By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Green Bay departs from tradition following loss to Cardinals, 20-17
GREEN BAY, Wis. – After observing a disappointing loss, Packers fans then had to confront the news that their head coach of 13 years had been discharged.
Sale prices on tickets and parties for this weekend!!
Get Your Tickets NOW! >>
Sunday evening the “breaking news” flashed across TVs and cellphones in the Green Bay Area: “Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been fired, effective immediately, with offensive coordinator Joe Philbin named to serve as interim head coach.”
Fan sentiment is understandably mixed. Many were happy with the news, if somewhat ungrateful, but it’s certainly not unexpected. In the span of three months, what Packers’ fans perceived to be a Super Bowl contender disintegrated into an NFL also-ran.
A very disappointing season was punctuated by the Packers’ 20-17 loss to the Cardinals Sunday at blustery Lambeau Field. Green Bay (4-7-1) came into Sunday’s game a 14-point favorite. They played poorly in virtually every phase of the game, and had a lot of bad luck to boot, seemingly a chronic habit this year, and found a way to lose the game.
Someone had to pay. It wasn’t going to be the quarterback. He just got paid.
It wasn’t going to be ex-GM Ted Thompson, who contributed to McCarthy’s firing more than anyone with his dubious draft “hat trick” from 2014-2016.
Thompson goes into the Packer Hall of Fame this summer. Some feels it is too bad it wasn’t three summers ago. And some also feel that Packers’ president Mark Murphy is to blame for that, the thought being that Murphy sat by as idly and unblinking as his GM and did absolutely nothing while the Packers’ talent level eroded into its current substandard state.
Now, Murphy is trying to make amends by cutting loose TT as GM last winter and by saying farewell to MM yesterday.
He could consider another step: giving GM Brian Gutekunst total control of the football operation. Murphy, and others, should have input into hiring the next head coach, but the final call should be Gutekunst’s to make. Bob Harlan figured that out 25 years ago when he gave the Packers GM, Ron Wolf, free reign to make such football decisions and kept his nose out of it. The rest is history.
Clearly, McCarthy was coaching on borrowed time. Sunday’s loss proved to be the proverbial final straw.
Arizona (3-9) isn’t a good team. It’s a team with a rookie quarterback, a head coach on the hot seat and a handful of either aging or ineffective stars.
Wait a minute. You could say that sounds a bit like the Packers, only substitute the rookie QB for a 35-year-old future Hall of Famer.
Aaron Rodgers made it pretty clear he was unhappy with his coach. At least from the outside, that’s what appeared to be going on. It often seemed as if Rodgers wasn’t in agreement with his coach. I can’t recall a recent time Rodgers defended McCarthy on any level. Now he isn’t going to have to suffer McCarthy anymore.
If true leadership includes conveying a united front, Rodgers apparently felt otherwise. But it’s going too far to suggest Rodgers somehow “got” McCarthy fired. What got McCarthy fired was the perception he was indecisive and made incorrect decisions, coupled with Thompson’s poor drafts that procured too little talent to develop. And some ineffective play by players who normally were much better, with Rodgers at the head of that list.
McCarthy had a tremendous 12 ½-year run. His teams won 125 games and earned eight straight playoff appearances. The Packers also made three trips to the NFC Championship and defeated Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.
He was deliberate. He was a grinder. He was sincere.
He also may have been loyal to a fault.
Kicker Mason Crosby wouldn’t be with the Packers if it wasn’t for McCarthy, who stayed with him during an awful stretch a few seasons back. On Sunday, Crosby’s missed field goal effectively sealed the loss and hastened McCarthy’s firing.
Mason is a tremendous person and has a great kicking record but, there were three games this year where he missed at least one critical kick. You have to wonder if he had made all of those, and the Packers record right now was 7-4-1, instead of 4-7-1, would McCarthy still be sitting in his office at 1265 Lombardi? No doubt. At least until the end of the season. And maybe beyond.
Not to pick on Mason Crosby, but that’s the way football goes. A play here, or a play there, a missed kick, a fumbled kick return (Ty Montgomery in LA), a penalty at precisely the wrong time, a dropped TD pass, a poor throw here or there, it goes on and on, and the win loss record can flip dramatically. And all those things are basically things that a coach is not guilty of. But he suffers the consequences because the buck has to stop somewhere. And of course, many feel it should not have come down to a play here or there. The Packers should have been putting opponents away earlier.
One criticism is that McCarthy wasn’t particularly imaginative and that his offense had grown stale and outdated. In an NFL season where points are being scored at an all-time high, the Packers’ offensive swoon suggests the critics may have a point. But that point assumes that he has sufficient roster talent to carry it off. Between some questionable drafts, lack of moves during the TT regime in free agency, letting some key players go, and a propensity for injuries beyond the NFL norms, maybe McCarthy just didn’t have the horses to create a scoring machine.
The offensive line had Roger’s under attacked constantly. The Packers were starting two rookie receivers much of the time. They have no true tight end threat, a critical factor in today’s NFL. Jimmy Graham was not as billed, unfortunately. Aaron Rodgers was hobbled by yet another injury and, even when he recovered, still seemed to be suffering the after affects with questionable throwing mechanics and missing countless throws he would normally make in his sleep.
So the season was very disappointing. For a lot of reasons. As stated, someone had to pay.
McCarthy’s in-season firing is the first in the Packers’ vaunted history. That isn’t going to sit well with some fans, particularly those who prided themselves on the fact that their team was somehow classier than the rest.
But would it have been classier, or more merciful, to keep McCarthy on until season’s end, knowing he’s going to be fired while he leads his team on a four-game journey to nowhere?
I would say probably not. And the Packers likely did him a favor. He can start the process of searching for a new job sooner than expected. He is free to consider his options now. And, as rumor has it, he could easily wind up in Cleveland as the next head coach for a team that has transplanted Green Bay Packers front office personnel in charge. A logical progression for McCarthy.
Now, a season full of “what the heck?” gives way to the question, “who’s next?” Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley is a top college candidate. Another is former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired after a 5-7 season but is credited with developing Patrick Mahomes.
Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, is another strong possibility. At 42, he has been through it all. Once hailed as a boy genius, McDaniels was Bill Belichick’s right-hand man at New England before the Broncos hired him in 2009. McDaniels’ team won its first six straight before fading late. He was fired after a 3-9 start the following season. Presumably he has learned humility, among other things, from the experience.
Joe Philbin, named as interim head coach yesterday, and who was 24-28 at Miami, is going to be a candidate. Mike Pettine, the defensive coordinator, also should be a candidate. He has experience as a head coach. He knows the Packers’ defensive personnel. He can hire a young, innovative offensive coordinator to work with Rodgers. But he is on record stating he does not want to be a head coach again. We’ll see.
There are plenty of candidates and time will tell as to the new heir apparent. The job in Green Bay is a desirable one, likely the most desirable head-coaching position in the league. So expectations are high that a great candidate will be landed.
The news of Packers’ loss to the Cardinals was upstaged by the abrupt firing of McCarthy. So where does the team go from here with four more games to play?
Rodgers offered a glimpse after Sunday’s game when asked if he believed a coaching change would be made. “I’m just thinking about these next four games and realizing how important leadership is in the tough times, trying to get guys to dig deep and play with that pride,” he told reporters.
“The conversations will take care of themselves down the line. I know my role is to play quarterback to the best of my abilities. That will be my focus the next four weeks, and then we’ll go from there.”
Maybe we will learn some valuable lessons over these next four weeks. The Packers can experiment with a lot of players who have not gotten a lot of time on the field. We can see how they react to adversity and how they respond to a new coaching philosophy. We will know much more perhaps than we would’ve known if McCarthy had finished off the string only to be cut loose at the end.
I would say that Packers fans owe a debt of gratitude to Mike McCarthy. His legacy will include the second longest tenure as head coach in Green Bay and the second most victories ever accomplished. He brought a Super Bowl trophy to Titletown, their fourth. Let us not forget that the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings, division rivals, have never experienced even one of those. The Bears have one.
There were great days with MM at the helm, many of them, but the time had come. The marriage had gown stale. Both McCarthy and the Packers are better off going their separate ways.
Maybe in a few years it’ll be the Packers in the Super Bowl against the Mike McCarthy-coached Cleveland Browns. Who knows?