McCarthy's growing pains

Let me begin this article by saying that I believe Mike McCarthy is a good head coach. I also believe he has a chance to be a great one. But right now, just like his young team, the head coach is going through some growing pains. And it all starts with the naming of a coaching staff.

Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren both assembled great coaching staffs. That's one of the primary reasons they were so successful. Lombardi had four future head coaches. Holmgren had five future head coaches in Ray Rhodes, Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron, Jon Gruden and Andy Reid. Coaching is teaching, and those staffs could teach. They got on the same page as the players. Communication skills were the key.

The current staff put together by McCarthy is overall a very good staff. Jeff Jagodzinski has done a nice job implementing a new zone blocking running scheme, along with a more traditional version of the West Coast passing offense. Other offensive assistants like Joe Philbin and Jimmy Robinson have done a nice job as well. Philbin has done a remarkable job with a very young offensive line starting two rookie guards. The pass protection has been stellar of late and the running game is gaining traction. Robinson has done a tremendous job getting rookie WR Greg Jennings to play like a five-year veteran from almost the first day of camp.

The offense looks like it will be just fine, especially when all hands are healthy. The special teams are getting better every week under the coaching of Mike Stock, especially when one considers the youth of his kickers. The defense, however, is a different story. If the 2006 Packer defense doesn't improve quickly, McCarthy is going to have to look at the staff he has teaching those players. Case in point, Kurt Schottenheimer. The defensive backfield looks almost as clueless as it did in 2004 ... the last time Schottenheimer coached the defensive backs. There is obviously a big communication breakdown there.

The defense as a whole looks out of sync. There have been bright spots with the play of DE Aaron Kampman, DT Ryan Pickett, DT Corey Williams, LB A.J. Hawk and LB Nick Barnett, but overall the defense has been inconsistent, especially in the defensive backfield. Who's coaching the DBs again? Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders has to bear some of the responsibility as well. Sanders was a fine position coach, but the jury is still out to whether or not he can cut it as a coordinator.

At the end of the year, McCarthy will grade out his players. He will also grade out his staff. He will need to make tough decisions in both cases. But that's part of being a head coach. McCarthy will also have to grade out himself. And he will realize that he had some decisions he wished he could have back. That's part of the coaching business, but also valuable lessons for the future.

One example would be the 34-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 2 at Lambeau. That was clearly a game the Packers should have won, jumping out to a 13-0 lead. But instead of committing to running the football and using the clock to his advantage, the Packers decided to continue throwing the ball which allowed the Saints back in the game. McCarthy learned the lesson well as the Packers won their next game in Detroit as they stayed committed to the run and had a much more balanced offense in a 31-24 win in the Motor City.

Brett Favre is listed as probable this week after suffering a head/shoulder injury in the 4th quarter of the Eagle game Monday night. Favre should not be on the injury list. Why? Because he shouldn't have been in the game in the first place. That's twice this year that McCarthy has allowed his great QB to play into the 4th quarter in games that were clearly decided. In Week 1 against the Bears, the Packers were down 26-0 and Favre was kept in the game. All he did was force the ball and throw two interceptions in that time. In the Eagles game, Favre also forced a throw in the third quarter as he tried to bring the Packers back from a sizable deficit. Then came the injury in the 4th quarter with the Packers down 31-9.

McCarthy has a dilemma in sitting Favre. Favre is a proud warrior and competitor that will never quit on himself or his team. He never wants to come out of any game, no matter the score. But McCarthy needs to make the tough decision here. When games are already decided, McCarthy needs to opt for Aaron Rodgers at QB. The kid needs the reps, plus he is the future at QB for the team. Also, Favre has been more injury prone in the latter years of his great career. When the game is on the line, Favre should be the quarterback on the field. But when it's not on the line, Rodgers needs to play.

McCarthy will learn from these decisions. He already proved that with his play calling in Detroit. The game plan against the Eagles was also good, but some key drops and a key fumble set back the offensive unit. The development of Vernand Morency was a big plus, especially with Ahman Green's health status. McCarthy also made a tough but good decision in releasing CB Ahmad Carroll after the Eagle game.

I am certain that McCarthy will continue to get better as a head coach in terms of staff hires, player development and game decisions. As I said earlier, McCarthy is a good head coach. He is an excellent communicator and is an optimistic motivator who can be tough when he needs to be. I believe Mike McCarthy will be successful in Green Bay in his tenure there. But a lot of that success will come from lessons learned in his rookie season as head coach.

The 2006 Green Bay Packers are very young. The youngest team in the NFL. McCarthy is also very young at 42 years old. The team will grow as will the head coach. There will be more consistency as time moves forward. Teaching will be the key. Effective communication. Being on the same page. Players AND coaches. For Mike McCarthy to be successful, he will need that to happen. From everyone in the locker room. Those who can't exist in that environment need to go. Like Ahmad Carroll. And there will be more. It's all about being accountable. McCarthy knows this as well as anyone, and I believe he will do whatever it takes to make his team better. And he will learn from his mistakes as well as his successes.

Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

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