As he embarks on his 10th season as the Green Bay Packers’ head coach, there’s not much Mike McCarthy hasn’t accomplished.
Not only has he won a Super Bowl, but he’s raised the bar to a level where expectations are exceedingly high. With one world championship followed by four consecutive NFC North titles, with three appearances in the NFC Championship Game and six consecutive playoff berths, winning isn’t everything. But the overriding expectation is that McCarthy, each and every year, should add a 14th championship to Titletown.
It’s no different this year.
“I don’t even know how you measure that,” McCarthy said of the pressure he feels. “Personally, I don’t really pay that much attention to it. I just try to focus on the team. Between my family and the team, I don’t really have much time else to worry about what other people think.”
One day before the start of training camp, McCarthy looked much cooler than anyone should while wearing a sweatshirt on an 85 degree day. It helps that the only thing warming making his seat hot is the late July sun. McCarthy isn’t going anywhere. Did the Packers blow it at Seattle? Of course. Should McCarthy get some of the blame? Sure. But how many teams would kill to be in the Packers’ position as a perennial contender? Yes, he’s been blessed with having Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as his quarterbacks, but perhaps the coach should get at least a little credit. In 2005, the year before McCarthy arrived on the scene, Favre threw 29 interceptions — no one’s thrown more over the past 26 seasons — and Rodgers was a first-round pick with a funky carriage. Two years later, Favre was MVP runner-up. Four years after that, Rodgers won the first of his two MVPs.
With talented arms to run his offense, McCarthy has won. A lot. Including postseason, he has 101 victories to his credit. He reached No. 100 in his 155th game — fastest among current coaches, with Andy Reid in No. 165 and Bill Belichick in No. 172. Among the league’s 32 coaches, only Belichick (New England, 2000), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati, 2003) and Tom Coughlin (N.Y. Giants, 2004) have been with their team longer. For perspective, almost half of the coaches — 14 — are in their first or second year with their teams. Another five are entering their third season.
While Mike Holmgren sought greater challenges and authority, McCarthy is ready and raring to go.
“Heck, yeah,” he said. “I mean, God, how do you not get excited about coaching football and coaching football in Green Bay, Wisconsin? It’s very exciting. I enjoy coming to work here each and every day. I can’t tell you that enough. This place is about the people. Everybody wants to talk about the resources, the facilities, the tradition and the history, but our people are second to none and that’s how you win. Our people are winners through every department. I love being here. I love being part of it. It’s an honor to be in front of the team and leading the charge. But yeah, I’m excited today as I’ve ever been.”
Whether it works or not, McCarthy deserves credit for his willingness to change. The big change is the latest change — McCarthy’s decision to turn the play-calling over to offensive coordinator Tom Clements. It’s not like the offense was broken: The Packers have finished in the top 10 in scoring in each of the past eight seasons, including a league-high and franchise-record 560 points in 2011 and a league-high 486 points in 2014. Even now, McCarthy’s new duties remain a work in progress.
“I’m going to build off some of the things I did in the spring,” he said. “I want to spend more time in the area of analytics than I have in the past. My job responsibilities are not written or distinctly laid out yet. I’m still working through the schedule of where I’m going to be every single day, and really I’m going to let training camp define it. I’m going to continue to learn from the people I trust in the industry.”
Analytics is new territory for McCarthy. He said he heard his mentor, former Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer, “ringing in my head” about making “sure you are who you think you are.” It’s all about the bigger-picture approach that he hopes can help him reach the sky-high expectations for this year’s club.
However, McCarthy also has the small picture in mind. It’s about taking 88 guys and creating a 53-man team that’s ready to grow and gel into a championship team. That started during the offseason practices but really gets rolling with the start of training camp on Thursday.
“Really, I want to see the team start to make the grind to come together,” he said. “It never looks the way it's supposed to in the beginning. You've got to have the expectations high and what you're trying to get done in the amount of workload and things like that. Make sure the team stacks success and progresses through training camp. The thing that excites me the most is improvement, whether it's individual, group, team, because every training camp gives you a really good look at how you're going to start the season.
“Sometimes it's not a surprise when you start the season a certain way and have some challenges. If you look hard and pay close attention to it, it usually is right there in training camp. So, we've got a lot of things to answer — No. 1, with the roster, but we need to formulate our schemes, our identity and growth through training camp. The improvement process is what really gets me excited.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.