I’m pretty sure Mark Murphy didn’t wake up Sunday morning expecting to fire Mike McCarthy before day’s end. But after witnessing the embarrassing, putrid performance by the Packers at Lambeau Field against one of the worst teams in the NFL, he realized the marriage must end. McCarthy and Rodgers were no longer able to coexist. And so he delivered a birthday present to his QB on his 35th birthday.
There will be much debate whether the timing was right, or whether McCarthy’s resume had earned him the opportunity to finish out the season. While I was a bit surprised by the swiftness of the axe, I have no issue with the decision to cut ties following Sunday’s debacle. It’s clear the team is in disarray and needs a new voice to lead the way.
While McCarthy was no doubt stunned to be the first Packer coach to be fired during the season and just the third Super Bowl winning coach to suffer that fate, he’ll get past the embarrassment quickly and will likely be patrolling another sideline next season. The smart money says that will be in Cleveland, where the front office is littered with former Packer executives who have to be drooling at the prospect of pairing McCarthy with their young franchise quarterback.
McCarthy will land on his feet, but will the Packers? Green Bay is a heritage brand in the NFL, a job coveted by many coaches because it lacks a meddlesome owner, drips with tradition and has a Hall of Fame quarterback on the roster. But that 35 year old QB isn’t easy to harness and the ability to work with and coax the best out of him will be the number one priority for McCarthy’s successor.
Back to McCarthy for a moment for a bit of an appreciation. I was among the hordes of Packer fans who were mystified by his hiring 13 years ago. His resume was underwhelming and there were hotter names out there at the time, like Sean Payton and gulp, Brad Childress. But he must be credited for helping Rodgers develop into the stud that he is and he ended up coaching this team for longer than anyone else. His 10-8 playoff record is certainly not horrible, but would have been better, if not for some crazy late game and overtime antics that he couldn’t control. He gets pounded for ‘only’ winning one Super Bowl, but got to three other title games and we all know he should’ve won the won in Seattle.
He helped guide the Pack to nine straight postseason appearances and dominated the NFC North for the majority of his tenure. Someday his name will join the other greats inside Lambeau Field and the street named after him is a testament to his legacy.
But there’s no question it was time to move on and now Murphy is tasked with a huge decision. Who is the best man to lead Rodgers in the twilight of his career? Will Mike Pettine be kept around as DC, or will the new coach be permitted to shape the entire staff?
I hope Pettine is retained–I think he is a terrific defensive mind that has overachieved with an overall lack of talent, specifically at linebacker and safety. The new Packer coach will be offensive minded and there are two schools of thought on the direction they will go. Either find an accomplished, veteran coach (Bruce Arians, Jim or John Harbaugh) or follow the trend to bring in a bright young mind, maybe from the college ranks (Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley is the current flavor of the month, but he’s only three months older than Rodgers–that could be an issue).
The general consensus is that there is not a deep pool of available coaching talent out there right now. Murphy will have time now to get a jump on the other teams that will likely be in the market for a new head coach: the Packers’ vacancy will likely be among the most coveted for all the reasons outlined above.
I would not dismiss the notion of handing the reins to Pettine, to follow in the footsteps of Bill Belichick who also failed as a head coach in Cleveland, before getting a second chance. They could then bring in a bright young offensive mind like Kliff Kingsbury to overhaul the offense. There is likely zero chance of this happening, but it’s something I would consider.
Bottom line, with about five years left with Aaron Rodgers, the Packers must find the perfect guy to get him back to playing at an MVP level. Mark Murphy is now officially on the clock.