Development of Rodgers key with McCarthy

Matt Tevsh gives his opinion on how Packers general manager Ted Thompson's decision to hire Mike McCarthy is critical for the future of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay's ability to get back to the Super Bowl.

Just as general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy are clearly the new face of the Packers' organization, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the most critical player to the team's chances for success in the long-term future. His status on the roster, more than anything, is why McCarthy was chosen on Jan. 12 to lead the Packers.

Thompson did not directly come out and say that Rodgers and his development was the reason he chose McCarthy, but with such a closely contested group of candidates for the Packers' job, McCarthy's apparent quarterback coaching skills separated him from the others.

"I was impressed by the quality of quarterbacks he has worked with and developed," said Thompson.

After an extensive process of contacting, researching, and speaking with seven coaching candidates in nine sleepless days, Thompson appeared relieved on Thursday to have finally decided on McCarthy. He spoke of the difficulty and enormity of making a decision that weighed heavily on him.

"It didn't work exactly like they told me it would work. I'm not sure where it went wrong," Thompson said tongue-in-cheek. "I had some marvelous conversations with seven different people, and after you get through with each guy you're thinking, ‘Boy, that was really good.' Again, I tried to concentrate and focus that I was going to go through the process. I was going to finish going through the guys I knew I wanted to do interviews with. At the end of it, I thought there were several candidates that would make excellent head coaches here. The difficult part for me was finally settling, saying, ‘Okay, this is the right thing.' There were a lot of different qualities, but a lot of these men had the same qualities, too, the same things you look for in a head coach. At the end of the day I think Mike McCarthy is the right guy at the right time."

As close as the other candidates came to becoming head coach in Green Bay, McCarthy had a unique background among them when it came to quarterbacks. He has worked directly with the position for eight years as an assistant coach and has had a level of success with each quarterback that he has worked with, even as an offensive coordinator.

In 1999, McCarthy was the quarterbacks coach with the Packers under Ray Rhodes. Though that season Brett Favre had one of his worst statistically, he also had one of his most dramatic and emotional years, leading several comeback wins while dealing with a painful thumb injury. More importantly, McCarthy developed a relationship with Favre that extended years after McCarthy left Green Bay.

With McCarthy's return to Green Bay six years later, Favre may just get the change he needs, should he decide to return next year, to turn around the worst season of his career.

Still, the move to hire McCarthy ultimately is a sign that Rodgers has as much, if not more influence than any other player as to whether or not the Packers will get back to the Super Bowl in the near future. While Thompson could have broken the mold and gone with a defensive coach or an "old school" coach, he likely realized that getting a young, offensive-minded head coach to continue Rodgers' progress was not just a plus, but a necessity.

Among the young quarterbacks the 42-year old McCarthy has worked with in his 13 years as an assistant coach in the NFL are Matt Hasselbeck, Aaron Brooks, Jake Delhomme, and Alex Smith. He also worked with Alex Van Pelt at the University of Pittsburgh and got him ready to become an NFL player.

McCarthy's most extensive work with any quarterback came with Brooks. As the Saints offensive coordinator from 2000-04, McCarthy made strides with Brooks each year. Brooks' quarterback rating steadily increased as he took over as the full-time starter in New Orleans. Though the Saints went up and down as a team, Brooks showed signs of improvement and functioned well in the Saints' offense. In 2003, he posted a career-best 88.8 rating with 24 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions.

It was not until this past season, with McCarthy gone, that Brooks regressed. The Saints had an awful year as did Brooks. He lost the starting job (based on a coach's decision) he held for five years. Meanwhile McCarthy oversaw the development of Smith, the No. 1 pick of the 2005 NFL Draft, with the 49ers.

With the 49ers also considering Rodgers for the No. 1 pick this past April, but choosing Smith instead, McCarthy got the chance to meet Rodgers and scout him extensively.

"We considered Aaron Rodgers to be the No. 1 pick in last year's draft, and I think that in itself tells you what we felt about Aaron," said McCarthy. "He had an outstanding year there at Cal-Berkeley. His arm talent was probably the top in that class coming out…

"I spent quite a lot of time with Aaron, watched all of his games and had two or three opportunities to visit with him, and I look forward to working with him."

McCarthy's relationship with Rodgers had better work out because the Packers' future depends on it. That goes for Thompson, too, who effectively hand-picked both the coach and the quarterback.

Win or lose, the Thompson-McCarthy-Rodgers trio will be forever linked in Green Bay. If Packers' fans are lucky, the new leadership in place will work out like it did some 14 years ago when guys named Wolf, Holmgren, and Favre were brought together.


Matt Tevsh

Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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