RENTON Kris Richard’s nickname could be “Rolex.”
His timing really is that exquisite.
The native of Carson, California, was a three-year starter at hometown USC. His final, senior season was the first one Pete Carroll coached the Trojans. Richard had two interceptions and two touchdowns on returns of an interception and a fumble in 2001 for that first Carroll USC team, which finished 6-6 with a loss to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Richard then became the Seattle Seahawks’ third-round draft choice in 2002. He wore No. 42 in the old, blue-over-gray uniforms while playing in 38 games from 2002-04 for coach Mike Holmgren. Holmgren traded Richard to Miami, and he wound up playing one game, for San Francisco, in 2005. He signed with Oakland in 2007 to prolong his career, then was out of pro football at age 28.
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The next year Carroll, himself a former defensive backs coach, hired his former defensive back to be a graduate assistant at USC. That was Richard’s best timing; it was two seasons before the Seahawks made Carroll an offer he could not refuse: Return to the NFL as Seattle’s coach and executive vice president for millions per year. They gave Carroll the leeway to bring any of his USC staffers to Seattle.
That’s how Richard became the Seahawks’ assistant defensive backs coach in 2010. His rise in the NFL coincided with the Seahawks drafting Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell, developing 2010 picks Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, and finding Brandon Browner in the Canadian league.
From 2012-14, Richard was the defensive backs coach for the “Legion of Boom,” the brash, bullish back end of the first defense to allow the fewest points in the league over three consecutive seasons since the Minnesota Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters” of the early 1970s.
So when Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn left in February to become the first-time head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Carroll promoted Richard to be the chief of Seattle’s No. 1-ranked unit. He is the youngest defensive coordinator in the league; he turns 36 in October.
The timing is, well, perfect.
Four practices into his first training camp in charge of the entire defense, Richard says he feels perfectly and appropriately blessed. After all, the year Richard was born Carroll was in his sixth season of coaching, mentoring defensive backs at Ohio State. That was 1979.
“This is grace, there’s no doubt about it. I recognize the real blessing that I have before me here,” Richard said Tuesday before the Seahawks took their first day off in training camp.
“Of course, there are aspirations to move on and ahead and do all that stuff right there. But that’s too far out in the future. I am focused on the things that are right out in front of me right now. Because that is what is going to help this football team be our best. If we’re all locked in, and if we’re all focusing on the next day, that’s when we give ourselves the best chance to be successful.”
The best chance for Seattle’s defense to be successful in 2015 is having all its guys practicing, let alone playing, together.
Ultra-popular team leader Kam Chancellor is five days into a camp holdout. The strong safety is seeking more than the $4.45 million he’s guaranteed in base salary this season.
Richard toes more of a public line than even his head coach does, empathizing with Chancellor while focusing on the need to prepare his current replacement in the starting defense, versatile special-teams ace DeShawn Shead.
“Obviously, it’s the man that he is. He’s the captain of our football team and we respect him. That’s really the biggest deal,” Richard said of Chancellor, “and other than that, he knows that we have work to do here, and his absence is the next man’s opportunity. He understands that and we understand that. He knows that we have work to do.”
A lot of work. The Legion of Boom looked like this during a session of first-team scrimmaging Monday after Sherman briefly was shaken up: Shead, Steven Terrell, Marcus Burley and Cary Williams.
No wonder Richard has been spending the majority of his time within his expertise, the secondary.
“Now the only difference is that I’m the one making (all the defense’s) calls. In regards to the effort that I give and my overall responsibility to the secondary, that remains the same,” he said. “Obviously, I do have a much bigger voice in regards to the overall grand scheme of how we’re going to operate. So in regards to how we operate while we’re on the field, the only real difference is now they hear my voice over the headsets.”
In that wider view, Richard has been wowed by 325-plus-pound Ahtyba Rubin, the new, “three-gap” defensive tackle over the offense’s guard.
“Ahtyba Rubin has been doing a fantastic job. He is a big, massive, strong man in there,” Richard said of the free-agent addition from Cleveland. “He is absolutely going to fill the role we need as a big body in there taking on the run.”
Richard’s inherent leaning toward the secondary allows him to assess Thomas optimistically, despite widespread speculation that the All-Pro free safety won’t be healed in time to play in the season opener Sept. 13 at St. Louis. Thomas had shoulder surgery Feb. 24
“He’s in a good place,” Richard said. “Of course, he misses being out there on the field. But he understands the position that he is in right now. He has to rehab, he has to get his shoulder strong.
“It may hurt him not to be able to be out there, but he understands exactly where he is and what we need of him. So he’s in a really good place.”
So is Kris Richard.
RICHARD’S RAPID RISE
The youngest defensive coordinators in the NFL
On job since