It's no coincidence that Lambeau, Lombardi and Holmgren all had a outstanding winning percentage in their tenures in Green Bay. Mike Sherman is the only other coach in team history to have a winning record during his coaching stint in Packerland. All the others ... Gene Ronzani, Lisle Blackbourn, Scooter McLean, Phil Bengston, Dan Devine, Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg, Lindy Infante, and Ray Rhodes, all failed to produce overall winners in their time as head coaches. Rhodes was actually .500 (8-8) in his only season as head coach in 1999.
Mike McCarthy knows all this. Usually a new coach is named because the team that hires him is looking for a new direction. A winning direction. Sometimes coaches inherit good teams like Phil Bengston and Ray Rhodes, but still can't produce a winning atmosphere.
McCarthy is inheriting a 4-12 team. A team with a lot of questions. Starting with the offensive line. But McCarthy seems stoic through all of this. The Pittsburgh native has been very confident in his abilities to teach and coach.
The 2005 NFC North champion Chicago Bears await McCarthy and his Packers on Sept. 10 in the opener. That game will really test the mettle of McCarthy and his legion. A win against the Bears would send a quick message that the NFC North will be a little different in 2006. But the reality is that the Bears defensive front is going to be a real issue for the Packers young offensive line interior.
Of the 14 head coaches in team history, only five won their first overall game as coach. They would be Lambeau, Lombardi, Bengston, Gregg and Rhodes. McCarthy faces long odds in joining that list. Things may change before the Bear game, but for now the Bears biggest strength is their front seven. If the San Diego Charger pre-season game is any indication, then the Packers better stay in their two TE formation often. Right now the Packer interior offensive line is in disarray.
Scott Wells is solid at center, but the guard play has to improve dramatically. The Packer coaching staff realizes this, as they benched Daryn Colledge as a starter a left guard. They moved fellow rookie Jason Spitz to left guard and put in rookie Tony Moll at right guard. There is no question that all of these rookies have the athleticism and talent to be productive in this offensive scheme. But the growing pains can be unpleasant. Ask Brett Favre. Or Aaron Rodgers. Or any running back on the squad.
McCarthy and his staff are optimistic and confident as the opening of the 2006 season is nearing the corner. That confidence needs to filter to the rest of the squad, especially the young offensive lineman. They will need solid efforts against the Falcons tonight and the rest of the preseason. They will need something to build on as the Bear game approaches. As I said, right now the odds are long that McCarthy will win the opener and have a winning program in his time in Green Bay.
General Manager Ted Thompson can help McCarthy succeed by continuing to upgrade the talent level on the squad. But if there was ever a lesson learned from the 2005 season, it's that shaky play in the interior offensive line can cause the offense to suffer in ALL phases. Thompson needs to do whatever it takes to get the best possible offensive line this year. Hopefully the kids will step up, but if not, then Thompson needs to step up and acquire better talent via a trade or waiver pickup. McCarthy is the first coach that Ted Thompson hired. Thompson needs to give McCarthy everything he needs to succeed much like his mentor, Ron Wolf, did for Mike Holmgren. McCarthy's future success depends on it.
Editor's note: Bob Fox is a longtime Packers fan and frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.