Former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh once reportedly hypothesized that NFL coaches have a ten year shelf life. After that, it’s time to move on.
It’s very possible that Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy is proving Walsh to be correct. His expiration date may have been reached.
Before you tell me that McCarthy is an excellent head coach and that there are very few out there, let me say this: I agree with you. McCarthy is a terrific NFL head coach and would be gobbled up by another team within minutes of his firing or resignation. McCarthy is still very capable of coaching at a high level, but maybe just not with the Packers.
Is there some mythical time limit on coaches that makes him ineffective suddenly? No. But there are factors that point to coaches who stay too long becoming unable to inspire a team. Let’s look at some of those factors with this current Packers team.
Relationships With Veteran Players
As a coach’s tenure becomes longer, the challenges become different. Established veterans become more comfortable and more willing to challenge the coach’s authority. This has certainly happened recently in Green Bay. After the NFC Championship Game debacle, McCarthy made a change that was very uncharacteristic for him. He gave up play-calling duties.
The impetus for this move may have been Rodgers’ displeasure with how the NFC Championship Game play calling was handled. Following the game, Rodgers remarked, “We had some chances early, had some chances late to do some things and didn’t do it. When you go back and think about it, at times we weren’t playing as aggressive as we usually are.” Rodgers was clearly not happy with how conservative the play calling was and openly questioned the coaching decisions that, in part, led to the loss in Seattle.
McCarthy replaced himself as playcaller with Tom Clements, who has been on the staff since Rodgers joined the team. He has served as Rodgers’ quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. By all accounts the two are very close. McCarthy himself commented that the relationship between play caller and quarterback is of the utmost importance, “Aaron has an excellent working relationship with Tom. The fit with Aaron is the highest priority.”
Then, just before the Dallas Cowboys game, McCarthy suddenly announced he would resume play-calling duties for the Packers, replacing Clements, and possibly irking Rodgers. After the win over Dallas, Rodgers went out of his way to say that play calling had not made the difference. “I don’t think it’s been about the play-calling. It was about the execution. Today the execution was a little better.”
Not only did Rodgers discount the effectiveness of McCarthy’s play calling, he openly called him out after the loss to the Cardinals, “We didn’t have a ton of guys open. We have to find a way to get guys open schematically with motion and formations.”
So for Rodgers, the win against the Cowboys, when McCarthy resumed play calling, was about execution. The loss to the Cardinals? Scheme.
Rodgers has been more public in his displeasure with McCarthy over the last year. Much of this may stem from the loss to Seattle. But other veteran players have also made comments that make you wonder what the locker room is like right now.
After last week’s loss to the Vikings, Josh Sitton, who had been pressed into duty as a tackle, remarked, “I went out there and did the best I could. I’m not a left tackle. I think I’m a guard. I think I’ve proved I can play pretty decent at guard, but we needed somebody to go in there and play.” Sure, it’s not exactly as if Sitton lambasted the coaching staff for putting him in at left tackle, and this may be nothing. It may also be Sitton challenging the coaching staff on a decision he found questionable.
Regardless of quotes or press conference statements, it seems clear that there is more tension between some of the veteran players and the coaching staff this year than there has been in the past. This very well could be a product of McCarthy’s extended tenure in Green Bay.
The Packers’ recent woes may be as simple as McCarthy’s message failing to resonate. In his tenth year, McCarthy’s motivating tactics may be stale. It’s easy to see how the same message year after year may eventually fall on deaf ears.
It has happened before. A good coach can simply fail to inspire players any more. We need look no further than Andy Reid. With the Philadelphia Eagles, Reid reached the playoffs in nine of his first twelve years as head coach, He took the team to four NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl. Then, in 2008, he went 8-8 before finishing his stint with the Eagles at a woeful 4-12. Maybe the team just wasn’t very talented? The following two years, Chip Kelly took that same team and won ten games each year.
Now, in Kansas City, Reid has gone 9-7 and 11-5 since taking the helm. This year, he has won a majority of those games without the team’s greatest weapon, Jamaal Charles.
It’s very possible that McCarthy has reached Reid-status in Green Bay. He may simply be unable to motivate and his tactics may not work any more. Though the team is 10-6 and in the playoffs, it is difficult to argue that the Packers have not been a disappointment after starting with six straight wins.
There are only a handful of coaches, ever, who have been able to survive past that ten year mark and really remain effective. Mike McCarthy is not Bill Belichick. Belichick has been able to weather the storm and remain in New England in this modern era of coaching turnover. He has been able to do so mainly by adapting. Changing game plans and strategies. Belichick is the exception that proves the rule.
Bill Parcells may be the one coach who understood the need to move on more than any other. By moving on, Parcells may have been able to keep his message fresh. McCarthy’s message may be lost at this point.
Lack of Fresh Blood
Before the start of this season, the Packers announced a huge coaching staff shakeup. /Sarcasm Font/
Tom Clements was named Assistant Head Coach/Offense, Edgar Bennett was named Offensive Coordinator, Alex Van Pelt was promoted to quarterbacks and wide receivers coach, and Mike Solari was named offensive line coach. All but Solari were already on the team. it was more of a shuffling of titles than a coaching shakeup. And this may be part of the problem.
McCarthy has been loyal to a fault for a long time. Dom Capers (yes, I know the defense is performing very well this year) has been retained far longer than many coaches would have been. All of the other coaching moves have been moving the staff between offices and meeting rooms.
Add the fact that Edgar Bennett may have been promoted too soon, and you may have part of the reason for the struggles. This is not to say Bennett was not deserving of a promotion, but he was by all accounts excellent with the wide receivers, a position that is dramatically underperforming.
The Packers rarely bring in new blood, at least at the top. McCarthy may be too comfortable with the staff around him, and this might be leading to his ineffectiveness.
Does Any Of It Matter?
With his past success, proven track record and recent extension, it is highly unlikely that McCarthy is going anywhere. With a ten win playoff team, minus Jordy Nelson, McCarthy’s job is safe. This may actually be bad news for Packers fans. Barring an unexpected playoff run, there will need to be major soul-searching at 1265 Lombardi this offseason. Will it happen? Time will tell and the Packers’ immediate future may depend on it.
Thank you for reading. Chris Kristofco is a lead writer and lead editor at Titletown Sound Off. You can follow him on Twitter @TTSO_Chris. For even more Packers content, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.