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Inside scoop on why Packers, Broncos, Bucs and Cards made coaching hires

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Observations, stories, and some inside stuff on the eight coaching openings that now look filled, with six announced and two more (Brian Flores in Miami, Zac Taylor in Cincinnati) that appear to be done:

Kingsbury’s not apologizing for his past. New Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury, who had a losing record in six seasons at Texas Tech, said “there’s no question defense is an area I have to focus on” after his teams were consistent bottom-feeders in the NCAA on defense. But in hiring former Broncos coach Vance Joseph as his defensive coordinator, Kingsbury will likely have a job situation like Sean McVay with the Rams; McVay allows Wade Phillips to be the de facto head coach of the defense. “The mentorship of Josh Rosen will be extremely important,” Kingsbury said. On his jilting of USC after one month: “That is where I wanted to be. But when this opportunity arose, I took it.” I asked Kingsbury if there’s anything he thinks people should know about him after this stretch of a hire by the Cards. “No, I think I’m good,’’ he said. I get the sense Kingsbury understands why there is widespread skepticism about the hiring of a coach whose teams played exciting football but didn’t win enough, and there’s nothing he can say now to erase that. He’s got to coach Rosen and the offense well, and he’s got to win.

In Tampa, Arians knows the job is to get Jameis Winston to play well. “If Jameis is somewhere between 15 and 20 right now [in performance] among NFL quarterbacks,” GM Jason Licht told me, “is it really absurd to pick up his fifth-year option [at $20.9 million], considering what other quarterbacks make? No.” After being yo-yoed with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Winston will get the same coaching treatment Arians has given Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer in recent years. He’ll be coached hard. Dirk Koetter tried a version of that. Now Arians gets his turn. “I think we can eliminate some of his mistakes and make him play better,” Arians said. “There’s two things with a quarterback. There has to be trust between the coach and the quarterback. You have to be closer to your quarterback than you are to any of your players, because they mean so much to your team. Two, you’ve got to work with them on fundamentals daily. I call it going to the driving range for 25 to 30 minutes every day. That’s how we’ll work with Jameis.” Arians, by the way, said he didn’t expect to return to coaching; he thought he was finished after last year in Arizona. How many times have you heard a coach who walked away say a year later: “I realized how much I missed it?” Ditto Arians.

Elway wanted a traditional coach, and he got it. Not long after arriving at the Broncos practice facility for the first time last Wednesday, late in the day, and before even getting a tour of the place, Vic Fangio went up to his new office, put on Bronco sweats, and started watching tape of his team. That’s who—and what—the Broncos hired. He didn’t politic for the job (“I didn’t ask one person to reach out to John Elway for me,” he said), or for any job over the years; he first was interviewed for a head-coaching job by GM Bobby Beathard in San Diego … in 1997. It’s also amazing to think that Fangio first was a defensive coordinator with the expansion Carolina Panthers in 1995. He reminds me of Arians getting the Cardinals job six years ago—Arians just assumed at his advanced age, he’s never get a shot, and he was bummed by it, but he could live with it. With Elway, Fangio found a guy who was buying what the coach was selling: discipline, unwavering rules for all, and an emphasis on making even the best players better. Fifteen minutes into their interview, Elway said, Fangio’s “death by inches” ethos swayed him. Fangio explained to the Denver media, and then to me. “Death by inches,” he said. “A player is off in the right technique just a little, and you let it go because he’s playing okay. A player’s late for a meeting by 30 seconds. One act. Meaningless. But if you don’t correct it, then two players walk in a minute late the next day. All these things build on each other. It’s death by inches—or, in our business, it’s losses.”

The Packers hope they got a good coach, and a good Aaron Rodgers partner. New coach Matt LaFleur, who has nine years of experience on the staff of Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, spoke to Rodgers as part of his process. “You could hear the passion in his voice,” LaFleur said. “I believe him when he says he wants to be coached, and coached hard.” The year he considers the most significant in his development for this job was 2012 in Washington, when he saw head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan build an offense around the non-traditional skills of Robert Griffin III, and the team went to the playoffs. “That year taught me more about coaching than any other,” he said. “You find out what your players do well, and then you adapt your system to them.” That’s going to be vital in Green Bay, where Mike McCarthy’s system stalled while new offensive coaches around the league became mad scheming scientists. LaFleur is going to have to challenge Rodgers with new play designs, and he’s going to have to do it not only to keep a great quarterback interested. It’s why he was hired, regardless of the quarterback’s resume.

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No, Aaron Rodgers did not get Mike McCarthy fired

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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.”

MORE: Read Peter King’s full Football Morning Morning in America column by clicking here

Sunday Night Football: Steelers favorites against Packers

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The Pittsburgh Steelers have been indomitable in prime time, while the Green Bay Packers were a shaky play in tough road games even when franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers was healthy.

The Steelers and veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are listed as 14-point favorites against the Packers with a 43-point total for the Week 12 Sunday Night Football matchup, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Pittsburgh is 6-0 against the spread in its last six games at night and is also 14-2 straight-up in its last 16 home games as the favorite, according to the OddsShark NFL Database. Green Bay is just 3-8 against the spread in its last 11 November road games.

The Packers are 5-5 SU and 4-6 ATS on the season, which of course includes being 1-4 SU and ATS since the game when Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone. Fill-in quarterback Brett Hundley offers mobility and a strong arm, but is still very raw in his mechanics and pocket awareness, which will likely limit the impact that WR Jordy Nelson, WR Davante Adams and WR Randall Cobb will be able to make against a Steelers pass defense that allows 6.7 yards per attempt, 12th in the NFL.

Pass protection could also be an issue, given that DE Cam Heyward and the Steelers are second in the NFL in sacks while the Packers have allowed the second-most.

Green Bay, which is 2-7 ATS in its last nine road games against teams with winning records, may be drawn down to rookie RB Jamaal Williams with starter Ty Montgomery hobbled.

The Steelers are 8-2 and 6-4 ATS, but the whole has been less than sum of its parts on offense, where they rank 27th in the NFL in yards per rush and have also tossed 10 interceptions. With the Packers having SS Morgan Burnett in the lineup to help with containment, there is a chance Green Bay can keep the scoreline tight, especially if the Steelers remain intent on feeding the ball to Le’Veon Bell instead of trying to force the issue downfield.

In the passing phase, it’s probably just a matter of when WR Antonio Brown will bust loose for some big plays, especially against an opponent that is allowing 7.7 yards per pass (27th in the league).

That said, the Pittsburgh passing game could be affected by the absence of rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (hamstring). Either Eli Rogers or Martavis Bryant would draw in as the No. 2 wideout.

The total has gone over in 13 of Green Bay’s last 17 games, but much of that is attributable to the absent Rodgers. The total has gone under in eight of the Steelers’ last 10 games as a favorite, and given Green Bay’s offensive woes they would likely have to account for a lion’s share of the points for the over to hit on the 43 total.

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.