I have written before that I was surprised that the Packers hired Coach McCarthy. Unlike a lot of people here locally, I had heard of him, but his hiring was a surprise nonetheless. He was offensive coordinator in New Orleans for a buddy of mine, Jim Haslett. I paid a great deal of attention to the Saints during his tenure, because I was genuinely interested in seeing Jim succeed. During their first season, they had a dream season. They had a winning season, made the playoffs and bumped off the Rams in the playoffs. Haslett was named Coach of the year and McCarthy was mentioned as a candidate for some head coaching jobs both in college and the pros. He was a hot property. Nothing materialized then or in the following years and he moved on to the 49ers as coordinator.
To get a head job or coordinators job in the NFL, you need to meet the following criteria:
1. You need to be a competent coach – this is the least important quality a candidate needs. It helps to be a great teacher and coach, but not necessary. The roster of NFL Head Coaches who cannot find their own backside is long. Coach McCarthy is obviously smart and knows the game.
2. Connections – the old boy network is firmly entrenched in the NFL. McCarthy coached here in Green Bay and knew Ted Thompson and other Packer personnel from his time in the league.
3. Charisma and comfort with the man who is doing the hiring – Only desperation or greed overrides this angle. I am going to assume that Bill Parcells is not comfortable with Jerry Jones and things are probably the same for Jones. I will let the reader decide which quality motivates which guy in that relationship. Obviously Thompson felt comfortable with McCarthy to hire him as Head Coach.
4. Positive press and buzz – This league is like buffalo in a stampede. They run because someone else in front of them is running. This is apparent in the draft and also in the hiring of coaches. McCarthy does not fit the bill, but most of the Packer coaching interviewers this off-season underwhelmed from a PR standpoint, with the exception of Jim Bates.
5. A winning program – The overwhelming number of NFL coaching candidates come from teams that win. Proven winners or proven systems generate head coaches. Look at the Patriots of recent years. Romeo Crennell and Charlie Weis were proven winners, and Eric Mangini comes from a proven system. Nothing excites owners and NFL executives as much as replicating the success of another team. They just assume that because a coach worked for a team he can replicate the success enjoyed there. Secondarily, winning teams get good press and assistant coaches get noticed more. Here is where things jumped the track a little for McCarthy. He came from the Niners who had a dreadful season, but this was apparently not enough to kill his chances. The other factors were enough to overcome this handicap.
Mike McCarthy was a surprise hire. His candidacy came out of nowhere. His hiring came out of nowhere. Initially many were disappointed - some because he was unknown, some because he was not Jim Bates, who was the favorite. I was not one of them. I did not expect it, but like I mentioned before, I did know about him and was not disappointed. I was not shouting from the rooftops either, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Now six months later, I like what I see. I am not ready to elect him to the Hall of Fame, but I think he has a chance to turn this team around and compete, maybe not this year, but sooner rather than later. If the General Manager gets him some players and the organization and fans give him some time, I think he can get it down. If six months is any indication of the future, I think he will be a good coach and will have success.
McCarthy is a Pittsburgh guy, a blue-collar guy. His dad was a firemen and his family owned a bar. Anyone who has been to that area knows what I am talking about. He went to a small college and has paid his dues in the coaching ranks. He comes across as a tough guy, a hard-working guy. He has a vision and has surrounded himself with coaches that appear to share that vision. From the brief exposure I have had to them, they seem to mesh well. The most important job a coach has is hiring good assistants and I think he has done a good job on this account. There are no yes men or lackeys on this staff. Hire good people and let them do their job is important.
McCarthy has already made one move that has impressed me more than most. The release of Donnell Washington, a third-round pick, for being overweight was a good move. It rid the team of an underachieving nuisance and hopefully sent a message to anybody else who thinks this will be a country club.
Mostly, I just like his manner. I like the way he carries himself. There are some guys who just have it and from what I see, McCarthy has it.
I liked Mike Sherman too, but he had two flaws that ultimately did him in. He did not tolerate dissent and he had Mike Sherman as his General Manager. McCarthy does not suffer from those defects. He has a GM to find players and if he cuts off dissent and differences, then he would be betraying everything he stands for and turning his back on his tradition. For guys from Western Pennsylvania, there is no greater sin then betraying your heritage. Those that do, fail and those that abide by the code, succeed.
It is a code that will be respected here in Packer Country and will be recognized by those who remember the tradition of Tony Canadeo, Ray Nitschke, Fuzzy Thurston, Willie Davis, Brian Noble, Reggie White, Gilbert Brown, William Henderson and Brett Favre. It is a grand tradition and hopefully Coach McCarthy can embrace it, add to it and surpass it. As of today, I think he has a good chance. If only he had more than a few of those on his roster. It will take time, I hope he has it.
Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.