The ink had barely begun to dry on the pink slip the Green Bay Packers had handed Mike McCarthy when the question had already started being asked.
“What qualities does Aaron Rodgers want in the new head coach?”
If Packers president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst are asking themselves that same question as they begin their search for the team’s 14th head coach, they’re approaching this whole process the wrong way.
Yes, how the next head coach fits with Rodgers is an important factor but it’s not about what the two-time NFL MVP wants. It has to be about what the quarterback needs that should be driving Murphy and Gutekunst’s quest.
The saying is that “players play and coaches coach.” While that isn’t always the case and may not be what the situation in Green Bay calls for considering the window of Rodgers’ prime is closing with the passing of each season, the Packers need to be wary of giving their franchise signal caller too much pull in the coaching department. How many of us get to pick our own boss? Very few, if any.
If Rodgers is given considerable input into the hiring process, he very well could settle on someone who he really likes. That said, sometimes the person who we like the most isn’t the one who’s the best for us. It’s like having that teacher you couldn’t stand initially but then at the end of the year you realize how good they were for you. That’s what Rodgers needs right now more than anything.
Rodgers doesn’t need a friend in his next head coach. He needs, well, a coach. Rodgers is on the record saying he "desperately wants to be coached" and now we will see if the quarterback really meant that.
He very well could want someone who continued to call plays the way McCarthy did but just with different play designs, which was just one flaw that led to the coach’s dismissal. Would this type of coach help fix Rodgers’ suddenly flawed footwork or teach him not to hold the ball so long? It’s doubtful.
Instead what Rodgers needs is someone who will take the quarterback back to basics. He doesn’t need his fundamentals fully rebuilt, he just needs to refocus them. Rodgers says he wants to be coached hard? A coach forcing a two-time MVP to work in footwork drills will be some tough coaching indeed.
Rodgers may also want someone who will continue to allow him to improvise at will, which is part of the magic that has defined his career up until this point. Before 2018 (or maybe even as far back as 2015), when plays would breakdown there was no more gifted magician than Rodgers who could somehow pull a rabbit out of a hat that was on fire and had a hole in it.
What he really needs in this case however is a coach who will actually put him on a metaphorical leash. Rodgers must be forced to operate within the structure of the offense, something McCarthy was either unwilling or unable to do. Rodgers can still improvise but only when needed. The new coach must rewire the quarterback’s brain to take the easy throw rather than consistently look for the big play.
Perhaps what Rodgers needs more than anything is some tough love. Even in the lost season of 2018, he was still making throws that are utterly insane which is why so many think his struggles this season are mostly mental. Throw in some Cutler-like body language and something clearly is/was eating at Rodgers’ psyche.
Maybe getting rid of McCarthy and bringing in a new head coach will be enough to fix that. We won’t know the answer to that until September. There was enough tension between Rodgers and McCarthy that the relationship deteriorated into a battle of egos according to Sports Illustrated so the next coach will have to find a way to be a partner to Rodgers while still maintaining a proper chain of command.
If the Packers play their cards right, this next coach will be final head coach Rodgers plays under in his career. That individual will have the job of extracting every ounce of talent Rodgers has left while also preparing the quarterback and team for his inevitable physical decline and eventual retirement.
So which candidates would be up for this kind of task? Josh McDaniels should come to the forefront. He's managed an aging Tom Brady for years and if Rodgers wants to follow in the Patriots star's footsteps and play into his forties, McDaniels could be the guy. He's also handled an occasionally over emotional Brady with aplomb.
Could a college coach command similar treatment? It's a tougher sell but playing in an offense like Lincoln Riley's or even Kliff Kingsbury's could be enough to snap Rodgers back into shape fundamental-wise.
Regardless of the person ultimately hired, could history be repeating itself and the next Packers head coach will again be responsible for transitioning the team from a generational quarterback to a young heir apparent?
It’s possible but Rodgers is going to have accept and get through to his occasionally stubborn mind that he’s going to have to step out of his comfort zone a bit and listen to some things he may not want to hear but are what he needs to hear.
The sooner the Packers get Rodgers back on track the sooner they can return to the league’s elite.
If that happens, then this likely will be the last January without Packers playoff football for at least the next several years.