Does Ben McAdoo deserve blame for Packers’ backup QB blunder?

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Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo was appointed to his role in 2012, despite having no prior experience at the position.
Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo was appointed to his role in 2012, despite having no prior experience at the position.

When the Miami Dolphins hired former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin to be their head coach in 2012, Tom Clements was promoted to offensive coordinator, leaving the team’s quarterbacks coach position vacant.

Ben McAdoo, who served under head coach Mike McCarthy in each of his previous two tenures with New Orleans and San Francisco, had experience coaching various offensive positions at the professional level. But prior to changing roles in 2012, McAdoo had no experience, at any level, working directly with the quarterback position.

Shortly after Philbin’s departure, Aaron Rodgers, who has given Clements a great deal of credit for his ascension to the NFL elite, was asked by Jason Wilde about how their relationship would change if Clements were, in fact, no longer his position coach.

“I don’t see our relationship changing a whole lot. I think if he were to get the coordinator job, he’d still want to spend some time with the quarterbacks,” Rodgers said. “I would guess they would look for someone to be the quarterbacks coach. I know when Tom originally got hired, that one of the names that Mike was interested in was Billy Joe Tolliver.”

Tolliver, whose playing career ended in 2001 after being beaten out by Doug Pederson in a competition to be Brett Favre’s backup, has never coached at the NFL level. However, Rodgers’ assumption that the team would look to a former quarterback to fill Clements’ role as the position coach suggests that he’d prefer to have a coach who has played the position.

Clements quarterbacked Notre Dame to a National Championship in 1973, finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1974 and played professionally for more than a decade, bouncing between the CFL and NFL. But with a quarterback-savvy head coach in McCarthy, along with an offensive coordinator (Clements) who had served as the team’s quarterbacks coach for seven seasons, the Packers opted to promote McAdoo to quarterbacks coach.

Prior to the move, McAdoo had spent the previous six years in Green Bay as the team’s tight ends coach.

The Packers are no strangers to making curious promotions on their coaching staff; wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett played running back in the NFL for eight seasons, running backs coach Alex Van Pelt played 11 seasons as an NFL quarterback, and tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot also coached tight ends in Green Bay despite a 16-year playing career at center.

But coaching the game’s most important position comes with added pressure–even when the starter (Rodgers) is the highest-rated passer to ever play in the NFL. And after a turbulent offseason in regards to the No. 2 quarterback job, much of the team’s fan base is running out of fingers to point at the Packers’ brass.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson has certainly swung and missed on several quarterbacks (Brian Brohm, Ingle Martin, B.J. Coleman) during his tenure. But if there’s one player that can save Thompson’s reputation, it’s Rodgers.

All a team needs is one great quarterback to win a championship. It’s not exactly rocket science.

But during Clements’ tenure as quarterbacks coach, Matt Flynn developed into a top-notch backup for the Packers despite being a seventh-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft. Flynn has yet to win a starting job after leaving Green Bay to spend the past two summers in Seattle and Oakland, respectively.

Perhaps Clements’ effect on grooming quarterbacks to play in the Packers’ offense is being overlooked. Despite the fact that he still works with the team’s quarterbacks on a daily basis, McAdoo is now responsible for teaching them the ins and outs of the position in individual drills.

A year ago, after Flynn signed with the Seahawks, the Packers were left with Graham Harrell as Rodgers’ backup, and seventh-round pick B.J. Coleman was stashed on the practice squad. Today, both Harrell and Coleman are unsigned and looking for work.

The first sign of the Packers’ displeasure with Harrell and Coleman came when the team signed veteran Vince Young to compete for the No. 2 job. Young impressed in the third preseason game against Seattle, and when Harrell was subsequently released, the assumption was that Young would be the team’s backup quarterback.

But a stinker in the preseason finale prompted the Packers to release Young, and shortly after, Coleman.

As a result, the Packers will head into their season opener with recently signed Seneca Wallace, 33, as the No. 2 quarterback. Scott Tolzien, a former University of Wisconsin standout, was also signed to the practice squad.

Typically, spending three seasons in the same system would elicit some improvement, but that wasn’t the case with Harrell in Green Bay. After an impressive preseason finale last summer, it’s all been downhill for Harrell. And after just two offseasons, it appears the team has given up on Coleman, as well.

There’s no sugarcoating it–the Packers have dropped the ball in regards to the backup quarterback position. Obviously, some responsibility needs to fall on the players, but a portion falls on scouting, as well as coaching.

McAdoo was first hired to the NFL ranks in 2004, when he accepted a position with the Saints under McCarthy. Now entering his ninth season at the professional level, McAdoo takes on new challenges, working with a couple guys not named “Rodgers.”

Perhaps the best indicator of McAdoo’s ability as a coach will be the future of Tolzien in Green Bay. While many thought the Packers signed Tolzien simply to allow McCarthy to take a dip inside Jim Harbaugh’s brain, Tolzien has a realistic chance to stick.

Having a formidable backup quarterback is (extremely) far from being the most important part of a successful NFL team, but once the starter is bitten by the injury bug, then it becomes an issue. That hasn’t happened yet.

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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  • Derek in CO

    I think I have to agree with this theory. I don’t know how you can have former players coaching positions they never played. While it certainly is “outside the box”, it doesn’t seem like the best way to develop young players at a minimum. Probably why Darrell Bevell has actually been a pretty decent coach at the NFL level.

    • Chad Toporski

      You mean like Mike McCarthy (former tight end) coaching quarterbacks?

    • Stroh

      You lost me at Darrell Bevell is a decent coach! Please Derek… Not even in his wildest dreams is Bevell a decent coach.

      Its the way coaches get better and improve enough to become coordinators. Coach the position you know, move to other positions coach those then move to coordinator and HC. Packers are just a draft and develop team in regards to players. They use the same philosophy throughout the organization. Players, Coaches and scouts!

  • Razer

    I would rather see guys who know the position, mechanics and intelligence of the position coach the specific discipline. The same goes for our running backs coach and some of the other skill areas. It is great that a coach gets a well-rounded education but our players are potentially not getting any further ahead.

    • Stroh

      How are coaches supposed to advance beyond position coaches to coordinator and HC?

    • http://allpackers.com nick perry

      I’ve never understood M.M. promoting process myself and for the life of me can’t figure out why Campen still is a coach in the NFL. McAdoo was a much better TE coach. He developed Finley, Quarless in 2010, at least enough to win the SB. Since he stopped coaching TE, Finley drops increased. I still think cutting D.J. Williams was a mistake and if ever used right, could have been effective in a two TE set. That’s just my opinion.

  • Dobber

    Ultimately the buck starts and stops with TT and MM. If we heap blame for personnel matters on lower coaches, we’re giving TT and MM a pass.

    Besides…isn’t it supposed to be MM who is the QB guru?

  • http://bluesberryjam.com BZ in BA

    I have to assume that TT and MM want for the Pack to win even more than I do, and that they are going to choose the most qualified people they can find to coach all of the positions. I am sure that they also know a lot more than the rest of us as to what is really going on at 1265. So while I can see why writing this article seems to make sense, I have to question the author’s basic assumption that the wrong people are being assigned the wrong titles in the coaching department.

  • Elle

    And yet McCarthy is one of the better QB coaches in the game and never played QB.

    This hypothesis (it doesn’t even deserve to be called a theory) has absolutely zero evidentiary support and is purely speculation.

    In fact, there is more evidence that he is a worthy QB coach than the opposite. Multiple teams wanted to interview him for offensive coordinator positions as a student of the West Coast Offense, which is heavily QB-dependent as we all know. If he cannot work with QBs (as McCarthy does without ever having played the position), then he would not be even remotely considered for O.C.

    The majority of Graham Harrell’s tutelage came under Clements. So what we’re really talking about here is BJ Coleman (lol), and another QB that was so bad that he wasn’t even in football last year.

    Clements’ other significant pupil has yet to start for another team. Clements also did absolutely nothing with Brian Brohm, who was a high draft pick.

    McAdoo advised Rodgers during a season in which he led all QBs in passer rating, and had the second highest season passer rating average in his entire career. A season in which he was sacked 51 times and had a number of his receivers injured at one point or another, and a depleted O-line and one of the worst running games in football.

    Am I saying McAdoo is better than Clements? Goodness, no. I’m saying that the evidence does not support this article, and that this hypothesis was not thought out very well at all. Even if there was evidence of something, it would take much longer than 1 season to determine any sort of trend.

    • Kal

      THIS^

  • Scott

    I disagree. It’s narrow-minded to believe that only former QBs can coach QBs or that former RBs can only coach RBs. Vince Lombardi played tackle, Bill Belichick was a DB and Tom Landry was a punter. There are different skill sets involved in coaching and playing. Some great former players (Bart Starr, Forest Gregg) didn’t turn out to be such great coaches. Some pretty mediocre players turned out to be great coaches (look at former Wisconsin QB Darrel Bevell). Sure, Thompson’s missed on some draft picks. So did Ron Wolf. So does everybody. I wouldn’t get too excited about Graham Harrell not panning out. TT and MM have a pretty good track record thus far. I think we can trust in their judgment.

    • Ed Schoenfeld

      Actually, Lombardi played guard. He also played defense (two way era).

      Everything else is 100% correct.

      Thinking that a former TE can’t **learn** how to coach QBs or any other position), you have to start by thinking people in general can’t learn new skills — but in reality people do that every day.

  • James David

    How many QB’s taken in the first and second round even play in the NFL after five years? How many trades for QB’s work out? Enough said.

  • caruso81

    I don’t think it is unreasonable to wonder if Ted Thompson’s refusal to spend any amount of money on free agents doesn’t have something to do with this. He is always, always, always looking for the cheapest deal, and while this is very good for the bottom line, sometimes, once in a while you may have to spend that extra dollar to get the player the team needs. This whole idea that you can build a team on 7th rounders and undrafted free agents looks pretty good when you consider the Donald Drivers and Randall Cobbs of the world, but the key to that theory is to know when it doesn’t work.

    Seneca Wallace is actually a pretty interesting option, but how many backups do you think TT passed on in the past few days simply because he couldn’t get them for the veteran minimum?

    • Ed Schoenfeld

      None.

      Wallace seems like he’d have been pretty high on the list regardless of salary, because ha actually knows the system from having played in Seattle.

  • Brian

    Okay…enuf about the back-up qb. Did everybody forget that Harrell was the back-up last year? Can’t wait for games to start!

  • bobalou13

    Exactly Brian. If AR is gone for any length of time whatever, our goose is cooked anyway. Plus, if its only for a series or two, Wallace has the experience and knowledge to not screw up, at the very least.

  • Alex Parkhurst

    Jon Gruden

    QB in college
    Packers wide receiver coach
    Offensive Coordinator Eagles
    Head Coach Raiders
    TB Bucs – Head Coach and Super Bowl win

    Gruden is a student of the game and highly respected by players. He could coach virtually any position because he’s smart. In a short period of time he could master a position by talking to other coaches, watching film and asking questions.

    MM and TT would hire him in a heartbeat to coach.

  • http://cheesestradamus.com BobBrews

    Graham Harrell was tutored correctly. The problem with Graham Harrell is that he had no spark! The guy new what to do he just went through the mechanics of it without the internal drive needed to be a top notch quarterback.

    Aaron has a chip on his shoulder. He uses it to be motivated. Graham was indifferent to everything. A good QB is pissed when he has a interception or has to come out when it is fourth and one. Graham had a mesmerized look on his face when came out. He didn’t care what happened?

    If you watch good quarterbacks on the sideline when they are in the defensive game and are screaming and shouting for the defense. Bad quarterbacks have a glazed look in their eyes and are unresponsive to a good defensive play. Aaron is busy on the side lines because he wants to win, He is driven.

    The first thing to look for in a new quarterback is his will to win. The drive to be successful. The mechanics can be learned from a good coach.