Even At 8-0, McCarthy Not Getting His Due

Despite leading his team to an almost unprecedented record as the defending Super Bowl champion, Mike McCarthy remains largely overlooked by many in national circles. Our Matt Tevsh offers a perspective why.

On a national scale, Mike McCarthy might be the Rodney Dangerfield of head coaches in the NFL – he gets no respect.

Browse the Internet sites of major sports publications or listen to the major networks go over their midseason awards, and there is little to no talk of McCarthy for Coach of the Year.

Instead, the debate most often includes the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh, the Bengals' Marvin Lewis and the Lions' Jim Schwartz.

With all due respect to what those three coaches have accomplished this year, nothing can compare to what McCarthy has done with the Green Bay Packers.

In his sixth season in Green Bay, he has put himself in a class above all others. His 8-0 mark is the best in the league and the Packers are the clear favorite to win a second straight Super Bowl.

The pressure of being at the top of the mountain as opposed to climbing it can be immense, yet it has hardly affected McCarthy and his team. In fact, the pressure of being in that spot has made them even better, despite some issues on defense.

Combine this season's run with last season's close-out run to a Super Bowl, and the Packers are in the midst of the greatest stretch in franchise history. Not Curly Lambeau or Vince Lombardi, nor Mike Holmgren more recently, was able to reach these heights – that is, 14 wins in a row.

But the NFL's most notable Coach of the Year award – voted on by the Associated Press – has always leaned toward coaches who have led their teams to surprise or turnaround seasons. Such is the case with Harbaugh, Lewis and Schwartz, all who have their teams contending for playoff spots after posting losing records in 2010.

There is even precedent in Packers annals for this theory. Lindy Infante in 1989 and Lombardi in 1959 took home the AP's top award after dramatic turnaround seasons. The 1989 Packers went 10-6 after going 4-12 the season before, and the 1959 Packers went 7-5 after posting a franchise worst 1-10-1 mark in 1958 under Ray "Scooter" McLean.

Dan Devine in 1972 was the only other Packers coach to be given a Coach of the Year honor by a major publication (McCarthy won two awards – one by the NFL Alumni and another by Motorola after the 2007 season). The United Press International and Pro Football Writers of America recognized Devine's 10-4 mark after going 4-8-2 the season before.

Dramatic turnarounds with the current structure of the NFL are more common and much less difficult to pull off than they were decades ago. Free agency, parity and more rookie contributors have helped changed the landscape. Going from worst to first is more possible now than ever.

What McCarthy is doing this year, however, has become much tougher. Following up a great season with another great season takes uncommon focus and shrewd management.

No Super Bowl champion has posted an 8-0 mark since 1998 (when the Broncos went 13-0) and just one other team in history – the 1990 49ers (10-0) - has accomplished as much.

Neither of the coaches for those teams – Mike Shanahan of the Broncos and George Siefert of the 49ers – won the AP's top coaching award. So, as awards go, McCarthy will be fighting an uphill battle with this voting brass.

But McCarthy probably gives as much thought to winning Coach of the Year as he does about the last game. He is only focused on the task at hand. His best coaching traits and work really show up in-house and not in the news.

McCarthy is consistent in his approach, knows how to delegate, and is up front with and well-respected by his players. No other coach in the league spends as much time as McCarthy on "rest and recovery" schedules and if there might be an impending problem, he handles it man-to-man.

Take, for example, some early-season issues of ball distribution on offense that popped up when wide receiver James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley made some candid comments to the media about their roles. What could have been a potential distraction turned out to be nothing more than a one- or two-day story. McCarthy made sure it stayed that way.

He also has a way of keeping his team together and motivated despite the chances of success going to its head. He gives each week a mini-theme and preaches about "handling success" all the time. And never has that theory been tested more than this year, when, with an immensely talented roster, McCarthy is keeping his team grounded.

Without an ounce of bravado, yet with a clear confidence, McCarthy is at the top of his game. And nobody in the league, despite what the "awards" say, is better.

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com

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