Aaron Rodgers was pissed. There’s really no other way to put it. Annoyed doesn’t quite capture it. Perturbed doesn’t, either.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback was the reigning NFL MVP, coming off a season in which he’d thrown 45 touchdowns against only six interceptions. The year before, he’d led the Packers to the Super Bowl XLV title and been the MVP of that game, too. He was, by all accounts, on top of his game.
And now, arguably the best quarterback in the league was going to have to listen to … the tight ends coach?
Yes, that was how the dominoes fell in February 2012, when offensive coordinator Joe Philbin left to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, longtime quarterbacks coach Tom Clements was promoted to offensive coordinator and head coach Mike McCarthy saw fit to put Ben McAdoo in charge of the quarterbacks.
Then McCarthy went out and hired Alex Van Pelt – a former NFL quarterback, who had coached quarterbacks in Buffalo and Tampa Bay, who fit the exact profile of the position coach Rodgers felt he needed – to be the team’s running backs coach.
So you can see why the quarterback was, well, less than thrilled.
And yet, McAdoo didn’t blink. He didn’t kowtow to the MVP, didn’t worry about whether the most popular kid in school was going to like him or be his BFF.
“I’m going to go about it the way I go about everything else – I’m going to show up, put in an honest, hard day’s work, give him the information he needs and count on him to give me back some information [and] communicate with me. And that’s how we’re going to do it. It’s going to be simple,” McAdoo explained in an interview later that offseason. “Like you learn from Day 1 in any business, you have to communicate. And if there’s not communication, there’s no chance to be successful and build a successful relationship.
“I understood where he was coming from. I’m not defensive about that. I didn’t play the position, I’ve never coached the position. I have something to prove. I’m very capable. I’ve never been the pretty girl in the room. I’ve always had to work for what I have. And I like that.”
On Tuesday night, all that work led the 36-year-old McAdoo to the New York Giants, who hired him as their new offensive coordinator. He replaces Kevin Gilbride, who retired after seven years in that role, and he will now take over an offense that finished the 2013 season ranked 28th in the 32-team NFL yards, 28th in scoring, 29th in rushing and 19th in passing. Quarterback Eli Manning threw an NFL-high and franchise-record 27 interceptions.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who interviewed McAdoo on Monday, called him “the best coach for the job” and described McAdoo as a “very, very meticulous coach” who was greatly influenced by McCarthy, with whom he worked in New Orleans (2004) and San Francisco (2005) before serving as the Packers’ tight ends coach for six years.
“Think about what they overcame this year in Green Bay,” Coughlin told Giants.com, referring to Rodgers’ Nov. 4 broken collarbone and the three other quarterbacks – Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn – who played during the eight games Rodgers spent on the sideline.
“He’s a western Pennsylvania guy who has earned everything and he’s earned it the hard way. He’s a smart guy. He’s done it the right way. He’s not a flashy guy. He’s a smart, intelligent guy to work with. He works very, very hard. He’s got the dirt under his fingernails. He’s my kind of guy. He’s got the blue-collar work ethic.
“Here’s what I expect: I think the players will respond to this. We’re going to try to compromise the system with what we have here. However, there will be change. And that change will be very positive and very well-received by our team and our players. And if our players are scrambling around to learn a new system – good. That’s another fire in their rear end.”
In his interview with McAdoo, who also interviewed for the Cleveland Browns’ head-coaching position and the Miami Dolphins’ offensive coordinator job, Coughlin said he came away “very, very impressed by the presentation that he made, in terms of the fundamental details. Whether it is quarterback fundamentals [or] offensive philosophy, I was just very, very impressed with that.
“Whether he was the tight ends or the quarterbacks coach, he has prepared for this type of an interview for a long time. He comes with two notebooks, all the things he’s put together and thought about and when given the opportunity, wanted to present.”
And that brings us back to those first few weeks and months as Rodgers’ position coach, when the quarterback was sure that McCarthy had made a mistake.
Two years later, as it became clear to Rodgers that McAdoo would be moving on to bigger and better things in the days after the Packers’ season-ending playoff loss to San Francisco, the quarterback sought out McAdoo. He had something to say.
He was wrong.
“I told him this actually. I said, ‘When there was an opening as Joe left and Tom (Clements) moved up, I said I thought having a guy who played the position was right for me at that point,’” Rodgers recounted on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN, 100.5 FM ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com last week. “But I told Ben this: ‘Ultimately, I need and have always needed a guy who gets me prepared every week, that can give me the opportunities to reach my potential.’
“Ben did that every day the last two seasons for me and the other quarterbacks in the room. It was fun to see his personality continue to come out this year as we became closer and he just allowed himself to relax and be comfortable in those rooms. It helped having a great quarterback room with Seneca and Scott and Matt. It was a lot of fun for me and a lot of fun for us, as well.”
Asked what changed about their relationship, Rodgers replied: “Just spending time together. You can’t help but respect Ben the more time you spend with him because he really cares about his job. He spends a lot of time there. He puts a lot of effort into our reminder stuff. He listens when you talk. He asks good questions. He understands the nature of certain conversations that need to stay in the room [and] which need to be filtered up the chain of command. He’s a guy who wants to learn and takes to heart the things I say or the things he hears from Tom [Clements] and tried to become a better quarterbacks coach every day. And he did.
“I think he’s beginning to really understand scheme and preparation and how to install plays. I think he did a great job the last couple years installing the red zone [plays]. You saw him in front of the room every week and every week he got more comfortable and put more into his presentation, and more of his personality came out. There were jokes and an ability to control the room. Obviously, the people who are interested in him for a head-coaching job haven’t seen that, but to me that’s an important quality of a head coach. The ability to control a room with your speech, (or) with humor when necessary. He proved it every day that he was a very prepared coach. And I’m happy for him getting opportunities.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.