Mike McCarthy’s one-year extension as Green Bay Packers head coach is the football equivalent of damning with faint praise.
Sure, he got an extension through 2019, but the message was clear: You’re on notice, coach.
At some point, the blame had to rest at the feet hard-nosed Pittsburgh native, from the offensive stagnation to the defensive struggles, the special-teams blunders, and postseason shortcomings.
With new management coming to 1265 Lombardi Ave., it would have been fair to wonder if a new GM would give McCarthy the same kind of slack Ted Thompson has always offered.
The Green Bay front office didn’t waste any time giving an answer.
Extending McCarthy through ‘19 only removes the specter of a lame duck coaching season in 2018 when the Packers should, theoretically, once again compete for a Super Bowl.
The short-term nature of the extension also suggests whoever will be running Green Bay in 2018 will have the opportunity to make a decision about McCarthy, an option a long-term contract would have complicated.
Accountability in favor of loyalty was a cornerstone of the McCarthy era. But a de facto “prove it” deal from the Packers shows they’ll offer one in exchange for the other.
For too long McCarthy allowed Dom Capers to run amok with the Packers defense. A new defensive coordinator hire will have elevated stakes given the nature of circumstances now.
Does McCarthy have the runway to go with an unproven candidate? Would elevating a Winston Moss, Darren Perry, or Joe Whitt Jr. be seen as an unacceptable continuation of the status quo?
Complacency can be subconscious. Even a highly successful football coach can fall prey to this dangerous demon, perhaps especially a highly successful football coach.
We see it from players and coaches. When faced with scrutiny, they deflect and dissemble. It was disappointing but not surprising to see a player like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix blame roster construction for the team’s poor play, and not even recognize his own slippage in play.
Attitude reflects leadership.
The “McCarthy Way” works, so why change it? Ditto for the “Ted Thompson way,” which allows the former to go unchecked and unchallenged until it reaches a breaking point.
This is what that point looks like.
It took the first losing season in nearly a decade for the Packers to make any kind of substantive adaptation of their culture, their structure, and their schemes, unless you count McCarthy’s ill-fated time abdicating of offensive play-calling duties.
Great teams adapt constantly, embodied by an organization like the New England Patriots who could run the ball 30 times one game and 3 the next, but win each comfortably.
Mark Murphy and the Packers organization no longer see the status quo as acceptable, a stark departure from what we’ve witnessed in the McCarthy-Thompson era.
Bob McGinn reported the Packers board of directors instructed Murphy make a change with Thompson, precisely the type of move many fans and observers thought would be impossible without a traditional ownership presence. For his part, Murphy denied the board forced his hand. Either way, credit Murphy for following through.
On its own, that may not have been enough to make any definitive statements about a cultural change within the organization.
Thompson was clearly slowing down, aging like you’d expect from an NFL player, though we should save our speculation about what exactly ails him for another time (actually, let’s just save it altogether).
But the McCarthy contract signals an alternation of course. The stranglehold Thompson and McCarthy have had on the Packers — and that’s not even meant a pejorative; Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have one over the Patriots — had to be broken simply be removing Thompson from the equation.
A short-term deal for McCarthy empowers the new GM to make his own decisions about a coach and the long-term future of the team. It’s both the right move and an important message to the head coach and the entire team.
There’s going to be a new sheriff in Titletown, and the status quo will be outlawed.