Report: Ken Norton Jr. set to return to UCLA football as inside linebackers coach

After a 34-year hiatus, Ken Norton Jr. is back in Westwood.

UCLA football is expected to hire Norton as its next inside linebackers coach, according to a report by Bruce Feldman of The Athletic on Thursday. Norton spent the last four seasons as defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks before being fired in January, but before becoming a coach he was an American linebacker for the Bruins in the mid-1980s.

Don Pellum, who had been UCLA’s inside linebackers coach since 2018, is expected to leave the program and his contract expires at the end of February.

There was speculation earlier in the offseason that Norton could be a candidate for the opening defensive coordinator, but that position was filled by Bill McGovern last week.

With Pellum, defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro, offensive line coach Justin Frye and tight ends coach Derek Sage leaving the staff this offseason, each initial staff member on the field under coach Chip Kelly since his arrival at Westwood in 2018.

Norton is a familiar face to the Bruin faithful, given his playing career in the Rose Bowl from 1983 to 1987 and the fact that he attended Westchester High School (CA) a few miles from campus.

UCLA won a bowling game in each of Norton’s four seasons on the roster, and he broke the century mark in tackles in 1986 and 1987. Norton ranks sixth all-time in program history in tackled with 339.

1987 — the year quarterback Troy Aikman took over as starting quarterback and won Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year — was the same year Norton was named All-American and finalist for the Batkus Prize. Prior to a season-ending loss to crosstown rival USC by just four points, UCLA was in contention for the national championship and Norton was at the forefront of that title chase.

Norton was selected with the No. 41 overall pick in the 1988 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, where he eventually reunited with Aikman and won two Super Bowls. Norton left for the San Francisco 49ers in 1994 and won another Super Bowl there.

During his 13 years in the NFL, Norton had 1,272 tackles, 12.6 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries and five interceptions in addition to his three Pro Bowl appearances. Norton was inducted into the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998 alongside Florence Griffith-Joyner, Eric Karros, Tom Ramsey and Reggie Miller.

Norton became a top coach within four years of retiring as a player, joining Pete Carroll’s staff at USC in 2004 as a linebackers coach. He followed Carroll to the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, holding the same position there and eventually winning a fourth Super Bowl before taking the defensive coordinator job with the Oakland Raiders in 2015.

Carroll came calling once again in 2018 and he hired Norton to be his defensive coordinator in Seattle, which kept him from becoming the assistant head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Norton’s defenses haven’t ranked in the top or bottom 10 in scoring or yards against in 2018, 2019 and 2020, but his 2021 unit allowed the fifth-most yards in the league as the Seahawks finished last in the NFC West at 7-10.

Norton was fired both times he was defensive coordinator, but was not let go as linebackers coach throughout his career on the sidelines.

During his stints with USC, Seahawks and Raiders, Norton recruited, developed and coached Clay Matthews, Rey Maualuga, Lofa Tatupu, Brian Cushing, Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright, Malcolm Smith, Bruce Irvin, Khalil Mack and Shaquem Griffin.

Inside linebackers currently on the Bruins roster include Caleb Johnson, Kain Medrano, Ale Kaho, JonJon Vaughns, Damian Sellers and Jeremiah Trojan, among other young plays.

UCLA’s defensive staff now consists of Chad Kauha’aha’a at defensive line coach, Ikaika Malloe at outside linebackers coach, Norton at inside linebackers coach, Brian Norwood at defensive backs coach and McGovern in charge as defensive coordinator.

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