There's More to Coaching Than Coaching

And that's what Mike McCarthy proved in leading this bruised-and-battered team to its fourth Super Bowl prize. McCarthy did it by disciplining his ego and allowing more people more of a say. Ted Thompson and Aaron Rodgers help explain.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson is called the "Zen Master" for mixing Zen Buddhism into his basketball teachings.

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, a devout Catholic, couldn't be any further removed from that line of thinking. Still, these coaches have won championships by going much deeper than authoring winning game plans and making in-game adjustments.

"I liked him as a person," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said, thinking back to his decision to hire McCarthy in January 2006. "I thought he had a lot of grit – I just saw that movie ("True Grit") not too long ago. I wasn't hiring an X's and O's guy. I think there's a lot of people that can do that. I was hiring a man. I think he's a good man. You have to know what buttons to push on different players. You have to understand people well. I thought all along that he'd be good at that, and he has been."

McCarthy took his coaching to new heights in leading the battered-and-bruised Packers to their first world championship in 14 years. He prodded a lineup filled with backups and additions into believing they were Pro Bowl-caliber players. He thrust players into leadership roles. He used just the right touch in pushing the players' motivational buttons, from his now-famous Saturday night ring-sizing to showing "Hoosiers" to drive home the point that the Super Bowl was just another game and the dynasty-in-the-making Pittsburgh Steelers were just another opponent.

Not that McCarthy doesn't know his X's and O's. His array of formations and personnel groupings and his offense's up-tempo approach drive defensive coordinators crazy. But the "good man" that Thompson hired rubbed off on a roster that, let's face it, should have been watching the playoffs rather than storming through them.

"He's an honest man," Thompson said. "The one thing you have to be with players is you have to be honest. If you ever lie to them, it's over. I know that from being a player. Mike's very honest. Sometimes, it doesn't necessarily make them feel good. If they had a bad practice or something's amiss, but he stays on top of things and his staff does a good job. He's a good coach."

Maybe the most important thing McCarthy did in the playoffs was the thing he stopped doing. Worried there wasn't enough on-the-field leadership to get through the tough parts of games, McCarthy told his six playoff captains to pick one player to give the pregame prayer (Aaron Rodgers) and another player to give the final pregame speech (Charles Woodson). By making the players a bigger part of things – as well as the assistant coaches, one of whom speaks to the team every Friday – McCarthy nurtured a team that was able to fight and win together.

"Everybody has an ego. We all have egos," McCarthy told a couple reporters on the Monday after the game. "You guys wouldn't be successful in your business if you didn't have an ego, but the ability to discipline your ego is the most important. I've learned that more and more as I've done this job. That's why I let a player address the football team before the Super Bowl. I mean, who has really done that? I'm not trying to (brag), but I believe in developing leadership. The football team responds to that."

It's something Rodgers noticed and appreciated.

"Mike doesn't like to hear this, but he is a player's coach," Rodgers said the day after the game. "He thinks there's a negative connotation there. To me, it means he allows for input from his guys on a number of different levels. Obviously, he has final say, but he allows his staff to coach, he allows the players to have input. I think that's his greatest quality is he allows input in the schedule, input in the way we do things, and I think he's really set up a schedule, a team, a program that allows his players to be successful and his coaches to coach. And he's assembled an incredible staff and a lot of high-character guys. I have to give credit to Ted (Thompson) and Mike on putting this team together, but also to Mike for allowing his coaches to coach and his players to play."

All of that came into play in those dark days after back-to-back losses to Washington and Miami sent the Packers to 3-3, and again after the losses to Detroit and New England sent the Packers to the precipice of elimination at 8-6.

McCarthy preaches what he calls "real confidence." Signs with those two words are posted around the locker room at various points throughout the year. This team exuded those words while overcoming a league-high number of injuries to win six consecutive games, including the Super Bowl. McCarthy sure coached that way. Think back to the New England game, when he pushed the pedal to the metal even with Rodgers sidelined.

"I'm sure there was a player or two that at times … it got to be a little bit of, ‘Here we go again,'" McCarthy said. "We had a little bit of that with the injuries and a couple of those tough losses. They work hard. This group's always been a hard-working group. The kind of high-character individuals, like Aaron, who really blossomed as a leader. Guys like him and Charles make my life easier."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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