By the time Mark Murphy and Brian Gutekunst slid Mike McCarthy his pink slip, the traits that had catapulted the Green Bay Packers out of the early 2000’s doldrums appeared all but gone.
The offensive mind that reinvigorated Brett Favre, the technician who refocused an aging Hall of Famer while building up a future one, that coach was no longer patrolling the sidelines at Lambeau. Whether or not that coach still exists inside McCarthy will have to be adjudicated by teams like the Jets and Browns, who are considering making him their next head man.
But McCarthy’s impact was far more robust than an offensive infusion. He set a tone, a culture in Green Bay, one Mike Sherman never quite captured. Mixing a blue collar ideology with the rich history of the Packers requires a delicate balance. They don’t hang division title banners at Lambeau Field. He worked tirelessly to incorporate modern training techniques into the organization, from nutrition to energy monitoring and speed analytics.
At his peak, McCarthy was both a great leader and a great offensive coach, one of the best designers of offense in the league and a top playcaller. Whether he was any of those things by the end doesn’t matter anymore. The Packers have to try to replace both, a task that is proving to be extremely difficult.
Looking at the candidates the Packers will consider, most fall into one of two buckets: offensive mind, or tone-setter. It’s hard to find a coach who can confidently be called both.
Chuck Pagano, Mike Munchak, Dan Campbell, Pat Fitzgerald — these coaches are clearly on the list because of the respect they engender from the players they’ve coached and their ability to lead, to set the tone. Pagano and Fitz bring defensive-minded coaching skillsets, an area where Green Bay could surely stand to improve, but the real draw is re-engaging a locker room lost by McCarthy for myriad reasons.
One the other side are coaches like Jim Caldwell, Josh McDaniels, Matt LaFleur, and Pete Carmichael, men with track records of success architecting elite offense, but none with the kind of demeanor or coaching prowess as the proverbial leader of men. Caldwell is infamous for his near catatonic sideline posture, while LaFleur has essentially no track record as the leader of anything. Carmichael too, while a highly respected coach, has the benefit of Drew Brees and Sean Payton to command the room.
McDaniels has the potential to be the outlier here, potentially one of the reasons he’s so coveted by the Packers. He’s been on the record about his missteps in a brief stint with the Broncos, and the Patriots organization took extraordinary measures to keep him amid a courtship with the Colts last offseason. For whatever character flaws one might see in backing out of a handshake agreement, the Patriots, with the best winning culture in football, saw something so profoundly valuable in McDaniels that they broke unspoken NFL rules and made McDaniels the highest paid coordinator in history to woo him back.
If he can take some of the lessons learned from his time in Denver and apply them to his first-hand experience at the side of Bill Belichick, there’s a chance he can be both the innovative offensive mind and the right cultural tone-setter for this team.
But that’s an awfully big “if.” Perhaps leaders like Tramon Williams, Aaron Rodgers, Mike Daniels and emerging stars like Davante Adams and Jaire Alexander can bring the team forward, pushing it toward a more cohesive unit. Given how many culture leaders dot the Packers’ coaching list however, Mark Murphy and Brian Gutekunst clearly believe more is needed from the head coach.
It can be true that Mike McCarthy’s time in Green Bay had run its course, that his message had grown stale, and that his presence will be difficult to replace. Few coaches in the sport at their best could match McCarthy’s ability to head a team with his offensive prowess with the Packers at their peak. But the Packers are no longer at their peak, and it will take a new voice to get them back. It’s not hard to look at the coaching list and realize just how difficult that task will be.