The San Francisco 49ers announced on Monday that the team has named Ken Norton Jr. Assistant Head Coach – Defense/Inside Linebackers. In addition, Johnny Holland will become the team’s run game specialist/outside linebackers coach and Michael Clay will become an assistant special teams coach.
“Ken brings a great deal of knowledge and experience to our team having spent more than two decades as a NFL player and coach,” said Head Coach Kyle Shanahan. “Throughout his coaching career, Ken has developed a tremendous understanding of our defensive system, making him a perfect fit for our staff. With four Super Bowl titles on his resume, including one as a 49er, Ken knows firsthand what it takes to become a championship caliber team.”
Norton, 51, joins the 49ers after spending two and a half seasons (2015-17) as the defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders. In 2016, Norton’s defense produced Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year DE Khalil Mack and two Pro Bowlers (Mack and S Reggie Nelson).
Prior to Oakland, Norton Jr. spent five years (2010-14) as the linebackers coach for the Seattle Seahawks. Before his time in Seattle, Norton Jr. served as a defensive assistant/linebackers coach (2004), linebackers coach (2005-08) and assistant head coach defense/linebackers coach (2009) at the University of Southern California for six seasons. He began his coaching career at the high school level, serving as the defensive coordinator at Hamilton (Los Angeles, CA) High School in 2003.
A native of Westchester, CA, Norton Jr. played in the NFL for 13 seasons after originally being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round (41st overall) of the 1988 NFL Draft. He spent his first six seasons with the Cowboys (1988-93) and his final seven with the San Francisco 49ers from 1994-2000. Named Associated Press First-Team All-Pro in 1995, Norton Jr. is the only player in NFL history to play on three consecutive Super Bowl-winning teams (Super Bowls XXVII & XXVIII with Dallas and Super Bowl XXIX with San Francisco). Throughout his career, he appeared in 191 games (188 starts) and registered 1,274 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 13 fumble recoveries, six forced fumbles, five interceptions and 49 passes defensed.
Norton Jr. played collegiately at UCLA for four seasons (1984-87) where he earned All-America honors and was a finalist for the Butkus Award as a senior in 1987. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UCLA.
In 2017, Holland served as linebackers coach, while Clay was one of the team’s assistant strength & conditioning coaches.
He is the only player in NFL history to win a Super Bowl ring in three consecutive years.
Norton was a member of the 1985 conference championship team, and helped the Bruins to four consecutive bowl game wins. He led team in tackles in 1986 with 106 and did it again in 1987 with 125. He ranks sixth in school history with 339 career tackles.
In 1998, he was inducted in the UCLA Hall of Fame.
In 1992, he blossomed as a player and became the leader of the defense, leading the team in tackles with 120 and helping the Cowboys win their first Super Bowl in the 90’s. That year the Cowboys had the number one defense in the league, but no player was voted to the Pro Bowl. He also started doing his trademarked punching of the goal posts or the air, after making good plays. A tribute to his father, the one time boxing heavyweight champion of the world, Ken Norton.
In 1993, he had to play through a torn biceps injury, but still managed to lead the team in tackles with 159, helping the Cowboys win their second straight Super Bowl. He was also selected to his first Pro Bowl. Norton is also notable for his part in ending the career of Napoleon McCallum. In the first game of the 1994 season, Norton, along with Bryant Young, tackled McCallum during a rushing play. While he was being pulled to the ground, McCallum’s knee collapsed backwards into an unnatural position, almost at a 90 degree angle. After the play, Norton remained under McCallum while medical staff attended to McCallum.
Norton played in Dallas between 1988 and 1993, assisting the Cowboys to victory in Super Bowl XXVII and Super Bowl XXVIII. Norton scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXVII, helping to seal a Cowboys victory.
In 1994 when a salary cap was instituted in the NFL, the Cowboys organization felt they could find linebackers through the draft, without the need of paying a premium and adversely impacting the salary cap, so they allowed talented and productive players like Ken Norton Jr., Darrin Smith, Dixon Edwards, and Robert Jones to leave via free agency, instead of signing them into long-term contracts.
During the first year of free agency, he joined the San Francisco 49ers from 1994 to 2000, becoming the first player to win three consecutive Super Bowls (Super Bowl XXIX). Norton was selected to his second Pro Bowl in 1995. Norton was also named to the NFL All-Pro Team following the 1995 season.
Norton finished his 13 NFL seasons with 12 sacks and 5 interceptions, which he returned for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns (both in the same game against the St. Louis Rams in 1995). He also recovered 13 fumbles and returned them for 36 yards. Along with ex-teammate Deion Sanders, Norton won consecutive Super Bowls on different teams.
After retiring from the NFL, Norton served as a radio and television commentator and analyst, and coached football at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, California.
In 2004, he joined the coaching staff of the USC Trojan football team under Head Coach Pete Carroll. From 2004–2009, he served as the linebacker coach for the Trojans; while at USC he helped recruit and develop NFL-bound linebackers such as NFL Pro BowlerLofa Tatupu, Dallas Sartz, Keith Rivers, Brian Cushing, Kaluka Maiava, Clay Matthews III, and Rey Maualuga.
On January 7, 2009, Norton was promoted to USC Assistant Head Coach for Defense. A form of recognition of his continuing work with the USC linebacker corps, he has developed three consecutive Rose Bowl MVPs: Brian Cushing (2007), Rey Maualuga (2008) and Kaluka Maiava (2009).
Attending the player evaluations of the by-invitation-only 2009 NFL Scouting Combine were all four of Norton’s Trojan senior class linebacker protégés: Brian Cushing, Kaluka Maiava, Clay Matthews III, and Rey Maualuga.
On January 11, 2010, it was announced that USC linebackers coach Norton would be joining head coach Pete Carroll in Seattle to fill the same role with the Seahawks, reuniting him with his protégé, Seahawks defensive standout Lofa Tatupu.
Norton would also win his fourth Super Bowl, Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2, 2014, his first as a coach.
On February 6, 2015, he was named the defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders. After leaving the Okland Raiders, on January 8, 2018, he was hired as the 49ers Assistant Head Coach.
- In tribute to his father’s boxing career, Ken Norton Jr. would strike a boxing stance in the end zone each time he scored a defensive touchdown and throw a punching combination at the goalpost pad.
- Early in the Second Quarter of Super Bowl XXVII, Norton, on a third-down and one from the one-yard line, with his feet in the end zone, solo tackled Kenneth Davis preventing a touchdown. Consequently, the Bills opted for a fourth-down pass which was intercepted by Thomas Everett. The Goal line stand would later be recognized by analysts as the point where the game truly got away from the Bills.