The local candy store stood a couple blocks from his house.
There, he would find his treasures – Topps trading cards of his favorite NFL players.
John Schneider would bring them home and line them up on his bed, a team a side, putting together trade proposals to create his own dream team.
Little did the current Seattle Seahawks general manager know the innocent game during his childhood would serve as a training ground for his real job later in life.
“When I look back at it, I think it was God kind of preparing me for what his plan was for me,” Schneider said. “I would literally lay out like an offense and a defense and a couple teams, and I was trading this guy for that guy.”
The stakes are much bigger now.
On the job since January, Schneider has engineered a total of 182 roster moves, part off his effort with head coach Pete Carroll to upgrade the talent on the Seahawks roster. Nearly half the players on the team’s current 53-man roster were not here last season.
Schneider, at 39 the NFL’s third-youngest general manager, said the steady barrage of moves has all gone according to plan, with Seattle taking advantage of the draft and the final cut-down period the first week of September to improve the talent level on the roster.
And he slipped up and used the usually unspoken “R” word during a recent conversation with reporters, referring to the team’s current overhaul as a rebuilding process.
“This is not something we’re trying to patch, we’re trying to rebuild,” Schneider said. “Or we’re trying to build – sorry. It’s not like a rebuilding thing or a patching thing, it’s kind of continuously building this thing as we go.”
Schneider was a pretty good player in high school, finishing as one of the all-time leading rushers at Abbot Pennings High in De Pere, Wis., a Green Bay suburb.
“He was our tailback and he did a heck of a job,” said Al Groves, Schneider’s high school coach. “He was a very aggressive type of a kid. He really had a lot of heart and desire and wanted to play a game.”
But at 5-foot-9 and 166 pounds, not a lot of colleges came knocking on his door.
Schneider did get an offer from NCAA Division III University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, where he received an eye-opener his freshman year.
“I was 33B,” Schneider said. “That was the joke. When we got our jerseys I was like, ‘33, that’s pretty sweet. Tony Dorsett. That’s a nice halfback number.’”
Little did Schneider know that he was the second guy with the No. 33, with the first guy his team’s starting fullback.
Schneider found himself deep on the depth chart. And after sizing up himself with the other guys in his position group, Schneider said he quickly realized his football-playing days were numbered.
Shoulder problems caused him to call it quits after a year. He called it a humbling process, but something that ultimately helped him realize his calling in life – talent evaluation.
It eventually led Schneider to write a letter to then-Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf.
“He turned me down a couple times, and then somehow I got his phone number,” Schneider said. “And it was Memorial Day weekend in 1992. He was watching tape and he picked up the phone. And we started talking.”
An interested Wolf asked Schneider when he could come in for an interview. Schneider told him it was a five-hour drive, but he’d be there in three and a half.
Wolf admired his zeal for the gig, but told him to wait until Wednesday.
Schneider worked that summer as an intern, and then returned to join the team full-time after he graduated from St. Thomas.
Schneider said he learned to work hard and become decisive in making decisions during his time working in Green Bay.
He cites Wolf trading a first-round draft pick to Atlanta for Brett Favre and luring dominant defensive end Reggie White to Green Bay – two major moves that helped the Packers win a Super Bowl in 1997 – as examples of Wolf’s willingness to take risks.
“Watching him and his aggressive style definitely influenced me,” Schneider said. “And then being able to take calculated risks has definitely given me the confidence to do what we’re doing.
“If you have goals and aspirations and you want to win championships, then you need to step up. You can’t ride the fence. And you have to have a clear vision of what you want.”
A SIMPLE PLAN
Schneider and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll hit it off immediately, spending a lot of time together during the first few months after both were hired in January.
“Right from the start John and I hit it off, just going through the interview process and all of that,” Carroll said. “I really regarded his smarts, his quickness in his thinking and creativity. He has a toughness about him, and (he’s) willing to make tough decisions and stuff …”
Carroll said he admired Schneider’s willingness to create change and not just accept the status quo.
“I had to teach him where I was coming from, and I had to learn where he was coming from,” Carroll said. “So we just about lived together for the first three months that we were here, just so we could become one in the way we think.”
Schneider said the two developed an organization built on trusting and empowering the people around them to make informed decisions with the help of the lead duo’s input.
“There are no walls here between our personnel department and our coaching staff, which is half the battle in the National Football League,” Schneider said. “And we’re able to get together real quick. Pete and I happen to both have an aggressive approach to acquisition and evaluation, so that’s why we’re able to just move quickly.”
Whether or not the new regime’s plan for reconstructing the team will lead to a return to the playoffs for the Seahawks remains to be seen. But there’s one thing certain – Schneider and Carroll plan on doing it their way, and they want to win as soon as possible.
“We’ve inherited a team that we’re trying to make our team, so we’re going about it the best way we know how to,” Carroll said. “And that’s to keep working and to not get comfortable, not getting tired of the activity and the decision making, and to just keep enduring through it and work to be the best we can be.
“We’re trying to get as good as we can, as soon as we can possibly do it,” Carroll said. “The thing that we have to do is we have to play really well. We have to go out and play the game well. And that means that we’re prepared, and guys can execute and that we make good decisions. And that we can maintain focus and (a) mentality that gives us a chance to perform really well. And then if someone can beat us doing that, then we’re not ready yet. We’re not there yet. … That’s ‘Win Forever.’ That’s how it works”