Pivotal season ahead for coach

PackerReport.com's Matt Tevsh assesses Mike McCarthy's first season as head coach of the Packers and explains why Green Bay's success this year ultimately will come down to him.

While the talk of a trade for Randy Moss or which free agent the Packers should sign or who they should draft with their first-round pick have dominated PackerReport.com headlines in the past month, what should not be lost is that the Packers will only go as far in 2007 as Mike McCarthy will take them.

It was just over a year ago that general manager Ted Thompson put his job on the line by selecting McCarthy, a man with a decent resume, but no head coaching experience. Ultimately if McCarthy fails to show improvement this season and beyond, the Packers will suffer.

So as much fun and natural as it is to talk about building the Packers roster for the 2007 season, McCarthy will again be in the forefront, as big as any player. He must get better. He showed enough in his rookie year to give Packers' fans hope, but still is a long way from becoming a championship-caliber coach.

The Packers possessed above average talent a year ago, though for much of the year they did not play like it. Understandably, the infusion of youth and a new coaching regime played a role in the team's inconsistencies. Such thinking, though, can only be tolerated for so long and time is running short. McCarthy should expect nothing less than competing for a playoff spot next season regardless of who the Packers still add to their roster before the regular season begins.

Here are some quick evaluations of McCarthy after just one season as head coach of the Packers:

McCarthy's background and personality makes him an appropriate fit in Green Bay. His father owned a bar, he comes from a blue-collar town, and he has worked his way up the ranks – all those facts instantly made him a respectable leader for Packers' fans. He did nothing to disappoint them with how he handled himself in public when he took over as head coach of the Packers and has really seemed to establish effective communication with his players. Though he is not as stern as Mike Holmgren, he seems to have a similar level of respect, which can only be a good thing on game day.

By the end of last season, McCarthy showed that he is able to coach everyone at an equal level. Benching a regular starter and a high-salary, high-energy player like Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is not as easy as it may seem. Still, he took loyalty out of his decision and evaluated performance instead. In that manner, he got a clear-cut answer and a decision which paid off in victories.

McCarthy even stood up to Brett Favre at times on the sideline on game day, something ex-coach Mike Sherman never did. Even with Favre's legendary status, McCarthy never made him above the team. He showed his displeasure with his quarterback when he needed to, even when the cameras were rolling.

The Packers have continued to build on their strong finish to 2006 with their upbeat attitude in training for 2007. McCarthy has to be partly to credit for that. In addition to an increase in player participation for off-season workouts, he said he will also make the necessary adjustments in training camp to get his team off to a better start to the regular season.

Like he has done his whole life, McCarthy will have to work to become a great NFL head coach. Based on last year, it does not appear to come naturally for him. It could even be said that he was in over his head at times.

The Packers were badly out-coached and over-matched in at least three games last year. In the season opener against the Bears, and in home games against the Patriots and Jets, the Packers were essentially done before they even knew what hit them. Game plans were obliterated by the opposition from the start and in-game adjustments came too slowly or were not made. While the Bears and Patriots were clearly just better teams than the Packers, the Jets were on a similar level, with a rookie head coach, and they completely dominated at Lambeau Field in one of the worst games played by the home team in recent memory. While the horrid loss set the stage for a big finish to the season, it also signaled that McCarthy and his staff are inferior to others around the league.

Another disappointment relates to McCarthy's philosophy as an offensive coach. He preached the Packers would be a running team, though they could not have been more the opposite. Their running game was adequate, yet Favre's 613 passing attempts were a career high. The offense failed to find a rhythm all season and as a result, they really had no go-to plays. The lack of confidence was most obvious in the red zone, where the Packers were one of the worst teams in the NFL.

McCarthy was nowhere near excellent in his first year as head coach, but he certainly did not resemble Brad Childress, either. Fortunately, there is time to grow and learn – but not much.

Under the leadership of Thompson, the Packers have been patient if not ultimately successful on the field (just 12-20 the last two seasons). Sure, the Packers need some more players to become a real contender, but most of the main pieces are in place, including McCarthy, the biggest and most critical piece of them all.

Matt Tevsh

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

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