We’ve all heard the adage that the NFL stands for “Not For Long.” Either you keep up and adapt, or you find a new line of work.
Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has received plenty of criticism for hanging onto loyalties and not making the change when he probably should have. The most notable examples include sticking with defensive coordinator Dom Capers and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum through several successive years of struggle.
Capers appears to have a job for life, but at least McCarthy finally wrote the pink slip for Slocum after a disastrous 2014 season. McCarthy understood that special teams were one of major factors preventing the Packers from winning another championship.
However, over the years, McCarthy has made several shrewd changes that led to positive results, so he has a track record of evolution. He’s definitely not afraid of change when change is needed.
Let’s look at some of these major changes.
Quarterback Brett Favre seemed irreplaceable and set for life as the Packers’ starting quarterback as long as he wanted it. Yet, McCarthy showed that was definitely not the case.
There are reports that McCarthy wanted to give Favre the hook at halftime during the 2007 NFC Championship game against the New York Giants. Maybe he should have, and there might have been a different result. I guess we’ll never know, but it’s worth noting because of what happened next.
The following off season proved to be Favre’s end in Green Bay. After a protracted retirement drama, general manager Ted Thompson and McCarthy refused to allow Favre to come back, signifying the beginning of the Aaron Rodgers era. McCarthy had groomed Rodgers for three years, and knew he was ready. Rodgers was in fact ready, and he just needed an opportunity to get on the field.
That was a pretty gutsy move by McCarthy, and it’s the kind that can end a job if you’re wrong. You’re taking a hall of fame quarterback and replacing him with an unknown who everyone passed on in the draft. Not to mention that McCarthy also passed on him during his time in San Francisco as offensive coordinator.
Botching the quarterback position has cost many coaches their jobs. Just ask Rex Ryan and anyone who coached in Cleveland the last 15 years.
However, not only did McCarthy get it right, he hit the jackpot. Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL right now. If he would have hung on to Favre for another year or two, we might have never seen the Aaron Rodgers show.
Next, after a disappointing 2008 season when the Packers fell to a 6-10 record, McCarthy once again made a major change, and it was also a change of considerable risk.
He scrapped his 4-3 defense by firing defensive coordinator Bob Sanders. Dom Capers replaced Sanders and brought a radically different 3-4 defense with him.
This type of change is no small feat because not only does it require different vocabulary and playing technique, but oftentimes very different personnel to execute the scheme.
The switch to Capers and the 3-4 defense cannot be understated and glossed over because he made the transition after his third season as head coach. In the era of “win now,” head coaches are given four or five seasons to show they belong and can turn a program around.
Had the switch to Capers’ 3-4 defense not gone smoothly, it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that Thompson would have fired McCarthy after his fourth season. The 2007 NFC Championship Game likely bought McCarthy some time, as did the switch to Rodgers, but back-to-back losing seasons are usually the death knell for many coaches.
McCarthy couldn’t predict the future, but those drastic moves at the quarterback position and the entire defensive scheme paid off very quickly and the Packers won the Super Bowl following the 2010 season. That’s pretty remarkable, and would only have been possible if a coach was willing to make changes. High risk, high reward.
This following off season McCarthy has also made another major change. While he claims it’s not an overreaction or anything fans need to consider too seriously, we all know differently.
After coming close to the top, but falling short, McCarthy decided to shake up his coaching staff’s responsibilities.
He removed himself as play caller, promoted Tom Clements to associate head coach and play caller, and promoted Edgar Bennett to offensive coordinator.
McCarthy claims these changes will free him up to manage more of the game as a whole, including paying more attention to special teams and defensive strategy.
Play calling is one of the most highly sought and enviable positions on the coaching staff, so it took a major change of heart and trust in his assistants to abdicate that responsibility. Furthermore, the Packers’ offense has been a well oiled machine as of late, so it’s easy to scream “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” That’s true, but McCarthy obviously felt he could improve his entire team by handing over the offense to someone else. Another huge risk.
Also, somewhere in that transition, Alex Van Pelt was given the dual responsibility of being both the quarterbacks and wide receivers coaches. This is actually a very interesting event because now Van Pelt has joint meetings of quarterbacks and receivers in the same room. It’s intended to prevent anything from falling through the cracks and to ensure that everyone sees the same thing.
This sort of outside-of-the-box thinking isn’t very common in the “Not For Long” football world where everyone else copies everyone’s script.
It’s way too early to tell if any of these changes will have a positive effect, or even a negative effect for that matter. But, they are exciting to think about as we approach training camp.
The bottom line is that McCarthy doesn’t make changes very often, but when he does, they make headlines. I admire that he doesn’t make changes for the sake of change, but only when he truly feels he needs to make a transition. His changes aren’t without risk, but they usually pay off.
I’m very excited to see how the 2015 season season unfolds. Based on McCarthy’s track record, his changes bring quick success. He has managed to win 101 games, five division titles, and a Super Bowl.
Maybe 2015 will bring about something special.——————