RENTON, Wash. – Even as a coach, Ken Norton Jr. is still an enforcer.
The former All-Pro and Super Bowl champion linebacker with Dallas and San Francisco in the 1990s was warning the Seahawks the night before training camp began. Norton told them that to reinforce curfew the team hotel's phones would be turned off at 11 o'clock each night.
"I didn't think much of it, but all these young guys are like, 'There's a phone in the hotel room? I didn't even know!'" 34-year-old quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said.
"I heard one guy say, 'He's going to turn my cell phone off?'"
It reminded 43-year-old Norton how long he's been out of the NFL, how young these pros are today.
He just chuckled after practice when reminded of the players' incredulous reaction to his phone-off edict.
Yet the Seahawks' new linebackers coach, who followed Pete Carroll from Southern California back into the NFL for his first time since retiring from the 49ers following the 2000 season, says he is "really surprised" with the younger generation of pros he's now coaching. He's got multimillionaires such as middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, fellow 27-year-old Leroy Hill and 24-year-old pup Aaron Curry.
"Sometimes when you get away from the game you hear how spoiled and disrespectful everybody is, and that's not the case at all," Norton said. "They still love what they do. They still have the passion. They are very respectful. The only thing is, they make a lot more money.
"You wish you were born 10 years later."
That's not to say the player persona is gone from Norton, who was known for hammering ball carriers and shadowboxing the bases of goal posts — both to honor the legacy of his father, the former heavyweight champion boxer.
Norton looks as fit as when he played in the NFL from 1988-2000 at a listed 6-feet-2 and 254 pounds. He has been running and jumping barking throughout camp at his defenders. He's even taunting Seattle's offense — all in a bellowing voice that is louder than the rap and dance music that blares through each of Carroll's practices.
"Let's GO!!!" Norton kept yelling Tuesday as he slapped defenders on their backsides. The players were chopping their legs over blocking pads in Carroll's rousing daily "bags" drill that is a fan favorite in camp.
"Hurt his (rear) when you hit!" Norton commanded to his linebackers during a form-tackling drill.
Running back Louis Rankin juked linebacker David Hawthorne with three head fakes during a pass coverage drill, something Rankin likely wouldn't have time to try in a game with a pass rush coming. So Norton semiseriously got in Rankin's face for being too cute.
"Oh, man, always full of energy," Hawthorne said after the latest set of roars from Norton. "I think he takes the approach that, shoot, he can't play no more so he's just going to live through us. He's so jacked and fired up every day."
Yet Norton was speaking softly and slowly minutes after practice.
"I'm a quiet guy," he said, with wry smile.
Hawthorne calls Norton the defense's "spark." The 25-year-old says Norton's jolt is all the more effective because he and his contemporaries remember watching Norton pummel ball carriers on TV while winning those Super Bowls with the Cowboys and 49ers.
"He tries to impose his style on us, that linebackers should be different," Hawthorne said. "That we should be the leaders of the team in every instance, we should take control, that the defense's success or downfall is all on the linebackers."
That would good if it proves true for the Seahawks, who are 9-23 over the last two seasons. Their dynamic linebackers are considered the strength of a defense that has huge questions on the line, with a recently anemic pass rush and in a young, smallish secondary.
Norton said it took him some time at USC, where he coached Tatupu, to learn how to clearly convey what he knew from 13 seasons in the NFL to the modern player.
Yet Hawthorne says Norton doesn't have to try too hard to get his message across. His reputation precedes him in Seattle.
"Everything he says, man, is from a players' perspective, because he's been there," Hawthorne said of Norton's coaching style. "He's not just blowing smoke and reading a manual."