Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 6, 2018

The NFL’s Coaching Carousel Spins Again

Until last weekend, only fourteen men had stalked the sidelines as head coach of the Green Bay Packers in that franchise’s nearly century long history. Only three members of that select fraternity – Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, and Mike Holmgren – compiled better records than Mike McCarthy, the Packers’ fourteenth leader. Only Lambeau, the coach from the team’s inception in 1921 through 1949 managed Green Bay for more games than McCarthy and none had coached the team in more playoff games. But neither his .618 regular season winning percentage (125-77-2), nor his nine trips to the postseason in twelve full seasons, nor Green Bay’s three appearances in the NFC Championship game, nor its 31-25 victory over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV were enough to keep McCarthy from being the first Packers head coach to be fired in the middle of a season when team president Mark Murphy announced his dismissal after Sunday’s 20-17 home loss to Arizona.

Despite McCarthy’s accomplishments the news of his firing hardly rated as a surprise, and the fan reaction in the little city that styles itself as “Titletown” made clear that most of the Packers’ faithful considered the move long overdue. The Packers last trip to the conference title game was two seasons ago and ended badly, a 44-21 rout at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. The 2017-18 campaign started promisingly enough, but after the team raced out to a 4-1 record Green Bay lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone in Week 6. The offense stagnated under backup Brett Hundley and the Packers managed just three more wins over the remainder of the season, missing the playoffs with a third place finish in the NFC North at 7-9.

Rodgers was fully healthy by the start of this season, but his growing disenchantment with McCarthy’s offensive schemes has been perhaps the NFL’s worst kept secret. Green Bay has put up more than thirty points just twice, and with Sunday’s loss to the lowly Cardinals was the Packers’ fifth in six games since the bye week. The defeat by a team that arrived at Lambeau Field with just a pair of victories on the year left the home team and its frustrated fans with no realistic shot at the postseason.

A fair evaluation of Green Bay’s campaign would conclude that the blame should be spread around. The usually reliable placekicker Mason Crosby had a historically bad game against the Lions, becoming the first NFL kicker in more than two decades to miss four field goals and an extra point in one game, a contest the Packers lost by eight points. A foolish decision by the since-released kick returner Ty Montgomery to run the ball out of the end zone rather than taking a knee led to a fumble that deprived Rodgers of the opportunity for a final drive against the Rams with Green Bay down by two. And each of the team’s last three losses has been by a touchdown or less.

But a constant truism across all our sports is that it’s impossible to fire an entire team, so when a season goes south it’s the head coach who pays the price. But it’s also worth noting that even before the malaise that began with last season’s injury to Rodgers, McCarthy never commanded the respect shown some of his predecessors.

As one of the franchise’s founding fathers Curly Lambeau is a seminal figure in Green Bay, honored by his name adorning the team’s stadium. The address for Lambeau Field is 1265 Lombardi Avenue, named for the legendary coach who brought fame to northeastern Wisconsin by winning five championships in seven years. That the last two of those involved beating the AFL titleholder in the nascent Super Bowls led the NFL to name its championship trophy after Vince Lombardi to go along with his broad multi-lane Green Bay boulevard. Mike Holmgren won the same number of titles as McCarthy – one – but did so with better timing, ending a quarter-century drought during which the Packers made the playoffs just twice. Holmgren Way’s multiple lanes run for more than three miles through Green Bay and neighboring Ashwaubenon. In contrast Mike McCarthy Way is a renamed three block stretch of Potts Avenue, a two-lane side street behind the team’s practice facility.

While McCarthy’s street will always be unprepossessing, odds are that the opinions of the many Packers fans who are happy to see him go will mellow with time. Many of those same fans cheered Brett Favre throughout his sixteen seasons as the Green Bay quarterback, then booed him lustily when he returned to Lambeau Field wearing a Minnesota Vikings uniform, only to renew their hosannas on the day in 2015 when the Packers retired Favre’s number 4.

If McCarthy needs proof that both fans and front offices have short memories, he can look to the speculation about his successor. Sitting atop almost very list published this week is the name of Josh McDaniels, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks’ coach for the New England Patriots. Whether or not McDaniels gets the job or is even interested, the real story is the mention of his name less than ten months after he first accepted, then declined, the head coach’s job in Indianapolis. The public embarrassment of the Colts, who had proudly announced their new hire, led any number of pundits to declare that McDaniels had permanently poisoned himself and would never be considered for any job beyond the borders of Foxborough, Massachusetts. But as Mike McCarthy learned last weekend, the truth is that in any sport, when it comes to the job of field general, nothing is permanent.

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Responses

  1. It’s got to add insult to injury for Mike McCarthy to leave town on a highway named after a former GB coach. The holiday season is a rotten time for anyone to lose their job.

    There’s an old saying in the construction trade, “Don’t scatter your tools.” Just like NFL coaches, construction workers are subject to dismissal at the drop of a hat.

    I wish Mike McCarthy well and hope Green Bay gets the leadership they deserve.
    Ω

    • McCarthy certainly deserved better. It speaks volumes to his class that he took out a full page ad in major Wisconsin papers today thanking fans, most of whom have been calling for his head. My guess is that come the offseason, if he wants a new head coaching job he’ll have one.

      Thanks Allan,
      M-

      • A class act on his end.
        Ω


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