Lombardi: Assessing the coaching staff

PackerReport.com's John Lombardi explains why Mike McCarthy and his staff deserve at least another season together.

I am not sure what most people think about Mike McCarthy. I am sure that some people like him and some do not. I think the jury is still out. I like some of what I see and have reservations about other things.

The Packers finished 8-8 which was a four-game improvement over 2005. But did they beat anybody of consequence? However, talking about Coach McCarthy is largely a waste of time. He is not going anywhere, nor should he be. He needs a chance to show that he can do it over time. Once hired, he needs to be given a chance to get it done. Short of some huge disaster on his part, he deserves an opportunity to grow and develop and prove his mettle. The same goes for Ted Thompson. Time is necessary to evaluate player procurement. It takes time for guys to develop. Look no further than Corey Williams for proof.

I think most right thinking people would agree with me. Only the most extreme folks would consider firing McCarthy (or Thompson) until given a reasonable chance. Where this is some disagreement on this issue is with the assistant coaches. For most of the year, it seemed everyone wanted to fire defensive backs coach Kurt Schottenheimer. Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders was also on the hot seat for most of the season. The four-game winning streak at the end of the season has tempered some of this outrage, but not completely.

For a moment, let us assume a few things. There are no BAD coaches in the National Football League. Some are better than others. Some are harder workers than others. Some grow old and lose it. Some coaches do not know the system very well and struggle adjusting. Some benefit from connections and some do not fit into a certain situation very well. But it is close to impossible for a bad coach to even get a sniff at an NFL job. Sometimes a coach who is a good position coach or coordinator gets a promotion and they do not belong there. It happens sometimes that a guy is given a chance and he is overmatched, but they do not survive long. Word gets around. Coaching is the biggest old boy network in the world.

More times than the league would like to admit, a coach is undermined by those around them, be it the other coaches or players. What also happens is there is a battle between the player personnel guys and the coaches. The scouts always think the coaches stink, because their draft picks are good enough, and the coaches always think the players stink, because it cannot be their coaching ability.

It is unfathomable that a guy like Bob Sanders or Kurt Schottenheimer can survive this long in the coaching profession and be a dope.

Schottenheimer's job was tough. He had Al Harris, who was disappointed with his pay. Charles Woodson was a big question mark. Nick Collins is still young and Marquand Manuel was new and did not see the field until late in training camp. Harris, Woodson and Manuel did not participate in any of the Organized Team Activities practices. To believe that he is a crappy coach, you have to ignore that the play of these guys got better near the end of the year. Did he suddenly get good, or was it a coincidence? There are probably coaches out there who are better at coaching up defensive backs, but they are not on this staff. McCarthy did not hire them. Hiring a new guy or giving the total responsibility to Lionel Washington might make them better, but can anyone guarantee that? He owes Schottenheimer's brother, Marty, a favor, but that loyalty only goes so far. If McCarthy keeps Schottenheimer, it is because he thinks he can get the job done.

As for Sanders, the defense had difficulties with substitution and communication all year. But it did get better and was decent by the end of the year. The fact that he is the fourth coordinator in as many years speaks volumes. There needs to be some continuity for these guys. Improving the staff is important, but what is the return on investment in doing so. Balance the possible improvement with those coaches replaced with the problems created by a new face and style.

Bob Harlan and John Jones have bet on Ted Thompson. Harlan is retiring and Jones has some medical issues, but their future will rise and fall with Thompson. Ted Thompson has bet on Mike McCarthy. His future will rightfully rest with his coach. Mike McCarthy must rely on his assistants. A head coach can save his neck by replacing his assistants, but it is too early for McCarthy to worry about that yet.

In this society, we as sports fans take more interest in the teams we follow than ever before. Fans think they know as much as the coaches. If you think that, you are wrong. These guys work long hours and put in a tremendous effort. They are in most cases richly rewarded. No one should feel sorry for them, but do not for a minute think that we as fans know better. We do not. It is one of the side effects of fantasy football that I regret.

Let the coaches come back and make an effort coaching the guys they have and let the chips fall where they may. Let Thompson make another effort at filling some holes in free agency and with the draft. Let the young guys get stronger and faster. Continuity and familiarity will make these guys better. Hope Brett Favre comes back and pray for the playoffs. There is no other goal worth pursuing. If this team makes progress on last year, then they have done their job. If they regress, then changes might be in order, but until they STAY THE COURSE.

John Lombardi

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 johnlombardi22@yahoo.com.

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