He will be calling the shots.
McCarthy’s leaving the keys of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive machine in the hands of Tom Clements (the new associate head coach/offense), Edgar Bennett (the new offensive coordinator) and, of course, two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Now, McCarthy will be riding shotgun on defense and special teams. The Packers’ offense has been championship-worthy for the past six seasons. The other phases have not played to that level with any consistency. McCarthy’s hope is his input will elevate those areas.
“I think I have a lot more to offer,” McCarthy told reporters on Thursday. “I’ve enjoyed these last two days going through the cut-ups with the defensive assistants, the staff, giving the offense perspective the whole time. There’s a vision each and every year that you give to your defense, your special teams and your offense. Now to be a lot more directly involved with the implementation of the defensive schemes, the evaluation of those schemes and then obviously the in-season coaching. I’m looking forward to that.”
It’s a decision that’s not without risk. In 2011, the Packers scored 560 points – the most in franchise history and the third-most in NFL history. In 2014, the Packers scored 486 points – the second-most in franchise history and No. 1 in the league. Since 2010, only the Patriots (31.3) have scored more than the Packers’ 28.6 points per game. Thanks to McCarthy and Rodgers – who is No. 1 in NFL history in terms of points per start – the Packers have qualified for the playoffs in six consecutive seasons.
So, say what you want about McCarty’s play-calling, the numbers show he’s pretty good at it.
Will McCarthy’s decision to focus more on defense and special teams be akin to sticking a finger in one hole in the dam, only for the dam to start leaking elsewhere? Perhaps, though his track record is pretty good. A few years ago, McCarthy made the odd decision of putting Bennett, his running backs coach and a former NFL running back, in charge of the receivers and assigning Jerry Fontenot, his assistant offensive line coach and a former NFL center, in charge of the tight ends. Those unorthodox decisions worked out pretty well.
In this case, he is betting that the offensive assistants that he hired and trained are good enough to maintain the offense's level of excellence. That Tom Clements can dial up the right plays. That first-time coordinator Bennett is ready. That Alex Van Pelt can do double duty as quarterbacks and receivers coach. And, of course, that he can be a missing piece to elevate a solid defense and rescue a special teams that kept the team out of the Super Bowl.
McCarthy went all-in on that bet by pulling himself away from one of his passions.
“It’s hard to do,” McCarthy said of giving up play-calling duties. “I mean, Jason (Wahlers, the team’s head of public relations) had to drag me in here today. I didn’t want to come down here to this. I’m going to miss it. I know that. But the way we’re structured, the way our quarterbacks, where they’re at -- Aaron Rodgers is unique -- the way we call the game, it’s a lot different than the way it was called three years ago. I feel very good about where Aaron is and the command. Not only Aaron, but our veteran offensive linemen, our veteran receivers, we’re able to do a lot of things at the line of scrimmage, take advantage of a lot of things, make adjustments on the sidelines. So I feel very good about the mechanics and the opportunity to get better. It will make us all better.”
The Packers need to be about 64 minutes better. Super Bowls, obviously, are incredibly hard to win. Still, that the Packers haven’t added a second championship in the McCarthy-Rodgers era leaves a hollow feeling of what might have been. Or, perhaps, what should have been. In 2011, the Packers flirted with an undefeated record but fell flat in the playoffs in getting hammered by Coughlin’s Giants. In 2012, they were humiliated at San Francisco. In 2013, a team that looked like destiny’s darlings couldn’t beat the 49ers at frozen-to-the-bone Lambeau Field. And the wounds of how the 2014 season ended will remain fresh and painful for months. Or years, if McCarthy’s changes don’t bear fruit.
“The reason to do this is about winning championships. That part never changes,” McCarthy said. “This process that I go through is the same each and every year. This is not the first time I thought about this. I think this is the time to do it. I think our staff’s ready. I think it’s an opportunity for guys to grow. And it’s an opportunity for them to make an impact. I feel we’ll be better offensively from that. I know I have a lot more to offer to our football team.”
For what it’s worth – and maybe it’s pure coincidence – but since McCarthy led the Packers to a Super Bowl victory following the 2010 season and Tom Coughlin led the Giants to the championship the following year, no play-calling head coach has held the Lombardi Trophy. Baltimore’s John Harbaugh (2012), Seattle’s Pete Carroll (2013) and New England’s Bill Belichick (2014) let their coordinators call the shots.
This year’s eight division champions were coached by McCarthy, Carroll, Jason Garrett (Dallas) and Ron Rivera (Carolina) in the NFC and Belichick, Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh), Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis) and John Fox (Denver) in the AFC. Only McCarthy called the plays, though the other head coaches of course had veto power.
Will it work? Who knows, but give McCarthy credit for one thing. Good has never been good enough for him. Just look at how the offense has evolved over the years. He fielded one of the best attacks in the league with a constant shuffling of personnel groupings. Not satisfied, McCarthy implemented a no-huddle attack.
“It’s fun to call plays on Sundays,” McCarthy said. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s probably, of my job responsibilities, it’s something I enjoy more than anything as far as the game. There’s nothing like Sundays. You can’t get what an NFL player or an NFL coach gets on Sunday in another industry, in my opinion. To go out there and compete against the coordinator or who’s across the field is something I’ve taken a lot of pride in, had success in, really enjoyed. But this change and the confidence I have in Tom and Aaron, I feel great about it and we’ll be better for it.”
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