clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Packers coaching search: The case for and against the top 5 candidates to replace Mike McCarthy

New, comments

The Packers have many strong options to consider as they search for Mike McCarthy’s replacement, but even the best candidates carry some risk.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Championship-Texas vs Oklahoma Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

After nearly 13 seasons, a 125-77-2 overall record, and a Super Bowl victory, Mike McCarthy saw his illustrious tenure as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers come to an end Sunday mere hours after his team fell 20-17 to the Arizona Cardinals. Though McCarthy likely sealed his fate weeks earlier, losing to one of the worst teams in the NFL apparently proved too ignominious for Packers brass to bear. The team announced the decision to fire their longtime head coach and name offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as the interim replacement in a short press release, formally ending the McCarthy era in Green Bay.

With the season lost and the head coach gone, the Packers will immediately turn their attention to finding McCarthy’s successor. Team president and CEO Mark Murphy gained the power to hire and fire the head coach as part of an organizational restructuring this past offseason and will determine a replacement in concert with general manager Brian Gutekunst. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers will likely also have some influence on the eventual choice.

The Packers have numerous options to consider and many factors to weigh as they reach a decision on McCarthy’s replacement. Though Philbin and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine might receive interviews, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the team will tab someone currently outside the organization as its next head coach. The combination of a two-time MVP quarterback, the franchise’s prestige, and the lack of a traditional owner should make Green Bay a highly attractive destination, creating a wide pool of candidates from which to choose.

Pete Carmichael Jr.

New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator

Background

A member of Sean Payton’s first New Orleans Saints coaching staff, Pete Carmichael Jr. ascended from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator within a few years. He held that position in 2009, the season in which the Saints won their Super Bowl. Carmichael has remained in the same position since and has helped produce some of the best offenses in the NFL.

The case for hiring

The Saints have largely remained dominant offensively during Carmichael’s tenure, evolving with the times and adapting as quarterback Drew Brees has aged. No team in the conference has scored more points this season, and Brees appears on track to finish first or second in MVP voting. That résumé could earn Carmichael some instant respect from Rodgers and pave the way to a fruitful working relationship.

Reasons for concern

Outside of a one-year suspension for Bountygate, Payton has called the offensive plays every season since he arrived in New Orleans. Exactly how much input Carmichael has on the offense remains unclear as a result. Some offensive coordinators such as Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy have become quality head coaches without much or any play-calling experience, but that doesn’t ensure success for Carmichael. Additionally, it seems odd Carmichael hasn’t drawn much head-coaching interest in the decade he has served as a coordinator.

John DeFilippo

Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator

Background

One of the brightest young offensive minds in the league, John DeFilippo has seen his stock skyrocket over the past few years. After a number of undistinguished stops early in his coaching career, DeFilippo left his mark as the quarterbacks coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, developing Pro Bowl signal-caller Carson Wentz and helping the team win its first Super Bowl in franchise history. That work helped DeFilippo land a few head-coaching interviews last offseason and, eventually, his current job as the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator.

The case for hiring

At a time when play action and offensive misdirection have taken over the NFL, DeFilippo deploys those concepts liberally in his play-calling. He also has a preexisting relationship with Packers defensive coordinator Pettine, something that could allow the team to build on the progress on that side of the ball rather than tear it down. Additionally, Rodgers has often commented on how he values coaches who have played the quarterback position. DeFilippo did so through college and has worked with signal-callers since his earliest days as an assistant.

Reasons for concern

While the Vikings offense has shown a high ceiling under DeFilippo, the bottom has also fallen out in recent weeks. Much of that relates directly to the season-long deterioration of Minnesota’s offensive line, but DeFilippo rightfully deserves a share of the blame. Perhaps he will open up his offense more once freed from conservative head coach Mike Zimmer, but DeFilippo might simply lack flair as a play-caller.

Pat Fitzgerald

Northwestern Wildcats head coach

Background

The head coach of Northwestern football for the past 13 seasons, Pat Fitzgerald has taken the program to new heights despite considerable challenges and academic restrictions. Fitzgerald’s programs regularly overachieve and have produced more NFL talent than many realize, including current Packers fullback Danny Vitale. Fitzgerald has turned down overtures from bigger jobs for years, but a shot at the NFL could prove too enticing to decline.

The case for hiring

Fitzgerald has a preexisting relationship with Murphy, the man in charge of hiring the team’s next head coach. That could pull the coveted headman out of Evanston, something many others have tried and failed to do in past years. Fitzgerald has an established track record as a talent developer and could potentially squeeze more out of Green Bay’s young players than the previous regime.

Reasons for concern

For all of Fitzgerald’s strengths, his teams have never run anything approximating an innovative or explosive offense. That might turn off Rodgers and doom Fitzgerald from the start. Perhaps hiring an exciting coordinator could negate some of that concern, but any good offensive play-caller will leave for a head-coaching job of his own in short order.

Josh McDaniels

New England Patriots offensive coordinator

Background

One of the most respected football minds in the NFL, Josh McDaniels deserves a considerable share of the credit for the New England Patriots’ success during both of his stints as offensive coordinator. McDaniels has called plays in four Super Bowls and won two championships, including the Patriots’ now legendary 25-point comeback in Super Bowl LI. He has coached Tom Brady in some capacity for the majority of the future Hall of Famer’s career.

The case for hiring

The Patriots haven’t run one particular offense under McDaniels. Rather, they have transitioned between approaches and concepts as the personnel and situation have dictated. And despite the changes, New England has never ranked lower than 7th in offensive DVOA with McDaniels calling plays and has finished first or second in that metric four times. That includes 2008 when Brady effectively missed the entire season with a torn ACL. McDaniels has built great offenses with less than what the Packers currently have.

Reasons for concern

McDaniels had a famously rocky tenure as head coach of the Denver Broncos, going 11-17 before the team fired him with four games remaining in the season. Even after rehabilitating his reputation with another strong run as Patriots offensive coordinator, McDaniels sparked another firestorm when he reneged on an agreement to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Any team interested in McDaniels has to weigh those risks and his apparently prickly personality against the considerable offensive expertise he offers.

Lincoln Riley

Oklahoma Sooners head coach

Background

Perhaps the hottest coaching name at any level, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley has enjoyed a meteoric three-year rise that saw him transform from an anonymous assistant at East Carolina to playoff-bound head coach. A disciple of legendary air-raid coach Mike Leach, Lincoln Riley developed into one of the most inventive and flexible offensive scheme designers and play-callers in the game.

The case for hiring

Riley has shown he can adapt his tactics to his personnel. At East Carolina, Riley ran a wide-open, quick-passing attack to overcome the program’s talent deficiencies at the skill positions. When he arrived in Oklahoma, he inherited a deep backfield with a bevy of smaller wideouts. Rather than make the players conform to his offensive preferences, Riley adjusted to them. In doing so, he created the most efficient offense in all of college football. And while the NFL has historically kept its distance from like-minded coaches, elements of Riley’s scheme have taken over the league this season as exemplified by the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs.

Reasons for concern

The Packers need to make sure their next head coach can command Rodgers’ respect and coach the star quarterback hard when necessary. Riley, not even three months older than the Green Bay signal-caller, might seem more like a peer than a superior in Rodgers’ eyes. Furthermore, Riley can realistically land any job he wants, and the possibility remains that he will simply leverage the outside interest into a lucrative extension at Oklahoma. Even if Riley does decide to leave Norman, teams such as the Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, and numerous blue-chip college programs could and likely will outbid a hypothetical Green Bay offer.