Editor's note: This story was originally published in September 2012.
Touchdown or interception?
“We was robbed” was the take of Green Bay Packer fans when their beloved team lost 14-12 to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football (Sept. 24) on a controversial "Hail Mary" pass thrown on the last play of the game. (Touchdown or interception? Judge for yourself here.) The call also had the nation’s NFL fans in an uproar over replacement referees, who will now be replaced with the former, regular officiating crews.
Controversy aside, truth is, the Packers fell that night to a team and an organization on the rise; ironically, that rise is being shaped by John Schneider, a St. Thomas alumnus who lived and died with the Packers while growing up near Green Bay, and who worked for the Packers from 1993 to 2000, and again from 2002 to 2010. In 2008 he was named Green Bay’s director of football operations.
In January 2010 he was hired as the Seattle Seahawks general manager. Here is his story, written by Gene McGivern, the university’s sports information director. Following McGivern's story is an update from the Seahawks' website on Schneider and the success of the team during his watch.
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Gene's Blog: Hail Marys, Hard Work Fuel Alum's NFL Rise
June 10, 2010
By Gene McGivern, University of St. Thomas sports information director
It’s graduation season across America. Colleges and high schools have lined up speakers to offer their wisdom to the Class of 2010.
One St. Thomas graduate with a message worth hearing is John Schneider. From humble beginnings two decades ago as a college student, Schneider is making a name for himself in the National Football League.
For a fellow yet to reach age 40, Schnieder has a deep and impressive résumé in pro football. Last January he was hired as the General Manager of the Seattle Seahawks, an NFL franchise that's suddenly generating a buzz.
Schneider’s story – of dreaming big, being bold, and takings risks – ranks with the best of commencement themes. He was a college junior at St. Thomas when he planted a seed that has reaped a harvest of opportunities. Relying on guts and ingenuity, Schneider wrote a letter to prominent NFL executive Ron Wolf in search of his dream job.
Schneider lived and died with the Packers while growing up in Green Bay. A standout high school athlete, he played football at St. Thomas as a freshman until injuries prompted him to hang up his helmet. The history and secondary education major realized later how much he missed football. He dreamed big, and considered a career with the Green Bay organization as a scout.
“Before my senior year I sat down and wrote a letter to Ron Wolf, and asked him to take a chance and hire me for an internship,” Schneider said. “Then I went to the St. Thomas chapel and prayed as hard as I could.”
Wolf didn’t ignore the letter. Nor did he have a secretary draft a “thanks, but no thanks” response. The Packers’ general manger called Schneider and eventually offered him an unglamorous summer internship.
A thrilled Schneider vowed to do whatever he could to make the most of his opportunity. His work mantra became look, listen and learn.
“This job is the kind where you put your head down and put the nose to the grindstone and stay after it,” he said. “The following January J-term the unrestricted free-agent period was going on so they brought me back for those five weeks. Then they brought me back the next summer, and I was hired full time in that fall of 1993.”
Schneider worked in the Packers organization from 1993-2000. He joined the Seahawks in 2000 to work under Ted Thompson and Coach Mike Holmgren, then moved across country in 2001 to become the vice president of player personnel for the Washington Redskins. He returned to Green Bay in 2002 and spent six seasons as the top personnel aide to the Packers’ general manager. In 2008 he was named Green Bay’s director of football operations.
Last January, he was chosen from a field of four finalists for the Seattle general manager job. He expressed mixed emotions about uprooting his wife, Traci, and sons Ben (age 8) and Jack (6) as well as leaving other family members, but he said it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“Leaving Green Bay was extremely difficult,” Schneider said. “Both my parents still live there. But I wanted an opportunity to help put my own stamp on an organization, and I was blessed I got this opportunity. You're in this business for a reason – to compete, to win championships and to provide for your family. It's very exciting to be here and help rebuild the program. Seattle is a great place – it's very green here.”
Optimism in Seattle
Schneider joined a Seattle franchise that many feel has underachieved for much of its 34-year existence. Seattle has won only four playoff games in the last 18 seasons. The team is coming off a 2009 late-season meltdown that resulted in a 5-11 final record and the firing of first-year head coach Jim Mora.
The Seahawks made a splash last Janaury with the hiring of Pete Carroll as its head coach. Schneider came on board one week later. He has control over salary cap and contract issues and works closely with Carroll on personnel matters.
The low-ego Schneider appears secure in his role. In a recent Web interview he explained: “We have a team atmosphere here, with a lot of input from scouts and coaches together. Pete and I have a great relationship, but there is no question that he is the face of this organization.”
The Seahawks’ 2010 draft was roundly praised. Dennis Dillon of Sporting News Today wrote: “In their inaugural draft, new Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and first-year general manager John Schneider formed a duo as dynamic as Batman and Robin.” USA Today columnist Jarrett Bell gave Seattle his only A-plus in his rankings.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. also had high praise. “Pete Carroll and the new Seahawks regime came out of the gates with a bang. Impact players early, value later, and some trades thrown in. And they were patient! (OT) Russell Okung lands in their laps at No. 6, (RB) Earl Thomas is there at No. 14. (WR-KR) Golden Tate is still there at No. 60. All three can help the team not in a few years, but immediately … . No team outside of possibly Detroit added impact players the way Seattle has.”
Schneider said the draft provided a good starting point, but he acknowledged it’s just the start.
“You never truly know about the success of an NFL draft for two or three years, but it's been fun to see all the coverage and the buzz with our team,” Schneider said. “I feel like we made some good moves, but we have a long way to go to be considered a championship football team.”
Schneider said he’s been blessed to rise so far so fast in his career. Looking back, he credits St. Thomas for much of his growth and maturity.
“Some of the best friendships of my life I made at St. Thomas,” Schneider said. “It's a place where I really developed as an individual and as a man. I just grew up during those years. I have very fond memories of Father Lavin burgers. My wife, Traci, and I met in the Quad back there, and we later got married in the St. Thomas chapel.”
Schneider’s strong family connection to St. Thomas continues to expand. His older brother, Bill, and his wife, Nancy, as well as his brother-in-law, Paul Ihlenfeldt, also are Tommie grads. His niece, Kaitlin Denis, currently plays on the UST soccer team. His nephew, David Ihlenfeldt, will be a freshman running back for the Tommies this fall after starring at Green Bay Notre Dame High (Wisconsin all-stater, conference Offensive Player of the Year, and NE Wisconsin Player of the Year).
Even though he played just one season in college, Schneider still follows Tommie football closely. “One of my biggest regrets is that I didn't keep playing football,” Schneider said. “I stopped after one year because I had injured both of my shoulders. I was a playing behind Gary Trettel, one of the best guys ever to play in the conference.”
Schneider has a big fan in Tommie football coach Glenn Caruso.
“The power of the St Thomas education is mindboggling and never ceases to amaze me on a daily basis, and John is a shining example of that,” said Caruso. “The number of successful people, doing great things in powerful positions is a testament to the school as well as the program, and we could not be prouder of their successes.
“John is an unbelievably smart person, yes, but what sets him apart from other greats in his field is his keen eye for the total package and his uncanny ability to choose the type of people who are going to have success in their system. Although we have only known each other for a little over two years, we have been able to forge a wonderful relationship because we both subscribe to the theory that in the end, it's all about people.”
Schneider said it’s exciting to see St. Thomas football move into the national limelight in just two seasons under Caruso. “It looks like he's building something special,” Schneider said of Caruso. “I'm hearing so many good things about the football program. I like seeing his staff out recruiting throughout the Midwest. Football is becoming an exciting part of St. Thomas again, and that's a testament to Coach Caruso and his staff.”
When John Schneider takes a rare break from his frenetic pace in the NFL, he can offer Tommie students this wisdom:
“From my experiences in life, if you have dreams, have faith in yourself, and have a strong work ethic, you can accomplish anything,” Schneider said, “especially with the things you've learned at St. Thomas in and out of the classroom.”
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John Schneider, Seattle Seahawks' executive vice president, general manager
The Seahawks' website provides additional information about Schneider's extensive background in professional football. As general manager of the Seahawks, Schneider "manages all aspects of the team's roster and draft process while working collaboratively with Pete Carroll in all facets of the football operations department." This backgrounder about Schneider delves into his philosophy on "building a sustained winning atmosphere for years to come" and the Seahawks rise to power on his watch.
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