Now that Mike McCarthy has been fricasseed from coast to coast, and gotten fired by the Packers with a quarter-season to go, I’d like to take a moment to praise McCarthy’s accomplishments in his 12.75 seasons as coach of one of America’s teams. Did he win enough? Probably not, particularly with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as his quarterbacks. But he won a lot, and he continued the Packer rebirth that Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren (and Favre and Reggie White) began 27 years ago.
• McCarthy won 135 games, averaging 10.4 wins per season, and stands 25th on the all-time NFL wins list (playoffs included). He is nestled between Hall of Famers Hank Stram with 136 and Weeb Ewbank with 134—though admittedly they coached in mostly 12-game seasons, not the 16 of McCarthy’s era.
• No coach other than Bill Belichick has won more than McCarthy’s six division titles since 2006. (Mike Tomlin also has six, and could win a seventh this year.)
• McCarthy’s teams were 35-16-2 against the Packers’ two arch-rivals, Chicago and Minnesota.
• As a third-year, 44-year-old head coach in 2008, he navigated (along with GM Ted Thompson) the ugly and rocky transition from a legendary quarterback who wanted his job back, Brett Favre, to the unproven Aaron Rodgers. I remember his stolid voice over the phone on the crucial weekend when McCarthy and Thompson decided to move on to Rodgers: “This is the way it’s going to be.” Like, next question.
• Curly Lambeau, part of the founding of the Packers almost a century ago, coached the team for the first 29 years of the franchise. In the 69 seasons since 1950, Green Bay has had 15 coaches. McCarthy’s tenure, 12-and-three-quarters years, is the longest of any coach since Lambeau.
Last Wednesday, the Packers wisely let McCarthy return, three days after a firing he did not expect, to address the team. “We’ve got a guest coming in today,” interim coach Joe Philbin told the players at the morning meeting. In strode McCarthy, who got a standing ovation. “It was very emotional,” said left tackle David Bakhtiari. “He brought it all back to Green Bay—the community, the organization, what a privilege it was for us all to be here, and the great opportunity we had here. It was deep. Walking out of that meeting, I thought it was great closure for the team, and for him.”
Bakhtiari on McCarthy’s legacy: “Sustaining success in the NFL is very hard, month to month, season to season. His ability to coach, his ability to lead, his character, is what I’ll remember. I was fortunate to play for him for six seasons. He treated the players so well. Every year, either in training camp or minicamp, he’d break up the monotony and bring the whole team to his farm, his house. We’d have the McCarthy Olympics. That was a great day of team-building.”
I’ve been bothered by the rush to either discredit McCarthy for not winning enough with Rodgers, or by the tendency to jump on Rodgers for whatever part he played in McCarthy’s firing. I don’t like either (although I have said I think McCarthy could have and should have been more imaginative in his game plans and play-calling). The team had gotten stale. Was it McCarthy’s fault? Should Rodgers have been more aggressive, or could he have done more? You could see Rodgers wasn’t himself, for whatever reasons, this year; he’s good at keeping private things private, so I can’t answer the question. But the storyline of Rodgers got McCarthy whacked, I believe, is dangerous and unfounded.
“Things have been a little tainted in the media,” Bakhtiari said. “Through my experience with both of them, they’re both strong guys. You’re going to have differences of opinion. But I don’t see the things between them that people on the outside are focusing on. I guess it grabs headlines; so be it. I can just tell you how many times I’d see them with chuckles and grins, walking out after a private meeting.”