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On Mike McCarthy and the trouble with consistency

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When is good not good enough?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Chip Kelly got the axe and now that we're nearing the end of the NFL's regular season, it won't be long before a number of other coaches head to the gallows. But in what's now become a bit of a perverse annual tradition, many of those coaches, despite having crumby records - or in Jeff Fisher's case, a historically crumby record - will get a second chance. Or a third. Hell, maybe a fourth. Of course, one of the big reasons to why this ridiculous coaching carousel exists is simple. Consistency.

From the owner's box to the ball boys, consistency in the NFL, is king. Consistency leads to predictability, which leads to reliability, which leads to trust. Consistency breeds routine, which breeds repetition, which breeds focus and eliminates the one thing equally as loathed as consistency is lauded - "distractions."

In the NFL, consistency is so prized that when it comes to head coaches, being consistently employed throughout your career can actually matter more than being good at your job. For example, that's how Rob Ryan keeps collecting paychecks. But consistency doesn't just help coaches get jobs. It helps coaches keep jobs.

Which brings me to our very own Mike McCarthy. For the record, I'm not suggesting Mike McCarthy should be fired. He's on the precipice of his fifth-straight NFC North title, has a Super Bowl title to his name - not to mention, an actual street in Green Bay, to boot - and was the guy who orchestrated the 2011 Packers offense; a squad that often goes overlooked in the pantheon of the most mind-bending offenses in league history. And besides, as we know from teams like the Browns, Redskins, and Raiders, you don't win championships by changing your head coach as often as your socks.

But with the team's woes this season and lack of postseason success in the last five, we're now at a point in the Mike McCarthy era where the question as to whether the team would be better served by someone else is at least worth asking. I asked myself that a few weeks ago just as the Packers were getting pummeled by the then-atrocious Detroit Lions and the answer I came up with was this:

Maybe, but it doesn't really matter.

Mainly because barring some epic collapse the next couple of years - which will never happen, because of Aaron Rodgers - McCarthy getting canned almost certainly won't happen anytime soon.

Why? Because the Packers under Mike McCarthy, are a consistently good team. And on a risk-averse team in an already risk-averse league, rolling the dice on someone else is likely a risk too great to take.

But that's also kind of a gamble in itself, isn't it? By sticking with the safe option, you're missing out on the next creative offensive mind, innovative play caller, or cunning strategist. I don't claim to know if any of those exist and if you're Ted Thompson, you're certainly not going to make a change just for the sake of making change. It's cliché, but there's some truth to the whole ‘if you're not getting better, you're getting worse' mantra when it comes to coaches. Moves that maintain a team's success level rather than improving or worsening a team seem to rarely happen (The Broncos replacing John Fox with Gary Kubiak is one of the relatively rare recent examples) and all things said, the Packers could do a lot worse than Mike McCarthy. Of course, that doesn't mean they're doing what's best, either.

But again, even with a candidate like Adam Gase out there - a guy largely responsible for Peyton Manning's historic 2013/2014 season and Jay Cutler's un-Cutler like 2015 season - it won't matter because the Packers will likely stick with Mike McCarthy for the indefinite future. McCarthy's recent body of work suggests that maybe they shouldn't; his offense has gotten by this year almost entirely on screen passes, defensive pass interference calls, and drawing opponents offsides, and his quarterback is now openly staring daggers at him at least once per game.

Admittedly, using 2015 is a small sample size when looking at McCarthy's performance as a head coach over the last eight years, and there's little doubt that so long as Aaron Rodgers is at the helm of the Packers offense, they'll continue to consistently rack up 10-win seasons and the occasional playoff victory. But with each passing year, it's beginning to look more and more like 2010's Super Bowl was simply a matter of catching lightning in a bottle, rather than a sign of things to come, and certainly not a result of the conservative culture Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson have built in Green Bay.

That culture has served the team well, no doubt, but consider this - every team in the last 30 years that has won multiple Super Bowl titles with the same quarterback has done so within four years of the first win. Assuming this year's team doesn't catch fire like 2010's, next season will be year six since Aaron Rodgers, one of the most supremely gifted quarterbacks in NFL history, has even been to one.

Some of that has to do with just plain luck, but when I think of Mike McCarthy and the Packers, I can't help but think of a quote I once heard from a wildly successful entrepreneur who left his company to pursue a new startup:

"Sometimes you have to be willing to leave something good, to achieve something great."

It's ironic then, that so much of the Packers success has come from McCarthy imparting the importance of safe play - that ball control and turnover ratio trump everything else - when, as we know all too well from watching Aaron Rodgers' predecessor for all those years - that sometimes the biggest risks reap the biggest rewards.