On McCarthy’s firing and the next coach

Monday Morning Quarterback:

“This was extremely heart-wrenching for me. I knew I had to say goodbye to a coach who is also a very good friend. I don’t think people really understand what a good person he is. He treats the janitor in the building the same as the quarterback.”

It’s been almost six years since Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said that, on the day he dismissed Andy Reid, his head coach of 14 seasons. And it was that press conference that I remembered when I saw the Packers’ announcement early Sunday night —a stunner only in that it came now, and not in four weeks—that they were firing Mike McCarthy.

No one I’ve talked to about McCarthy over the last few weeks thinks the guy forgot how to coach. Most people still really like him. And as such, lots of Packer-connected people will be rooting for their now ex-coach wherever he lands next.

It was just time.

The reality? When you’ve got a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, the clock’s always ticking. McCarthy’s not blind to it. In fact, he conceded as much when he and I sat down over the summer, and he looked forward to a season in which the Packers’ franchise, the worthy successor to Brett Favre, would celebrate its 100th season.

“I get where he is,” McCarthy said. “There’s an urgency every single season. It’s clear. From my perspective, from my viewpoint, I do everything in my power to improve the program. Clearly, I understand the value of the quarterback. Clearly, I understand the value of Aaron Rodgers. But this is the ultimate team game. We need to be the best team. If this was all based on how the quarterback plays, we may win ‘em all, just being honest.

“It’s the other 52, that’s the part that we always have to make sure that we’re focused on. Yeah, I hope that when we’re sitting here 10 years from now, we’re looking back and that question isn’t asked.”

Indeed, the question of how the Packers will maximize what’s left of Rodgers’ prime years is still front-and-center in Green Bay, and a reason why McCarthy is being shown the door. It’s certainly not all McCarthy’s doing that they haven’t gotten back to the Super Bowl, eight years after he and Rodgers made their only appearance, and won their only NFL championship. The rest of the roster, as McCarthy mentioned, is part of the problem. Rodgers should shoulder some blame, too.

So as was the case with Reid in ‘12, a great run had gone stale. And when it became clear that things weren’t right—that happened well before Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Cardinals—someone had to pay the price, and now McCarthy’s gone.

Those who were involved and affected on Sunday can only hope they get the type of mutually beneficial aftermath that the Eagles and Reid wound up having.

Of course, it does start with the quarterback-coach relationship, because that’s where it starts for almost every team. And that Rodgers hasn’t been himself for chunks of this year—he was human on a big stage against Tom Brady a month ago (89.2 passer rating), had a messy night against Minnesota last week (94.0), and was worse in the Cardinals game (79.8)—only accentuated the problem.

The friction between McCarthy and Rodgers has been well-documented. As I understand it, it’d had gotten to the point where Rodgers—who has autonomy to adjust as he sees fit—was regularly changing plays, which would make it difficult for McCarthy to find his rhythm as a play-caller. As one coach who knows them both told me, “It’s almost ‘who’s got the better call?’ … Two really smart guys, ultra-competitive guys.”

Exacerbating all of it was the state of the roster, as McCarthy noted in the summer.

He would go to former GM Ted Thompson asking for specific additions to help Rodgers. And as Thompson’s health became an issue, word was McCarthy became increasingly frustrated, with the feeling that his requests were not being heeded. It eventually got to the point where McCarthy didn’t see the value in asking. So he stopped.

Those who know the situation say that McCarthy was doing a lot to try to help Rodgers from that standpoint that others didn’t know about. So when the roster’s construction fell into decline, McCarthy wasn’t redirecting Rodgers’ annoyance, he was taking it on himself.

It’s not hard to see where the failings were. Not a single member of the team’s 2015 draft class is on the Packers’ 53-man roster now. And where most teams would address the problems left in the wake of that on the veteran market, Thompson remained true to his draft-and-develop model, even though others in the organization saw the needs that were left unaddressed.

Thompson wound up retiring after last year, and the man widely believed to be McCarthy’s preference to take over, young exec Brian Gutekunst, got the job. Under its knew GM, the team even showed a little aggression with vets, bringing in Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham and Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson. But by then, other issues were arising.

After the 2016 season, assistant head coach Tom Clements left. A year later, quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt was fired. The two served as buffers between McCarthy and Rodgers when anything went off track, and were effective in the role. Which makes it little wonder that Rodgers grew incensed with the changes.

“Well, my quarterbacks coach didn’t get retained,” Rodgers told ESPN Radio’s Mike Golic and Trey Wingo at Super Bowl LII. “I thought that was an interesting change, really without consulting me. There’s a close connection between quarterback and quarterbacks coach, and that was an interesting decision.”

So when things started off-center this year—Rodgers got hurt in a dramatic comeback win on opening night, and Green Bay only won two of its next seven games thereafter—the foundation of the McCarthy/Rodgers relationship wasn’t as strong as it once had been. Which brought everyone to Sunday, where the Packers failed to rebound from a slog of the previous week’s loss to Minnesota against a 2-9 Arizona team.

Truth be told, it was no secret that this conclusion was on the table. Losing to the Cardinals only gave the Packers the opening to ask, Maybe we shouldn’t wait? So team president Mark Murphy, in tandem with Gutekunst, decided to make the move now, to get a head start on the coaching search, and give McCarthy a chance to start preparing for his next job.

And again, despite the public criticism levied against the coach, those in charge at Lambeau Field don’t think McCarthy suddenly lost the ability to do his job. More so, his way had run its course, and sometimes these things aren’t to be blamed on one person or another.

That’s how it was in Philly in 2012. At that point, few in the public saw Reid as an offensive innovator anymore. Then he went to Kansas City, reimagined his offense, first for Alex Smith, then Patrick Mahomes, and today he’s seen as one of the most forward-thinking coaches in football. Meanwhile, the Eagles lived and learned through the Chip Kelly era, and came out of it with a Lombardi Trophy two years later.

Everyone won, in the end. Now, we’ll get to see if that sort of thing could happen again, under circumstances that are pretty similar.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein has some bad news:

If this is what Aaron Rodgers really wanted, a new offense, a fresh look, a change of direction, a chance to win a Super Bowl another way, well, he’s got it.

About three hours after the Green Bay Packers’ 20-17 defeat to the lowly Arizona Cardinals – who were 14-point underdogs and losers of five of their last six – to fall to 4-7-1, team president Mark Murphy announced that he had fired coach Mike McCarthy.

The move ends McCarthy’s 13-year reign as head coach of the Packers and equally long relationship with Rodgers.

And so the rebuild will begin.

Rodgers never said he wanted McCarthy fired or that he was playing to get him fired, but he never stuck up for him, never spoke about how the two are working together to get things fixed and often played with the body language of someone who was fed up with everything.

His play this season reached a new low Sunday. Playing against the No. 19-rated defense, he threw balls high, he threw them low, he threw them too far and he threw them too short. He continued to play with the attacking mindset of a Trent Dilfer, rarely willing to trust his receivers enough to throw it to them when a defender was near.

“We’re just not on the same page consistently,” Rodgers said after the game. “We’re not executing the right way and it’s the same stuff: poor throws, not on the same page with receivers, wrong depth, protection.”

It’s a damning account of what’s happened to a team with high aspirations, but also a commentary on how Rodgers may no longer be able to do what the very best quarterbacks do, which is make the players around him better.

Maybe Rodgers thinks he’s doing that with all the scrambling out of the pocket and playing an unconventional street-yard game. But he’s not. Rookie receivers like Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown need to be put in positions to succeed, not in positions that satisfy the quarterback’s desire for perfection.

They shouldn’t be immune from criticism, but why does Rodgers have to do it so publicly on the field? If it’s in the name of good leadership, it’s not really working because the two rookies combined for two catches for 19 yards, both by Valdes Scantling. The longest completion to anyone not named Davante Adams was 11 yards.

The way the game went Sunday, you would have taken the offense that played against Seattle or Minnesota over this one. The Packers put up 17 points against a warm-climate team with all kinds of problems with its run defense and not enough corners to cover Northwestern’s receivers.

Now come the repercussions.

Whether Murphy pulled the plug on McCarthy now or four Mondays from now, changes were going to come all around. This season has shown the roster is not nearly good enough to go on a playoff run and general manager Brian Gutekunst has much work to do in his second season.

Rodgers could be playing with a rookie tight end, rookie right tackle, rookie right guard and three second-year receivers next season. His new coach might require a different type of receiver than the tall wideouts McCarthy favored and so the receiver position may have to be rebuilt.

The right side of the offensive line needs an overhaul and so does the tight end position. Gutekunst might solve some of those problems in free agency, but everybody has seen what a crapshoot that has been with Jimmy Graham, Muhammad Wilkerson and Martellus Bennett.

It could be three years before the Packers find their way to an NFC Championship game. Sure, it only took Philadelphia two years with Doug Pederson to win a Super Bowl and two years for the Los Angeles Rams to be a powerhouse under Sean McVay.

But there are many other examples of it taking three, four, five years before the right mix of players are brought together for a Super Bowl run. And sometimes – see Chip Kelly, Hue Jackson – it doesn’t work out at all.

And who’s to say Gutekunst isn’t going to do to Rodgers what Ted Thompson did to Brett Favre? Maybe next year or the year after that, he drafts a quarterback with loads of potential, someone exactly like Rodgers when he was selected in 2005.

Then there’s the new coach and his offensive system. Suppose the new guy doesn’t want to give Rodgers all the freedom to change plays and tell his receivers to run routes differently than McCarthy did.

Those are all legitimate possibilities.

Rodgers is going to want to hit the ground running with a new coach and a new offense, but success might not come as quickly as he thinks it will.

You can criticize McCarthy all day for not adapting his offense to the talent he had, but the bottom line is he didn’t have enough of it to succeed on offense. When you’re playing with rookie receivers and young running backs and your two veteran tight ends are too slow to beat anyone down the field and your offensive line depth doesn’t cut it, you’re not going to go to many Super Bowls.

The point is, Rodgers might think it’s going to be seashells and balloons once someone new is hired to coach the Packers and it might not be. McCarthy might wind up in another Super Bowl before Rodgers does.

Asked what role he might play in the decision on McCarthy or a potential replacement, Rodgers said, “I’m not even thinking about that right now. I’m just thinking about these next four games and realizing how important leadership is in the tough times and trying to get guys to dig deep and play with that pride.

“I know my role is to play quarterback, to the best of my abilities.”

At the same time, he might want to prepare himself to wait. Instant success with a new coach is rare and given some of the holes on the 53-man roster, it’s unlikely Gutekunst can build it strong enough to win a Super Bowl in two offseasons.

For those who think Rodgers’ career is wasting away, you should be prepared to wait also.

By firing McCarthy the Packers have basically thrown away the 2019 season. That’s a historical fact. The Packers have also potentially lost their defensive staff, most notably new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, since it is unlikely a new head coach will be OK with inheriting the previous coaching staff.

I support McCarthy’s firing merely because, as with Reid and the Eagles, it was time for McCarthy to go. That doesn’t mean there aren’t repercussions.

As for the next coach, Dan Pompei wrote two years ago about a popular candidate:

On the morning of Dec. 6, 2010, a plane touched down at Akron-Canton Airport. Thom McDaniels turned on his phone as the plane slowed, and it rang immediately. It was his son Josh. The day before, Thom had watched Josh’s Broncos lose to the Chiefs in Kansas City. Now, Josh had some news.

“Dad, the Broncos let me go this morning,” Josh said. “I want you to know I’m fine. Laura is fine. Tell Mom for me, would you?”

Not long after, Thom called his son back. Like most good dads, Thom doesn’t hold back when he thinks his son needed to be told something. And when Thom has something to say about coaching, his words are well received by his son.

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