In anyone's rankings of the NFL's most successful and respected head coaches, Mike Holmgren, Tony Dungy and Jeff Fisher would be at or near the top of the list.
If Mike McCarthy can lead the Packers past Fisher's undefeated Tennessee Titans on Sunday, he will have beaten all three of those coaches in successive games.
Doing so certainly would be a feather in the cap of McCarthy, who is one of the rising stars in the profession. Nonetheless, McCarthy downplayed what it means to beat one of his upper-echelon peers.
"I have a lot of respect for their coaching and everything, but I am not going to kid myself. It's more about the players," McCarthy said. "We didn't play any snaps against each other out there, but I think they are great coaches. Mike Holmgren and Tony Dungy have won world championships, Jeff has been in the Super Bowl, so you definitely have to dot your I's and cross your T's when you play their football teams."
Fisher, Dungy and Holmgren are notable in that they've defied the odds and avoided the NFL's ever-turning coaching carousel. Dungy is in his seventh season in Indianapolis after six seasons in Tampa Bay. Holmgren is in his 10th season in Seattle after seven years in Green Bay.
Fisher has them beat. He's in his 15th season as a head coach — all with one franchise after being named coach for the Titans' predecessors, the Houston Oilers, for the final six games in 1994.
As Dungy and Holmgren had said in previous weeks, Fisher credits the stability of the organization for his time-defying tenure.
"It starts with ownership," Fisher said in a conference call with Wisconsin media on Wednesday. "We have a terrific owner. Mr. (Bud) Adams understands the need for stability. He also understands the game and there's going to be some seasons that don't go your way because of injury. There also might be, as he understood, some cap issues that we had to work through. So, when you're fortunate, as I am, to be surrounded by good people, then you've got a chance."
Fisher has worked under just two general managers. The current GM, former Packers exeuctive Mike Reinfeldt, replaced Floyd Reese after the 2006 season under the stipulation that he retain Fisher as coach. Fisher said his relationship with Reinfeldt "couldn't be better," and together they've formed a team built for long-term success.
While McCarthy is only in his third year on the job, the Packers are following a similar blueprint. General manager Ted Thompson — who played 10 seasons as a linebacker for the Oilers — was rewarded with a new five-year contract in January, and he followed suit by giving McCarthy a new five-year deal about a week later.
Beyond leadership structure, the Packers and Titans have made tough — and at times unpopular — personnel decisions. Both teams are among the NFL's youngest — the Packers and Chiefs are tied for the youngest rosters this year — and both have ample salary-cap space to retain their young talent.
Because of that foresight and the ability to recognize and develop talent, both clubs have built winning teams for today and likely the future. Since the Packers started the 2006 season — McCarthy's first — 4-8, they've gone 21-6, including a trip to last year's NFC title game. Since the Titans started the 2006 season with five consecutive losses, they've gone 25-9, including 7-0 to start this season.
"When you make decisions as far as your roster is concerned, it's not just based on salary-cap implications," Fisher said, sounding an awful lot like Thompson. "I think you have to keep an open mind and you have to move forward and you have to have a plan and you have to be able to predict. And that's what we've done. Unfortunately, there was a time when we had to let some very popular players — good players and friends of mine, actually — go, because we could not afford to keep them. And they've gone on and done well, but that's the nature of our game.
"You have to sometimes make decisions that are in the best interests of the future of the club, and you have to go ahead and based on the information that you have, be able to predict whether you're making the right decisions. I think we've made the right decisions thus far."
For now, McCarthy remains a peg or two behind Fisher in the pantheon of NFL head coaches. Fisher led the 2000 Titans to the Super Bowl and has a losing record only four times (not including going 1-5 in 1994).
But McCarthy has been put in position to enjoy similar sustained success. Thompson and his scouts have built a young, talented roster, including that most crucial of ingredients: quarterback Aaron Rodgers. And just as importantly, McCarthy is able to adapt. He came to Green Bay wanting to run the football, but instead operates a pass-first offense because that's where he's got playmakers.
"I think it's a compliment," McCarthy said of Fisher's longevity. "I think anytime a head coach has had the success that Jeff has had in Tennessee and the ability to stay in one place, it's definitely a compliment. Yeah, I think I have the best job in professional sports so I would love to be here that long."
Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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