The new place isn’t so much an addition as it is a full-fledged second building.
The new construction on Mike McCarthy’s lot in suburban Green Bay doesn’t just provide more garage space, an indoor basketball court for the kids and an art studio for wife Jessica. It also says that the Green Bay Packers head coach plans on sticking around for a while.
Quite a long while.
If the 48-year-old McCarthy, who enters his seventh season as Packers coach with a career record of 68-36 (including 5-3 in postseason play), has his way, he’ll be coaching the Packers into his 60s.
“That’d be great,” McCarthy said, leaning back in a leather chair in his office last week and smiling at the thought. “Absolutely.”
In the NFL, the saying goes, you’re hired to be fired. In the Packers’ case, some coaches were; others left for what they thought were better opportunities. As the NFL begins its 93rd season, Philadelphia’s Andy Reid (a former Packers assistant) is kicking off his 14th season coaching the Eagles, under a win-or-else edict from owner Jeffrey Lurie. Most coaches don’t last half as long as Reid has in the City of Brotherly Love.
The last guy to lead the Packers to a championship, Mike Holmgren, only lasted seven seasons before his wanderlust and desire for the dual head coach/general manager job led him to Seattle in 1999. The legendary Vince Lombardi held the job for nine seasons before turning the coaching duties over to loyal assistant Phil Bengston – and then leaving to coach the Washington Redskins. And Bart Starr, who quarterbacked those unforgettable Lombardi championship teams, lasted nine years as coach despite a 52-76-3 ledger and had only one playoff appearance (in a strike-shortened 1982 season) to show for it.
Even McCarthy’s immediate predecessor, Mike Sherman, had a terrific five-year run as coach (including four years as general manager) before being stripped of the GM job after the 2004 season and finding himself out of a job after a 4-12 finish in 2005, when GM Ted Thompson took over. Like McCarthy, Sherman wanted the Packers job to be his last. Instead, it may simply turn out to be his last NFL head-coaching job. (He’s currently the offensive coordinator for ex-Packers assistant Joe Philbin in Miami.)
But with an MVP quarterback in his prime, a roster stocked with talent and no interest in total power over a football operation, the stage is set for McCarthy to get his wish. He could be overseeing his second championship team in 2012, and while he may not stick around as Curly Lambeau, the franchise’s first coach from 1921 through 1949, did, he certainly looks poised to do this for as long as he desires.
In a 26-minute interview in advance of Sunday’s regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field, McCarthy discussed the importance of handling success, adjusting to teams who spent all offseason trying to figure out ways to slow the Packers’ juggernaut offense, and how he goes about fixing what ails his team.
Q: Wisconsin: We’ve talked about this before, but one of the most interesting things you’ve ever said was when you got this job and told everyone that the biggest challenge your program would face would be handling success – as you took over a 4-12 outfit. How did you think your guys handled the success of winning Super Bowl XLV, and how do you think they’ll handle the difficult mix of success from last season of going 15-1 with the failure of losing in the NFC Divisional Playoffs to the New York Giants?
McCarthy: There’s only two categories – success and failure. Definitely the 15-1 regular season would go down as an experience of having success. And how you handle regular-season success is important, because I like to think as we sit here and talk that we’ll be talking about 15-1 regular seasons every year. But that’s probably not reality. And the ability to learn from that successful season is to really take the components that you feel you can carry forward. There’s a lot of lessons to be learned in a very successful season like that. First, the fast start. What defines a fast start? What are the attributes of a fast start? Those are the things you try to continue to coach and train. And players can adhere to that, but at the end of the day, they have to go out and perform. There’s a lot to take out of the 15-1 regular-season record because there’s a lot of things that we learned about ourselves throughout the season and hopefully we can educate and apply that to the new members of our team and it’ll have a positive effect in the regular season.
At the same time, you have to look at the postseason, the loss, and it was a failure. I think we have answered those questions respectfully too much, and I think we’re in tune with why we feel we weren’t successful. And God willing, we’ll apply those lessons to this postseason.
Q: You’ve spoken at different times about how you’re going to do some different things with your offense. Without tipping off the 49ers, can you explain in general terms what that means? I know the no-huddle offense is part of your plan, but that was something you did a fair amount of last year, too.
McCarthy: I think we had 250-plus snaps of no-huddle last year, so I thought it was an effective situational offense for us. But other than that, I do believe the preparation for the first game is unique, and I talk about this it seems every year, but I’d like to keep it to that. It may take a few weeks for that uniqueness or our new ideas to come forward. The flow of the game dictates that. We’re not going to come out in some new formation that no one’s ever seen before in the game of football. It’s important to try to change year-in and year-out. Because I think a) you can’t stay the same and b) trying utilize your people the same way every day is probably not in your best interest because I do feel teams do a good job in the offseason of studying you and trying to take away your main concepts and things you do best. And we’ve got to protect against that.
Q: Having done this as long as you have, in your experience, is that the greatest challenge in coaching? Is there a fine line between anticipating how people are going to attack you because of your success and saying, “We do what we do,” and not overcompensating?
McCarthy: To me, that’s the excitement of being a coach, especially the head coach. I mean, you don’t have the individual room anymore. To me, the essence of being a successful football coach is going into the team meeting room, breaking up into groups and then breaking it down to the individual room and taking those individuals that you’re solely responsible for and helping them grow as professional football players. That’s something that I think every head coach misses. So with that, still being involved in the offense, the game-plan meetings are my favorite part of the week. Outside of Sundays, because there’s nothing like Sundays. But the practice field and the game-plan meetings are the things I really enjoy. That’s really part of the excitement of every year – going through the offseason, being honest in your evaluations, and trying to get better through scheme. And the other part of it is challenging the Aaron Rodgerses and Greg Jenningses and the Donald Drivers, these veteran players, challenging each of those guys to be better. The best way of doing that is to continue to try to put them in the best position as possible.
Q: It seems to me, the football coach stereotype is a control freak …
Q: You don’t think so? It sure seemed to me that Mike Holmgren and Mike Sherman, for example, wanted to control everything that happened – or at least try to exert control on as much as they could, so they felt like they were doing everything necessary to win. Does doing the no-huddle require you as a coach to kind of set that component of your personality – and maybe some ego – aside, to allow your quarterback to do as much as he will do?
McCarthy: I don’t know. I never thought of it that way. I think it’s more a reflection of a coach and a player’s relationship growing, and the strength and trust of a relationship being evident. I always felt like you have to have that with your quarterback. That’s my background. But more importantly, it’s playing to a strength. I think Tom Clements and Ben McAdoo do an outstanding job of training our quarterbacks. And it’s the whole room. That’s a room that I think you definitely have to rely on. To me, you talk about pressure points and stress points in your football team, and when things get heavy, where do you lean? I want to lean on the quarterback. I’ve told him (Rodgers) that from Day 1. I said it when I was an offensive coordinator, too: When push comes to shove, I believe in the quarterback.
Now, he may run the ball – that doesn’t mean he’s going to throw the ball every play. But I believe in building the offense around making the quarterback successful. I learned it from Paul Hackett in 1989 and I’ve believed it ever since. I have no reason not to.
Q: What does Aaron Rodgers do for an encore? How does he follow up that kind of success? And how do you and Tom and a guy who was the tight ends coach last year challenge the reigning NFL MVP?
McCarthy: Aaron understands that yesterday doesn’t guarantee today. I mean, not only am I so impressed by what he does as a football player, but it’s been really neat to watch him grow as a person. Some of the conversations that we have, the non-football/life conversations, he’s a very deep, spiritual, intelligent, well-schooled, experienced young man. Now I lost my train of thought.
Q: How do you challenge that deep, spiritual, young man?
McCarthy: The challenging of him is really tapping into his strengths and you know when you put a new scheme in, he’s going to go, “I see why you’re doing that.” And it’s probably part of a conversation that happened in a practice (ages ago), and it’s probably a product of the relationships he has on the coaching staff and with everybody, even the defensive staff. He does a great job of talking football and life with those guys. I mean, the guy is truly intertwined in our organization but more importantly intertwined with his teammates and this coaching staff. That’s huge. That is so important. I think it’s a big part of our success and his success.