Former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Holmgren once said he told a young and out of control Brett Favre the following to help buck up his raw but up-and-coming quarterback: “You and I are joined at the hip.”
It was that joining of the hip that led the Holmgren-Favre partnership to the top of the NFL in 1996. Unfortunately, two years after winning Super Bowl XXXI, that partnership came to a close as Holmgren left for the Seattle Seahawks.
Luckily for Packers fans, the same can’t be said of the current quarterback/head coach tandem in Green Bay–that of head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Like Holmgren/Favre, they’ve won one title and are in position to win more. McCarthy and Rodgers also plan to stick together for a much longer time than Favre and Holmgren did when the coach left for more roster control in Seattle. Rodgers just signed a contract extension and it’s clear McCarthy has no interest in becoming a general manager.
With their partnership being so secure as well as fruitful, the question beckons: Is the McCarthy/Rodgers duo the best head coach and quarterback combination in the NFL today?
Adam Schein of NFL.com thinks so. He wrote that he thought the two were the most prolific because they’re “…attached at the hip. McCarthy calls the plays, but the coach shares a brain with his quarterback.”
It’s absolutely true and that’s what it takes for a head coach/quarterback combination to work. To prove that point, one only has to look at perhaps the most successful pairing of head coach and quarterback in the 21st century: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, respectively, of the New England Patriots. They won three Super Bowls in four years in the early part of the 2000s and have been back to the big game twice since then.
When you look at Brady on the field and watch him play, you begin to see him as an extension of Belichick on the field. It’s truly a remarkable feat, especially when you consider Belichick is a defensive-minded head coach. When a quarterback and a head coach are that much in sync, the opposition comes out on the losing end of a game more often than not.
You can see a similar dynamic between Rodgers and McCarthy. Rodgers knows McCarthy’s offense like the back of his hand and that’s because he’s spent all but one year of his career in the same offense with the same head coach. Consistency breeds familiarity which then leads to chemistry and it’s amazing how many NFL teams have yet to realize this (this means you, Chicago).
McCarthy, for his part, then knows his quarterback inside and out. This allows him to slowly grant Rodgers more and more freedom at the line of scrimmage while staying within the framework of the offense. This is what makes Rodgers such an effective quarterback. He is able to improvise so much on a play yet he is still able to get the ball to the receivers because he isn’t doing something so completely unexpected.
Rodgers knows what McCarthy expects and goes out and executes. The quarterback is so maniacal about his preparation that nothing an opposing defense throws at him catches him off guard. A self-admitted perfectionist, Rodgers is never satisfied with what he’s done and is always aiming to improve. McCarthy couldn’t ask for a more driven individual to be the face of his team.
This head coach and quarterback also share a unique personal bond as well. When Rodgers was under fire during the summer of 2008 when Favre suddenly unretired and demanded his old job back, McCarthy stood by the young quarterback’s side and his support never wavered. Going through a situation like that, the likes of which was never seen in the NFL before, undoubtedly built a very strong feeling of trust between the two men.
It’s a trust that has grown exponentially since then as Rodgers continued to evolve into the best quarterback in the NFL. McCarthy speaks frequently of the type of person Rodgers is and it’s clear that the respect is mutual between the two. They both want the same goal (another Super Bowl) and both want to do it the right way.
They’re both men of strong conviction and values. They never forget where they came from and both have played an underdog at some point. Rodgers plummeted in the NFL Draft in 2005 and a year later McCarthy was hired by the Packers after leading one of the worst offenses in the NFL with San Francisco.
Not many expected much out of McCarthy and Rodgers in 2006 but it’s a partnership that has been one of the most fruitful in the history of the Packers. They’ve already won one Super Bowl and the window is still open for them to win several more.
Belichick and Brady were the best tandem of the first decade of the 21st century. Could Rodgers and McCarthy be the best quarterback/head coach combination of the second decade of the century?
Holy opportunity, Batman! It just might be possible for Titletown’s latest dynamic duo.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke