Ken Norton Jr

Raiders edge rusher credits Ken Norton for putting him on right career, life path

Raiders edge rusher credits Ken Norton for putting him on right career, life path

Bruce Irvin pays close attention to his team’s offseason moves. Raiders fans know that. That’s why they call the explosive edge-rusher “Baby Reggie (McKenzie)” for trying to fit top free agents in silver and black. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes, other money talks.

Irvin follows personnel decisions and what they mean, regardless. Always has. That was certainly true in his second NFL season, when the Seattle Seahawks signed defensive lineman Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency.

The previous year’s first-round pick spent his athletic life on the defensive line. He had eight sacks as a rookie in 2012, but knew Bennett and Avril meant fewer opportunities to impact the quarterback.

“Those guys played my position,” Irvin said. “When they got there, I knew they were coming to play. That put me on a backburner.”

Irvin wasn’t happy about it. Not mad necessarily, just depressed.

That didn’t change when Ken Norton Jr. offered a lifeline. The respected Seahawks linebackers coach asked Irvin to join his position group. Norton saw athleticism, savvy and passion in this lump of clay, something he could mold and then refine into a top-flight player.

Irvin wasn’t so sure.

“My exact words were, ‘I ain’t smart enough,’” Irvin said. “’There’s too much thinking. I’m not smart enough to do that.’”

Norton was shocked by that response.

“What’d you say?” Norton said, per Irvin’s recollection. “Don’t ever let anyone else in the building here you say that. You can do anything, and I’m going to hold your hand every step of the way, until you get the hang of it.”

Norton stuck with Irvin through good times and bad, and there was plenty of both. Norton never gave up on a once-troubled youth who has turned his life around and devotes significant time, effort and funds toward charity work. Norton didn’t turn his back after Irvin was suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. And, over time, he turned Irvin into a quality NFL linebacker.

That’s why Irvin jumped at the opportunity to honor Norton as part of this year’s Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards, an annual event where top Bay Area athletes recognize coaches important to their lives on and off the field. Irvin presented Norton at a Friday night gala in San Francisco, an event to be televised Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.

Irvin followed Norton from Seattle to Oakland in the 2016 offseason – ‘I heard in his voice he needed me down here’ – and again thrived under Norton’s leadership.

That won’t continue in a professional capacity.

The Seattle linebackers coach turned Raiders defensive coordinator isn’t around anymore. He got fired late last season, a few weeks before Jack Del Rio’s entire staff got let go. Norton was ever-so-briefly a 49ers assistant, before returning to Seattle as Pete Carroll’s defensive coordinator.

Norton’s new career path hasn’t changed Irvin’s affection, respect or appreciation for someone he considers a mentor, a coach, a father and an uncle.

“Ken Norton is all that in one with me,” Irvin said. “I love him and his family…Him not being around here (in Oakland) anymore doesn’t change a thing.”

The bond is strong thanks to Norton’s unwavering support of a unique personality.

“He’s a bully and a best friend. He’s intimidating and really nice,” Norton said. “He’s every extreme. People are supposed to be one or the other, but Bruce is all of that. On top of all that, he’s probably the best athlete and friend you’ll ever have. It was easy early on, and then it became a solid relationship.”

Irvin and Norton first met at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. Norton and Carroll were part of a contingent recruiting Irvin to USC. He went to West Virginia instead, but those coaches eventually landed their guy at No. 15 overall in the 2012 draft.

Seattle gave him No. 51, a number Norton wore during an illustrious 13-year career that included three Super Bowl championships. The bond hadn’t formed yet, but the link was there.

It was forged during Irvin’s position switch.

“When I first got in his room, I had no clue,” Irvin said. “I didn’t know how to get in a stance. He was basically teaching a newborn baby how to walk.

“It started off bad, and that was also the year I got suspended four games. That set me back even farther. When I got back, he never judged me. He just put me back in the rotation.”

The suspension created some tension, frustration, and some pushback. Irvin knew he’d miss the first four games of 2013, but was allowed to participate in offseason and preseason activities. Norton prepared then reserve Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith – he spent two seasons in Oakland – to start. Irvin was talking trash to Smith in a preseason meeting, saying Smith’s starting job would only last as long as Irvin’s suspension.

Norton didn’t tolerate that.

“Man, Norton got on me so bad,” Irvin said. “I can’t use the words he said, but the message was, ‘Don’t act like you’re too good. You can always be replaced.’ We got into it then, but that might’ve been the last, or only argument we got into.”

Boundaries were established, as a real respect was forged. Norton kept Irvin on a proper path after returning from suspension by letting him in. Norton created an open-door policy at home, allowing Irvin to join his family for holidays. He counseled him on a decision to get married. He brought Irvin to Oakland and a great situation working opposite Khalil Mack.

Irvin understands that, and is forever grateful.

“All this football stuff could end tomorrow,” Irvin said. “The relationship I have with Norton, that’s forever, man. The guy has molded me into a great man, a great father and a great pro. Any chance I get to talk about him or help him out, I’ll do it. He’s one of the reasons why I’m here.”

Ken Norton Jr. leaving 49ers after just one week for DC job


Ken Norton Jr. leaving 49ers after just one week for DC job

Just one week after Ken Norton Jr. returned to the 49ers, he is reportedly leaving to rejoin Pete Carroll's staff with the Seattle Seahawks.

Coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed the 49ers have given Norton permission to leave his staff after being named assistant head coach -- defense/inside linebackers last Monday. Norton has accepted a job to return to the Seahawks as defensive coordinator, according to multiple reports.

"Last week, Ken was presented with an opportunity to once again coordinate a defense. Because of how we feel about Ken as a coach, we understand and respect his desire to pursue the position," Shanahan said in a statement provided to NBC Sports Bay Area.

Norton coached Seattle linebackers from 2010 to 2014. He spent 2 1/2 seasons as Raiders defensive coordinator before then-coach Jack Del Rio fired him on Nov. 21. Norton's return to the Seahawks after just one week on the 49ers' staff was first reported by the NFL Network and KING 5 News in Seattle.

Norton sat down with NBC Sports Bay Area last week to discuss his relationship with 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and shared his thoughts on young linebacker Reuben Foster. Saleh worked under Norton as a quality control coach during their time together with the Seahawks.

Norton won a Super Bowl as a player with the 49ers in his first season after signing as a free agent in 1994. He won Super Bowls the two previous seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. Norton also won a Super Bowl as a member of the Seahawks coaching staff.

49ers Mailbag: What's next for Reuben Foster after arrest?


49ers Mailbag: What's next for Reuben Foster after arrest?

What is going to happen to Reuben Foster? (John Riley)
It’s much too early to tell, but . . .

As an isolated incident, probably nothing of consequence would happen to Foster as a result of his arrest Friday night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on a charge of second degree possession of marijuana.

However, there is a cumulative effect as it relates to the NFL’s Policy on Substances of Abuse.

He was presumably already in the NFL’s confidential program, based on his admission that he provided a diluted urine sample at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last year. The NFL views a diluted sample as a positive test.

Foster said he was sick before the combine – possibly from food poisoning. He had a difficult time keeping food down, he said, so in order to keep up his weight he drank a lot of water and Gatorade.

According to the NFL’s policy, the first discipline for Stage Two, if for marijuana, is a fine equivalent of two game checks. A second violation would require a minimum suspension of four regular and/or postseason games.

Frank Gore. Retiring a Niner. They owe him. How do they make it work? (Lars Grelck)
You will not find anyone with the 49ers who has anything but glowing things to say about Frank Gore. However, it’s highly unlikely the 49ers would have interest in him as a player.

Coach Kyle Shanahan is looking for running backs who have more home-run-hitting potential. Gore is as steady as they come. But he turns 35 in May and he is not a good fit for what the 49ers are trying to build on offense.

But it seems obvious Gore is a strong candidate to retire with the 49ers – a sporting tradition that started with Roger Craig and the 49ers more than 20 years ago. A lot of the 49ers coaches and executives who were around when Gore played for the team are now gone.

But Gore has maintained a strong relationship with CEO Jed York. After the Indianapolis Colts played the 49ers last season, Gore sought out York and the men spoke outside the 49ers locker room.

Expect Gore to sign a ceremonial contract with the 49ers after he has played his final NFL game.

Do you think they will franchise tag Jimmy G or sign him to a long-term deal. If it’s a long-term deal, do you think they will make him the highest paid QB in the NFL? (Morgon Holden)
If the 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo do not reach a multi-year contract by March 6, the team will tag him as their franchise player. I believe there is confidence on both sides that a deal will be reached. With only seven starts in four seasons, I would not expect him to become the highest-paid quarterback in the league. But he will never had to worry about money for the remainder of his life.

The Niners have a lot of decisions to make at safety, who will they keep? (Johnny O'Dea)
The 49ers have intimated that they have no problem bringing back Jimmie Ward on his $8.5 million deal on the fifth-year option. We know Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert will definitely be back, with Tartt being a strong candidate for a contract extension this offseason. I think Eric Reid will hit the open market. If Reid does not attract a lot of attention in free agency, the 49ers would entertain the thought of bringing him back on a one-year deal. Competition in the offseason program will determine who starts in what spots, but they all can be expected to play significant roles.

What players put on IR early in the year could have big impact next season? (Stépheñ Bůrkę)
--Linebacker Malcolm Smith, who sustained a torn pectoral during training camp, is the big one. He is expected to start at weakside linebacker with Foster moving to middle linebacker. The 49ers’ coaching staff was devastated when it was discovered Smith was lost for the season before the season even began.

--Running back Joe Williams (ankle) has a chance in his second year. He is exactly what the 49ers’ coaching staff wants from a skill standpoint. He needs to put in the work in the offseason and hold onto the ball in order to take advantage of his "redshirt year."

--Guard Joshua Garnett did not impress the coaching staff in the offseason and training camp before he went on injured reserve with a knee injury to open the season. The 49ers asked him to put in the time and effort to reshape his body. He looks a lot better. Now, the question is whether he can fit Shanahan’s system. The 49ers are hopeful that Garnett will make a huge leap, but they are not counting on it.

--Defensive lineman Arik Armstead (broken hand) enters his fourth season. The 49ers must make the call on whether to pick up the fifth-year option (for the 2019 season). There is little financial risk for such a decision, but it remains uncertain if Armstead is a fit for Saleh’s scheme.