Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton Jr. didn’t play football together long. They were linebackers for the Dallas Cowboys for three seasons from 1989-91.
Their career paths did not cross again until Thursday, when Norton was hired as Raiders defensive coordinator under Del Rio, the team’s new head coach.
A friendship lasted throughout the next two decades, and the pair are excited to work together again.
“We’ve certainly kept in contact over the years,” Norton said. “I’ve been watching his career and obviously he’s been watching my career. We’ve always talked about being able to put my time and energy and knowledge together as well as his and really come together and make a winner.”
That’s now the plan in Oakland, where the pair will try and form a dominant defense in the East Bay.
There is an outline for how that will come together, and it will be a collaborative effort. Norton doesn’t have experience as a defensive coordinator, but was a respected linebackers coach with USC and more recently with the Seattle Seahawks. Del Rio has significant experience as a defensive coordinator and a head coach, and will have significant influence on the defensive game plan.
On game day, however, it will be Norton’s show.
“In my early meetings with him,” Norton said, “his plan is to continue to groom me and I’ll be making the calls.”
Norton believes many of his philosophies overlap with Del Rio’s preference, but he doesn’t mind Del Rio getting his hands dirty in the defensive game plan.
“(Jack will) certainly going to be involved, very informed, kind of leading the way,” Norton said. “There’s no question about that, certainly with Pete Carroll being my mentor and Jack Del Rio, a guy that we grew up and played together and we kind of grew up in the same type of ideas on how to attack offenses and how to protect yourself on defense.
“I have certain ideas that I have that I know that work. He has certain ideas that he has that he knows that work. We’re going to bring them together and obviously make them the Raider way.”
Norton didn’t accept this job solely out of friendship. He wanted to hear Del Rio’s pitch during a Monday interview, and came away excited about the opportunity.
“I was really interested in just understanding what Coach Del Rio’s plan was, what his idea was, the things he wanted to get done here in Oakland,” Norton said. “I was very impressed with how he laid it out for me. I was very impressed with what he wanted to get done. He made it quite clear that I was someone that he needed to help him get this whole program to another level.”