager Dan Schneider.
"They're getting a tremendous leader," said Coach Carroll. ""He always has an extraordinary effect on the young men that he works with, a tremendous leader, just one of my favorites of all-time. I'm really thrilled for him to have this opportunity to go to a new place and start fresh and all that, really have a chance to impact a bunch of people, and I think Jack [Del Rio] saw that and so it's a great appointment."
Coach Quinn was the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks with Coach Norton as linebackers coach. He believes in Coach Norton's potential. "He is one of the most relentless competitors you'll ever find," said Coach Quinn. "He has a special way of connecting with the players and drawing out all the unique stuff, all the attitude. If you ever had a guy that you wanted to train on toughness and attitude and mindset, he'd be at the top of the list to say, do it like him."
"They're getting an extremely tough, passionate football man, really intense. He's been there. He's a great leader by example," added Schneider.
Many of the qualities Coach Norton displays as a man and as a coach seems to have been learned from his father. Coach Norton said he could spend all day talking about the lessons he learned from Norton, Sr., but he picked a few to share. "Hard work pays. Relationships are important. There's a reward on the other side of the pain. And longevity has its place."
Those lessons have served him in his playing career, and now, in his coaching career.
As the offseason continues, Coach Norton and the Raiders staff are preparing for the return of the players and the start of the 2015 campaign. "We are focused, we are dedicated and we are hard at work," said Coach Norton.
And Oakland's new defensive coordinator is learning what it means to be a Raider. "It means that he's got grit, that he's tough, that he plays fast, that he is a winner," he said.
Sounds like Coach Norton fits his definition of a Raider, doesn't it?