Once the most level-headed journalists covering the Packers start clamoring for your job, the writing isn’t just on the wall, it’s scrawled all over the internet and on billboards on Lombardi Ave. Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said on Milwaukee radio this week that Mike McCarthy could fire Dom Capers as early as next week.
But what if he doesn’t?
What if McCarthy, loyal to players and coaches alike, decides Capers deserves the chance to right his own sinking ship? What responsibility ought Ted Thompson have in shepherding this team into the future?
Some on Twitter have suggested Thompson should pressure McCarthy into firing Capers, but this presents a paradox for the GM: If you believe in the head coach, shouldn’t you let him run his staff? And wouldn’t you have to threaten to fire McCarthy in order to exert enough pressure on him to make a change should he not feel one is necessary?
Furthermore, what coach in the future would want to work for Thompson knowing he won’t allow this new coach to run his staff as he sees fit?
McCarthy finally seems to realize his loyalty to Capers has run its course and could render this conversation moot with a move in the next week or two, but it does offer a glimpse into why Thompson hasn’t already wielded some level of influence on McCarthy to make a change.
Maybe Thompson, like McCarthy, hasn’t believed one to be necessary. More likely, even knowing a change was needed wouldn’t have been enough for an old school manager like Thompson to push his head coach, whom he appears to trust implicitly. The question I keep asking myself is should he?
At a certain point, the hiring manager who hires an employee whose constant failings undermine the success of the whole organization has to be on the hook for that employee’s failings, especially in such a high profile role. We see it all the time in the NFL: a GM fired for bringing in a bad coach even if the personnel part was a success.
So why shouldn’t Thompson hold McCarthy accountable for his loyalty to a coach who hasn’t produced a top-tier defense since Barack Obama’s first term in office?
The most obvious reason is he can’t threaten to fire a coach he doesn’t actually want to fire, otherwise it’s an empty threat. But is this transgression large enough to warrant such a drastic move? It’s not an unreasonable suggestions, nor would it be without precedent in the professional world.
Secondly, part of this could be hubris. Ted Thompson finds good players anywhere and everywhere. It’s reasonable to think he might genuinely believe with the right players Capers would basically have no choice but to field a good defense. Some of those misses in the draft and failure to utilize free agency in material ways certainly contribute to the failings of Packers defense over the last half decade or more.
Maybe Thompson believes asserting some kind of influence is a tacit admission of his own failings as a general manager. But letting Casey Hayward or Micah Hyde walk had as much to do with Capers’ inability to maximize their talent as any other factor. Clearly Hayward, outside of his rookie season, never produced at the level we’ve seen from him on the Chargers. Ditto for Micah Hyde, a player who never played as well at safety for the Packers as he has for the Bills this season.
Their value relative to the team wasn’t there.
Could Ted have gone to McCarthy and said, “Hey, we’re letting two really talented players go because our DC can’t find a use for them,”? Sure.
Might he have done that? Sure. Would that have helped? Probably not.
This situation will be a Rorschach test for Packers fans: those who believe Mike McCarthy deserves to be fired, or Ted Thompson deserves to be fired (which is another way of saying they should all go) will believe Thompson should have exerted some level of force to push Capers out.
Some, though not all, of the #FireCapers crowd fall into this category.
But those who are #InTedWeTrust will see it differently. Thompson couldn’t force out Capers without effectively severing ties with McCarthy who, also an old school coach, would probably get pretty pissed he was being pressured into making a change to his staff. Often these situations really do come down to pissing contests.
To me, Thompson’s hands were tied. Clearly McCarthy allowed Capers to run this defense well past his ability to do so at a high level.
The marriage of Thompson and Capers was always going to be a strained one, as Thompson prefers young players and roster turnover, while Capers relies on complicated scheme and veteran savvy, great for when a team has prime Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, and Nick Collins in the secondary with Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji up front. But if the scheme only works when it has great players, what use is that scheme?
We’re past the point to which loyalty ought to extend. And that might need to start extending beyond just Capers’ own shortcomings.
McCarthy’s failings — the absurd conservatism of the 2014 NFC Championship game, the offensive disaster in 2015 and most of 2016, the failure to develop Brett Hundley yet insisting he would be good etc. — should make him more vulnerable to this question that ever. At a certain point, McCarthy’s inaction with Capers reflects his own inability to be adaptive or creative. Another failed season. The worst situational defense in football. Offensive dysfunction.
The first step to fixing a problem is admitting there’s a problem. Mike McCarthy appears to have done that. If he fixes it by making a change of leadership on defense, this question could fade if the defense improves and the Packers get back to winning at a high level.
If neither happens? It’s time for Thompson to genuinely interrogate the question of whether or not McCarthy is the man to lead this team forward. If the Packers don’t make or win another Super Bowl in the Rodgers era, there will be ample time to reexamine this question of blame. Whose fault was it and at what point does the blame spread?
Another offseason of McCarthy making excuses for his defensive coordinator could be its own indictment of the head coach and speak to the need for a bigger change. What happens between now and the first week of January could make this the most consequential days in Green Bay in years.