An inside look at Lambeau

Former Packers vice president Andrew Brandt:

As I know so well from my near-decade of living Green Bay and working for the Packers, change is rare there, and when it does happen, it moves at a glacial pace. Not only are the Packers’ headquarters on Lombardi Avenue, but it often felt like as if team and the entire community were still living in an era when Vince Lombardi roamed the Packers sideline, a simpler time with the innocence of a bygone era.

Against that backdrop, the Packers’ firing of Mike McCarthy last week with four games remaining in the 2018 season was antithetical for a franchise and community often loathe to change. Having worked directly with Mike for three years, I will take you behind the Green and Gold curtain.

The Hire

Ted Thompson had come back to Green Bay (he worked there for years before) from the Seahawks in 2005 to become general manager, relegating then-head coach and general manager Mike Sherman to a coach-only role. For that entire season I witnessed a tense relationship between Thompson and Sherman, especially after we took Aaron Rodgers—a player who would not help us short-term—in the first round of the 2005 draft. Sherman’s fears about Thompson wanting “his own guy” to be the head coach were realized following that season, as he and his staff were dismissed.

Thompson led the subsequent head coach search, with input from his trusted personnel assistants John Schneider and Reggie McKenzie and, to a lesser extent, myself. After interviewing a list of candidates that included Ron Rivera, Brad Childress and Wade Phillips, we settled on two finalists: Mike, the 49ers’ offensive coordinator at the time, and Sean Payton, then the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach of the Cowboys. Both had creative offensive minds, leading fascinating schematic conversations that would make a football junkie’s heart skip a beat.


The way out

Bill Huber:

Three days after being fired as the Green Bay Packers’ coach, Mike McCarthy was allowed to return to Lambeau Field to say good-bye.

“He spoke to the team yesterday and that was good,” team President/CEO Mark Murphy told WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee on Thursday. “I think Mike wanted some closure with the players and some of the other coaches to be able to thank them and say good-bye to them, as well.”

McCarthy was fired after Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Murphy had already decided to fire McCarthy, who was in his 13th season on the job, but the listless effort at home against a two-win team spurred Murphy into action.

Joe Philbin, McCarthy’s longtime friend and colleague, was elevated from offensive coordinator to interim head coach for the final four games.

“Mike came by the office, I think Tuesday we all saw him as a staff, which was great,” Philbin said before Thursday’s practice. “Then we talked, and he wanted an opportunity to speak with the team. I was 100 percent, fully supportive of, and he did a fantastic job talking to the team. Not just about football and winning football games, but his passion. His passion for the game, his love for the players was clearly evident. I’m sure it was emotional for him and everybody in the room. It was awesome. I thought he did a great job.”

Philbin left the Packers to become Miami’s coach in 2012. He posted a 24-28 record before being fired four games into the 2015 season. Dan Campbell finished the season. Philbin wasn’t given a chance to say good-bye; he didn’t want that to be the case for McCarthy.

“That’s the Green Bay Packer way, right? This is a first-class organization all the way around. I think it’s been that way for 100 seasons, I would guess. I’m not that old, but I’m guessing it’s been like that for a long time. We do things the right way around here. Mark and Russ (Ball, the executive vice president of football operations) and Brian (Gutekunst, the general manager) were all totally supportive, they think that was the right thing to do, as did I. Hopefully it will help.”

About McCarthy’s firing WTMJ says:

Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy told WTMJ it was a difficult decision, but one he felt needed to be made.

“The way the season had played out, I just felt that we needed a change,” says Murphy. “It wasn’t anything particularly that [McCarthy] did wrong, I just felt that the message had become stale and we needed a new voice.”

Murphy added that he intended to make a change at the end of the season, so he felt it would be better for everyone to do so now rather than wait.

I’m sure in our cynical age no one will believe this:

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.

Time for a new coach

From the Wisconsin Gannett Empire:

The Green Bay Packers relieved coach Mike McCarthy of his duties after a 20-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field dropped the club to 4-7-1 on the season.

McCarthy is the first coach in the history of the franchise to be fired before the end of a full season.

“The 2018 season has not lived up to the expectations and standards of the Green Bay Packers. As a result, I made the difficult decision to relieve Mike McCarthy of his role as head coach, effective immediately,” Packers president and chief executive officer Mark Murphy said in a statement released by the team.

“Mike has been a terrific head coach and leader of the Packers for 13 seasons, during which time we experienced a great deal of success on and off the field. We want to thank Mike, his wife, Jessica, and the rest of the McCarthy family for all that they have done for the Packers and the Green Bay and Wisconsin communities. We will immediately begin the process of selecting the next head coach of the Green Bay Packers.”

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin was named the interim head coach.

McCarthy is the first Packers coach to not finish out a season since Gene Ronzani resigned with two games left in the 1953 campaign. McCarthy replaced the last Packers coach to be fired in Mike Sherman in 2006.

McCarthy, 55, signed a one-year contract extension through the 2019 season on Jan. 2 of this year.

A Super Bowl champion in 2010, McCarthy is just one of three head coaches in franchise history to win a championship in the Super Bowl era, along with Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren. Since taking over in 2006 the Packers have had just two losing seasons under his direction and reached the postseason nine times — including eight straight seasons from 2009-16.

He concludes his Packers career with a record of 125-77-2, which is the second-best win total in franchise history behind Curly Lambeau (209-104-21). McCarthy has the most postseason games (10) and wins (10) in the playoffs of any Packers coach.

McCarthy is No. 27 all-time in the NFL in coaching victories and is the fourth-winningest active coach in the league behind Bill Belichick (258), Andy Reid (192) and Marvin Lewis (130).

Under McCarthy, the Packers did not just win Super Bowl XLV 31-25 on Feb. 6, 2011, but the team also won six NFC North division titles and advanced to four NFC championship games (2007, 2010, 2014, 2016).

The only surprise here, after the Packers’ pathetic performance in their 20-17 loss to Arizona Sunday, management decided to fire McCarthy now instead of waiting until his inevitable firing after the end of the season.

This puts the Packers into limbo for the rest of the season. One assumes the Packers’ next coach will come from one of this year’s playoff teams, including currently popular Saints quarterback coach Joe Lombardi, grandson of Vince.  So the Packers can’t hire, say, Lombardi until, say, the Saints are eliminated from the playoffs, which might not be until Super Bowl LIII.

The Packers probably did a big favor for McCarthy, who is strongly rumored to be heading to Cleveland to work for former Packers executive John Dorsey and with quarterback Baker Mayfield. Given how successful the Packers were with McCarthy, regardless of what you thought of his recent work, that’s fair.

What, or who, got McCarthy fired was really former general manager Ted Thompson, whose last drafts are being exposed as being really bad, especially on defense. GM Mike Sherman got coach Mike Sherman fired for the same reason, though Thompson issued the pink slip. last week ranked the likely coaching vacancies:

5. Green Bay Packers: Fun for the right coach, but difficult for someone who may not be used to a quarterback that pushes back and likes to run the show. Having Aaron Rodgers for the remainder of his prime is the best part of this job, but also comes with myriad stresses. Dig into Packer teams over the past decade and you’ll find that it takes a brain surgeon type to match wits with the franchise quarterback.

Does “pushes back and likes to run the show” sound like anyone familiar? If you read this blog Friday afternoon, you might have concluded that Rodgers has become Brett Favre II, complete with rocky relationship with coach and increasingly cranky personality. (Favre reportedly became quite a loner in his final season with the Packers.)

The Packers’ history and Rodgers’ presence suggests that the Packers’ next coach will be an offensive assistant (as in Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Lindy Infante, Mike Holmgren, Mike Sherman and McCarthy), not someone from the defensive side of the ball (Phil Bengtson, Ray Rhodes), most likely not a former head coach (Forrest Gregg, Rhodes), and most certainly not a current college coach (Dan Devine).

McCarthy is the third best Packers coach in the last 60 years, behind Lombardi (duh) and Holmgren. Ironically Lombardi and Holmgren were second choices behind Iowa coach Forrest Evashefski (who never coached in the NFL) and Bill Parcells, respectively,. Fans at this point will start to chime in on their favorites, forgetting that there was only one Lombardi, there is only one Bill Belichick (and his assistants have not done well as head coaches, including Josh McDaniels, another popular name), Holmgren grew an ego that led to his departure from Green Bay, etc.


Something is rotten in the state of the Packers

Andy Benoit:

The Packers turned in another up-and-down, ultimately disappointing performance at Minnesota Sunday night, which only intensifies Mike McCarthy’s already hot seat. The 13th-year head coach has become a receptacle for criticism, much of it adhering to the same theme: that his offensive system is stale.

The first problem is this analysis is a few years too late (more on that in a moment). The second—and much bigger—problem is it gives Aaron Rodgers a pass for the highly inconsistent way he executes this offense.

Please understand, you’re not reading an Aaron Rodgers Hot Take. At least, not according to discussions that occur within the NFL. Around the league, Rodgers is regarded as an incredible but imperfect quarterback. Outside the NFL, Rodgers is basically viewed as a god. It has somehow become heretical to say anything critical of him.

The hazards of firing your coach

Lost between the Brewers’ season and the start for the Bucks is the underwhelming 3–3–1 start for the Packers, a mark likely to drop to 3–4–1 after Sunday’s Patriots game.

So, of course, there are calls to fire coach Mike McCarthy. My opinion in such circumstances is to …


But a Facebook Friend who, unlike 99 percent of football fans, played both college (Badgers) and NFL football, passed on a post in a couple of parts I found at about firing McCarthy if the Packers don’t make the playoffs:

  • I have a suggestion.  Fire Mike McCarthy and then hire Mike McCarthy.  God you guys.  Be careful what you wish for.  We already have a very good HC.  I understand the frustration we had a lost season last year.  This year also not so great.  Last year Aaron was gone.  This year Aaron is playing on a bad leg.  It’s not MM it’s Aaron.  Team is making good progress.  Pettine is turning the Defense around.  On Offense they are OK but not great.   A lot of this is because of Aaron.  Give him major credit for playing through the injury but it is clearly affecting his play.  MM had the team ready to go.  We have had a few bad breaks this year.  Is what it is.  Firing the HC is not the answer IMO.  If they were coming out flat like that first half of the opener  I’d be on board.  The team is playing hard.  MM has not lost them.  Listened to Aaron’s presser see no problems there.  Barring a complete collapse I’d like to give him at least another season to turn this thing around.

(The first sentence sounds stupid, but that actually happened once in the NFL. Los Angeles Rams owner Dan Reeves — unrelated to the Broncos, Giants and Falcons coach — fired coach George Allen Dec. 31, 1968 for what Reeves called a “personality conflict,” despite Allen’s 11–1–2 and 10–3–1 records the previous two seasons. Twelve days later, after several players threatened to retire, Reeves, who had said that “winning with Allen wasn’t fun,” rehired his former coach. Allen was fired two seasons later, then rehired by the Rams’ next owner seven years later, only to be fired during the preseason due to a revolt by the players.)

  • Moving on from MM isn’t the problem – moving on to who is the problem. Do you want a guy like Dan Devine, Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg, Lindy Infante, Ray Rhodes, or Mike Sherman? All of those guys were supposedly solutions to the problem. It’s a fricken crapshoot. LIS elsewhere, loosely speaking, 90% of head coaches fail. For every Sean McVay there are 10 Marc Trestmans. Watch some games from last year and ask yourself if it was coaching or talent. That’s the best argument I can give. I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision. Choose poorly and you burn up the rest of Rodgers’ career. I think I want to see one more year with the revamped receiving corps and a draft with two number picks that doesn’t suck azz like TT’s last few drafts which depleted the roster.
  • 11 of the past 15 years we have drafted above # 20.   Be careful blaming either the GM or the Head coach for the lack of talented difference – makers. Ted made great picks in bad positions in the beginning but then had three bad years in a row. With his philosophy on FA it is no surprise that I believe we have below level talent in a lot of spots. A dearth of talent with respect to ones opponents will begin to weigh heavily. I think we would be in the middle of a long drought without Rodgers. I thin MM has done well with what he has had. I favor keeping him with two # 1s and Gutekunsts new FA philosophy.

From the resignation of Packers general manager/coach Vince Lombardi to the hiring of general manager Ron Wolf is known as the Gory Years for good reason. writer Cliff Christl was asked why the Packers were so bad between Lombardi and Wolf, and Christl gave this answer:

Twenty-four years of mediocrity (1968-91) can’t be explained in black-and-white terms. It’s an all-gray story and the fault lies everywhere.

I recall writing at some point in the 1980s that the Packers had become victims of their own inertia. The point I was trying to make was that no matter what they did, it made no difference. They were stuck in a rut and couldn’t get out of it for more reasons than one could ever address in a forum such as this.

I remember having lunch with Wolf soon after he was hired. He had been a good source of mine for years when he was in Oakland and Tampa Bay. Anyway, at that lunch, he asked me what I thought about having some of the Packers’ former greats serve as honorary captains for games the next season. I didn’t say it, but my initial reaction was: Are you kidding me? For 13 years, while Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg were coaching, one of the most often heard complaints was that the Packers were living in the past and unable to cut ties with the Lombardi era. Now, here was Wolf, with no previous ties to the franchise, primed to make it his cross to bear.

But that’s what it took for change to occur. Wolf went further than Starr or Gregg ever did to promote the Packers’ rich tradition and feed off their glorious past. And he got away with it because he was an outsider. Not only that, it played a huge part in his effort to restore the Packers’ image and credibility across the country.

That’s why I wouldn’t blame the executive committee any more than the coaches or players for how bad things got. At the same time, that’s where I’d start because the committee was 0-for-4 when it came to hiring coaches.

Although Vince Lombardi might have named Phil Bengtson as his coaching successor without consulting anyone, the executive committee gave Bengtson the added title of general manager a year later. That made a bad mistake worse. Hiring Devine and Starr as combination GMs/Head Coaches were terrible mistakes. Stripping Starr of his GM title in 1980 and then not following through on the decision by hiring a credentialed GM only complicated a bad situation.

Four years later, the executive committee signed off on hiring Gregg as coach and all but paved the way for his paranoia to run amok.

Gregg admitted as much to me during an interview in his second to last season as Packers coach. In Cleveland, where he cut his teeth as a head coach, Gregg’s personnel director, Bob Nussbaumer, was caught spying on him at the behest of owner Art Modell. Worse yet, Gregg felt he was undermined by a handful of veteran players there.

Still haunted by those memories almost a decade later, Gregg said it was a factor in some of the most important decisions he made in Green Bay. “You bet your sweet apple pie it was,” he confessed to me in 1986.

More than a year earlier, Gregg had hired Chuck Hutchison, one of his former players and assistant coaches, to be his right-hand man in Green Bay’s front office. What’s more, Gregg insulated himself from some of the competent holdovers from the Devine and Starr regimes, creating schisms in the Packers’ personnel department and other areas of the front office that festered for up to another eight years.

In an interview last fall, Packers radio play-by-play man Wayne Larrivee questioned me about the executive committee’s interference during those dark days in the ‘70s and ‘80s. My answer was something to this effect: I know Bob Harlan has talked about that being a problem, but I don’t buy it. I told Larrivee that Harlan was just being kind. The problem was incompetence, not interference, all the way up the ladder.

Just recently at a meeting, I informed Bob of what I said. He laughed and acknowledged that I was spot on.

The only coach during those two decades who might have suffered from interference was Devine. Bengston, Starr, Gregg and Lindy Infante were victims of their own flaws, not executive committee interference.

Given Devine’s apocalyptically disastrous decision to send five draft picks (including “a-one and-a-two and-a-three”) to the Los Angeles Rams to acquire the recently benched John Hadl (who played for the Rams between Allen and Allen) as quarterback, maybe the Executive Committee should have interfered more with Devine.

Lombardi replaced himself as coach with defensive coordinator Phil Bengtson, who was fired in 1971 because he didn’t have anywhere near Lombardi’s success. (For one thing, GM Lombardi’s players got old and neither he nor Bengston successfully replaced most of them.) Devine, previously the Missouri coach (and chosen after Allen turned down the Packers supposedly because his wife didn’t like cold weather and instead of Penn State coach Joe Paterno), produced one playoff season, then left for Notre Dame perhaps a season before he would have been fired, replaced by former Packer quarterback Bart Starr, for whom it’s a stretch to say he was qualified to be the head coach or GM, particularly given the nonexistent draft picks Devine left him.

As with Devine, Starr had one playoff season, though he had three near-playoff seasons, the last of which resulted in his replacement by his former teammate Forrest Gregg …

… who unlike Starr had head coaching experience (including leading Cincinnati to a Super Bowl), but like Starr had no GM experience. Gregg duplicated Starr’s last season twice, then blew up the roster but failed to improve the roster, then left for his alma mater, Southern Methodist University. Gregg’s replacements were GM Tom Braatz and coach Lindy Infante (Gregg’s offensive coordinator in Cincinnati), who produced one near-playoff season, but that was it.

Wolf waited until the day after the 1991 season ended, then fired Infante. Wolf hired the right coach, Mike Holmgren (Wolf’s second choice when Bill Parcells turned him down, as Lombardi was the second choice after Iowa’s Forest Evashefski turned them down), but had to replace Holmgren when Holmgren decided he wanted to be a GM/coach too. Wolf’s next, Ray Rhodes, lasted one 8–8 season. Hire numb3er three, Mike Sherman, lasted one season as coach, then got promoted to GM/coach (wrongly, but for understandable reasons) when Wolf retired. Sherman’s GM replacement was Ted Thompson, who was Sherman’s boss for one season before firing him and hiring McCarthy.

With a new general manager, Brian Gutekunst, there is historical precedent for McCarthy’s firing if for no other reason than Wolf and Thompson wanting their own coach. But as the first Facebook post says, be careful what you wish for. Gregg was not a better hire than Starr, and the NFL has a long list of coach firings that were not improvements, unless you believe that Ed Biles was a better coach than Bum Phillips, or that Barry Switzer was a better NFL coach than Jimmy Johnson.

There is a school of thought to fire McCarthy and replace him with one of his coordinators, both of whom, Joe Philbin on offense and Mike Pettine on defense, are former NFL head coaches. The head coaching records of Philbin (24–28 in Miami) and Pettine (10–22 in Cleveland) do not suggest them as promising repalcements for McCarthy.

If the Packers intend on firing McCarthy, that’s an obvious sign that the Packers are starting over, which means forget about 2019 and probably 2020. Recall that McCarthy took two seasons to get to the playoffs with Brett Favre, and needed two more seasons with Aaron Rodgers to get to the playoffs. So McCarthy’s firing, if it takes place, would be a sign that Rodgers, arguably the best in the NFL (though the Patriots’ Tom Brady has four more Super Bowl wins), is not long for the franchise. The chances of the Packers’ successfully twice replacing a quarterback who at one time was the best in the league is not good.

A Packer what-if

The three greatest quarterbacks in Packers history in the Super Bowl era are Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, arguably followed by Lynn Dickey.

After Dickey comes, or came, the abyss. Fans who suffered through the Gory Years after Vince Lombardi left and before Ron Wolf got to Green Bay can recite with varying degrees of exasperation the list of starting quarterbacks after Starr and before Favre, including Scott Hunter (who at least won a division title by handing off to John Brockington and MacArthur Lane), Jerry Tagge (a Green Bay native whose skills as Nebraska’s quarterback in more of a passing offense than the Cornhuskers eventually ran didn’t translate into the NFL), Jim Del Gaizo (because the third-string draft pick of the Super Bowl VII champion Miami Dolphins should be worth two second-round draft picks, right?), Jack Concannon (perhaps because he was on the early ’70s Cowboys practicd squad), John Hadl (more about him momentarily), Don Milan, Carlos Brown (later known as actor Alan Autry of “In the Heat of the Night”), Randy Johnson and David Whitehurst produced little success.

That’s the pre-Dickey’s-broken-leg list. After Dickey came Randy Wright (one of UW’s best quarterbacks, but see Tagge), Jim Zorn (previously in Seattle), Don Majkowski (Magik for 1989), Anthony Dilweg (despite being the grandson of a Packer alumnus), Mike Tomczak (who was less effective in Green Bay than he was in Chicago, and he was no Jim McMahon with Da Bears) and Blair Kiel (formerly of Notre Dame, about which more later).

The worst part of this tale of woe is Hadl, the object of possibly the most idiotic trade in NFL history. Somewhere between Del Gaizo and Milan GM/coach Dan Devine realized he had no NFL-level quarterbacks on his roster. And so Devine panicked and sent two first-round draft picks, a second-round pick and two third-round picks to the Rams for Hadl. Starr, who replaced Devine as GM and coach after Devine left for Notre Dame, then had to send two more draft picks and a player to Houston to get Dickey.

That long preamble leads us to Cliff Christl:

Over a span of seven years, from when the newly formed American Football League held its first draft on Nov. 22, 1959 until a merger agreement with the National Football League was reached in June 1966, the two leagues held separate college drafts and engaged in expensive bidding wars to sign their picks.

The Green Bay Packers lost only one of nine No. 1 choices during that period and it proved to be no loss. Wide receiver Larry Elkins, selected with the Packers’ second first-round pick and 10th choice overall in the 1965 draft, signed with the Houston Oilers and turned out to be a bust. He played two years and caught a total of 24 passes.

Still, the Packers lost a quarterback who could have become Bart Starr’s heir apparent and four solid offensive linemen. …

The AFL held its draft on Dec. 1, 1962, two days before the NFL, and the Buffalo Bills announced 13 days later they had signed Lamonica, their 24th round choice. “I’m going with the Bills because they gave me a better one-year offer,” explained Lamonica. “I don’t intend to play pro ball the rest of my young life. I have other things in mind.”

The quarterback who became known as “The Mad Bomber” as a pro struggled as a senior at Notre Dame under Joe Kuharich much like Joe Montana did later under Dan Devine. In fact, Kuharich considered Lamonica a better runner, but thought junior Frank Budka was the better passer because he threw a better deep ball. So he had them split time.

1963 wasn’t one of Notre Dame’s more memorable seasons and Lamonica was the subject of one of the better stories that circulated in South Bend. Apocryphal or not, it went like this. One day a priest encountered him on a golf course and asked why he wasn’t at practice. Lamonica responded, “I don’t have to practice. I know both of Kuharich’s plays.” So the priest, in need of a golf partner the next day, asked Lamonica to join him. “Can’t make it today,” said the quarterback. “I have to find out which play Joe wants to use Saturday.”

Following a 35-6 loss to Northwestern, Notre Dame was scheduled to play Navy next. That week, the Midshipmen’s chief scout Steve Belichick told the Baltimore Sun that Notre Dame’s biggest problem was quarterback because four players were sharing the position. But Belichick added that he liked what he saw of Lamonica, despite the lopsided score, when he got a chance to play in the second half against Northwestern. “He gave them the best passing they’ve had all year,” Belichick said. Sure enough, against Navy, Lamonica outplayed sophomore Roger Staubach and triggered a four-game winning streak for the Irish.

After signing with Buffalo, Lamonica spent four years backing up veteran Jack Kemp, but went 4-0 in his only starts. Traded to Oakland in 1967, Lamonica led the Raiders to a 13-1 regular-season record, the AFL championship and a matchup with Green Bay in Super Bowl II. He also was named the AFL’s Player of the Year.

The week before the Super Bowl, Green Bay native Red Smith, who would win a Pulitzer Prize nine years later, interviewed George Wilson, who had coached Detroit from 1957-64 and also had faced Lamonica three times as coach of the Miami Dolphins. Asked to compare the two teams, Wilson said he thought Lamonica would be the key to the game. “I believe the two hottest quarterbacks in professional football through the season were Sonny Jurgensen with the Redskins and Lamonica in our league,” said Wilson.

Although Starr outplayed Lamonica in the Super Bowl, the latter compiled a 62-16-6 record as Oakland’s starter before being replaced by future Hall of Famer Ken Stabler in 1973.

When the Raiders acquired Lamonica, Ron Wolf was a 29-year-old scout in his fifth year with the team. Wolf has no doubt Lamonica would have eventually played for the Packers.

“He threw 30 touchdown passes his first year, 34 another year,” said Wolf. “The team went 13-1 with him as a quarterback. He had a strong arm. He could make all the throws. Plus, he was agile enough to get out of trouble.”

In Wolf’s eyes, Lamonica might have been the second best quarterback in AFL history. “Of his era, there wasn’t anybody as good as Joe Namath,” said Wolf. “Joe Namath was a cut above everybody else. He’s in the Hall of Fame. But Daryle would be No. 2. (Len) Dawson is in the Hall of Fame, but I think Daryle was better than Dawson. (George) Blanda is in the Hall of Fame. But Daryle could make all the throws.”

No doubt, Lamonica was better than any Packers’ quarterback between Starr and Lynn Dickey, but he would have been 29 years old when Starr’s shoulder problems signaled the end was near in 1969.

Keep in mind as well that most of Lamonica’s career was in the wide-open AFL. (The same applies to Hadl.) Raiders owner Al Davis coached under Sid Gillman, one of the architects of the modern passing game, and Davis loved throwing deep. (Here’s a big what-if: Davis apparently once considered trading Stabler, perhaps the most accurate quarterback of the 1970s, to Pittsburgh for Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw.) Even though under Bengtson quarterback Don Horn once threw for 410 yards in a game, no NFL team threw as freely as the Raiders with Lamonica or the Chargers with Hadl.

One big problem every Packer quarterback between Starr and Favre faced (often from their backs) was poor-quality offensive lines. Christl’s piece also discusses four offensive linemen the Packers drafted but lost to AFL teams who arguably would have been better than the offensive linemen the Packers had once the Glory Days offensive line retired or were traded away (Forrest Gregg to Dallas).

And while we’re talking about problems of Packer quarterbacks, we might as well add the quality, or lack thereof, of targets for those quarterbacks. The 1972 NFC Central champion Packers were so ground-bound that Hunter averaged less than 100 passing yards per game. Carroll Dale, nearing the end of his career, led the Packers with 16 catches for 317 yards and one touchdown. Those aren’t even good high school numbers today. (In fact the 1972 Packers were just 11th in offensive points per game, but were fourth in points given up per game.)

Other Packer receivers, if you want to call them that, of this era included 1973 first-round pick Barry Smith, who lasted three seasons because he didn’t like to catch balls over the middle, and a group of guys you’ve never heard of. (Jack Clancy? Jon Staggers? Leland Glass? Ollie Smith?) After Dale’s and Boyd Dowler’s departures, not until the Packers drafted James Lofton first in 1978 did they have a quality receiver on the team. (Dale and Dowler were more like spread-out tight ends than fast receivers, which Lombardi never had.) Meanwhile, Hadl was throwing to a Hall of Fame receiver, Lance Alworth, and Lamonica was throwing to another Hall of Fame receiver, Fred Biletnikoff; two other above-average receivers, Warren Wells and tight end Raymond Chester; and several running backs who could also catch.

The view from the next opponent

The Washington Post’s D.C. Sports Bog:

This probably says nothing about how the Redskins will finish this season, but I think it’s safe to say there’s not one single player on the team’s roster you would pay good money to watch, if you weren’t a committed fan. (And maybe you wouldn’t even pay good money to watch all 53 of them, even if you were a committed fan, based on last week’s crowd.) The player who seemed most likely to achieve that status, almost incredibly, was a rookie running back, but then Derrius Guice got hurt, and so now the team’s most prominent star player is … Josh Norman? I guess? …

But there are still NFL players worth the price of admission by themselves, if you’re into that kind of thing, players you can’t keep your eyes off when they’re on the field. That’s  what Baker Mayfield was last night. That’s what Khalil Mack has been this season. (Here’s a great look at Mack, from Kent Babb.) That’s definitely what Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill are, and what Odell Beckham Jr. is, and it’s what Aaron Rodgers is, on one or two legs, as a Super Bowl contender or with a non-playoff team, playing with a lead or coming from behind.

If I were to pay to go to Sunday’s Redskins game (hahahahaha! Ha!), Rodgers is certainly the player I’d be most eager to watch. (Good seats are still available, by the way.)

And the quotes in Les Carpenter’s story previewing the game definitely didn’t change my mind.

“He has all the tricks in the book,” Mason Foster said.

“Nobody else can make those throws,” London Fletcher said.

“You just see it, it’s a faster ball than anyone else,” D.J. Swearinger said.

“Some guys’ passes are like rocks,” Bruce Arians said. “Some are like marshmallows. He throws marshmallows but with a lot of speed.”

He throws marshmallows! Speedy marshmallows! Who doesn’t like speedy marshmallows! I’d pay to see that. Well, maybe.

The Post’s Les Carpenter elaborates:

The worst part about playing against Aaron Rodgers is the dread. Opponents forever wonder how the Green Bay Packers quarterback is going to beat them this time. Will it be a pass fired on the run? A lob over the linebacker’s head? A Hail Mary heaved high into the sky?

Redskins linebacker Mason Foster has a story. Back in 2011, his Tampa Bay Buccaneers went to Green Bay to play the Packers, who were 10-0 at the time. For three quarters, the Bucs held close, training only 21-19. They thought they might win.

“Then on one drive, [Rodgers] just picked up on something, went up-tempo and just went crazy for the rest of the game,” Foster says. “He just figured it out, was calling out the blitzes, calling out all the looks and just went up and down the field on us.”

Tampa Bay lost, 35-26.

But here’s the thing about that game: Foster remembers the Bucs being up 21-0 at the moment Rodgers tore them apart. In fact, he is certain of it.

But who can blame Foster for thinking Rodgers had led the Packers back from three touchdowns down that day? Rodgers has led so many comebacks and crushed so many dreams they become a part of opponents’ memories, making players believe it has happened to them, too. Two weeks ago, he was knocked from the Packers’ opening game with a knee injury that required him to be carted to the locker room, only to hobble back in the second half with Green Bay down 20-3 and lead the Packers to a 24-23 victory. It was the 13th fourth-quarter comeback of his career.

On Sunday, the Redskins will face Rodgers and the Packers at FedEx Field. For a team that lost last week after giving up three 75-yard touchdown drives to the Colts and quarterback Andrew Luck, the thought of playing Rodgers can’t be a good one.

“He does so many things that are unscripted,” says former Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians, now an analyst for the NFL on CBS.

There is no real way to prepare for Rodgers. Meticulously designed schemes become useless because eventually he figures them out. Before each snap, he stands behind his line, scanning the defense for hints of what might be coming. Those who play against him have learned to reveal nothing about their intent, disguising formations for as long as they can, all in the desperate hope of somehow fooling him.

“If you show at the start that you are coming with the blitz, you are dead,” says former Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, who, like Arians, is an analyst for the NFL on CBS.

Even if Rodgers doesn’t recognize the defense, he can beat it with his voice. Opposing players say his cadence is impossible to judge. He might not wave his arms or shout “Omaha!” like Peyton Manning, but the small jerks of the head and strange vocal inflections are impossible to interpret.

Because most agree the best way to beat Rodgers is to send an aggressive pass rush up the middle, putting big hands in his face, pass rushers and defensive linemen are especially eager to jump at the snap of the ball. Rodgers plays to their impatience, changing the sound of his voice with what seems like each snap. Deciphering his hard count is close to impossible. Sooner or later, someone is going to jump.

“He’ll go, ‘Hut-hut!’ and it’s, ‘Oh, shoot,’ ” Fletcher says with a laugh.

The best thing to do when this happens, Fletcher says, is to keep coming and be absolutely sure to tackle him. There is nothing the Packers quarterback loves to do more than lure defenses offside, drawing a penalty and essentially earning a free play. Almost always, he will throw deep, realizing there is no loss in aiming for the end zone. If he completes the pass, Green Bay can decline the penalty. If it’s incomplete or intercepted, the Packers can take the call and keep moving.

“He has all the tricks in the book,” Foster says.

Once the ball is snapped, there’s no knowing what Rodgers might do. Arians says that even though Rodgers is not a runner, teams have to treat him like one because he is so elusive inside and outside the pocket. Such players are particularly challenging for defenses because they stymie pass rushes, making it harder to get sacks or force quarterbacks into frantic, hurried throws.

There has been a lot of talk this week about Rodgers’s injured knee, leading many commentators and Redskins fans to believe the quarterback who comes to FedEx Field will be somehow diminished, unable to move and vulnerable to Washington’s pass rush. Rodgers himself has fueled some of this speculation by wearing an enormous brace on his knee in last Sunday’s tie with the Minnesota Vikings and openly worrying that playing on the knee might make the injury worse.

Fletcher scoffs at the idea of a hobbled Rodgers, saying: “I’ve played on multiple [medial collateral ligament] sprains; the knee loosens up as the game goes on. He can just play with a wrap on his knee and be fine.”

Given the 281 yards for which Rodgers threw against the Vikings on Sunday, while moving robotically around the field, Fletcher’s sense is probably right. There’s no such thing as a diminished Rodgers. Not as long as he is able to throw.

“A cannon,” is what Washington safety D.J. Swearinger calls Rodgers’s arm.

In the end, teams probably fear Rodgers’s throwing ability more than anything else. Coaches like to talk about quarterbacks “making all the throws,” as in being able to complete passes to all levels of the field. Most NFL quarterbacks can “make all the throws” at some level, usually excelling at a few of those passes.

Rodgers, those who have played against him marvel, can make every throw.

Really. Every throw.

“The big thing is he makes them accurately,” Arians says.

“He squeezes it in there,” says Foster.

“Whether he’s on the run or he’s falling back or he’s throwing it downfield, throwing it short. It doesn’t matter,” Swearinger says, shaking his head. “He’s always accurate.”

Fletcher sighs. “Nobody else can make those throws,” he says.

Yet it’s not just that Rodgers can make all the throws, it’s that he throws his passes hard. Very hard.

“You just see it, it’s a faster ball than anyone else,” Swearinger says.

Fletcher has a Rodgers pass in his mind, one he saw the quarterback make in a game against the Redskins years ago. Evading a rush, Rodgers turned to his left and started running toward the sideline. Then, while still running, he fired a pass into a receiver’s arms at a velocity that still has Fletcher trying to figure out the physics of such a throw.

“Think about that — he’s right-handed, and he’s running to his left,” Fletcher says. “That’s a hard throw to make because you are running and you have to turn your shoulders to make the throw. But he doesn’t turn his shoulders, he just throws it.”

One would think that if Rodgers is throwing harder than any other quarterback in football while running from side-to-side or falling backward that his passes would be difficult to grab. But his 65 percent completion percentage is seventh-best in NFL history, and his 103.9 passer rating is the best ever, according to the statistics website Pro Football Reference.

“Some guys’ passes are like rocks,” Arians says. “Some are like marshmallows. He throws marshmallows but with a lot of speed.”

“It’s a zip, but it’s always a spiral,” Swearinger says.

Then, just in case Rodgers hasn’t already won by deciphering the defense, or drawing pass rushers offside, or throwing speedy marshmallows into his receivers’ hands, he has one last trick: the Hail Mary. Three times in the last three years, Rodgers has won or tied games with long, desperation heaves. Swearinger, who was part of a secondary victimized by the second — thrown at the end of regulation in a 2016 playoff game against Swearinger’s Cardinals, who went on to win the game in overtime — says Rodgers’ ability to make Hail Marys work is because he throws the ball higher than any other quarterback, allowing his wide receivers and tight ends to jump for the ball.

Arians, who was Swearinger’s coach that day, has another explanation.

“Luck,” he says.

“But I’ll tell you what,” Swearinger says, standing in the Redskins’ locker room late Wednesday afternoon, “I’m approaching this like it’s one of the biggest games of my career. You got the best quarterback or one of the best quarterbacks in football, and you got to approach it like a Super Bowl.”

Two of Swearinger’s teammates chuckle as he says this. Swearinger does not laugh back. This is Aaron Rodgers. “No. 12,” as he likes to say.

“There’s definitely only one of him,” Swearinger adds. “No. 12 is a different species.”

Which is enough for anyone to dread playing against.

Another selection for the Hall of Fame application

If you’re on Facebook, look up Kevin Hunt (former WTMJ-TV sportscaster) and watch this video, but make sure you visit the bathroom first:

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