Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has parted ways with his assistant coaches, the team announced on Monday morning.
Among them are defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and much of his staff. Also dispatched by McCarthy were defensive ends coach Carl Hairston, defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn, secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer and cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington.
Washington has been an assistant in Green Bay since 1999. Nunn and Sanders were hired with then-defensive coordinator Jim Bates by Mike Sherman in 2005. Hairston and Schottenheimer were part of the original McCarthy staff in 2006.
The sixth was strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson, who also was part of the original staff in 2006.
"These are difficult decisions," McCarthy said in a press release. "I hold each of these men in high regard on a personal level, and I want thank them for their service to the Green Bay Packers."
The only survivor among the key defensive coaches is Winston Moss. The linebackers coach is a candidate to become coach of the St. Louis Rams, and he's likely a top candidate to replace Sanders if he doesn't get that gig. The only other defensive coach to survive is quality-control coach Joe Whitt Jr.
With practically a top-to-bottom purge of the defensive staff, McCarthy has signaled he's looking to switch gears from the defensive scheme Bates brought to Green Bay in 2005. When general manager Ted Thompson chose McCarthy over Bates to replace Mike Sherman in 2006, Bates decided to leave Green Bay, and McCarthy promoted defensive line coach Sanders, who was a Bates protege, to maintain continuity.
In 2004 under coordinator Bob Slowik, the Packers ranked 25th in yards and 23rd in points (23.8 per game). There was a marked improvement under Bates in 2005 — to seventh in yards and 19th in points (21.5 per game) — which led McCarthy to promote Sanders.
In 2006, the defense finished 12th in yards and 25th in points (22.9 per game), but improved to 11th in yards and tied for sixth in points (18.2 per game) as the Packers reached the NFC title game in 2007. With a reduction in points allowed of 4.7 per game, Sanders got another season, even after the Giants exposed some flaws in the scheme and Sanders' ability to come up with answers on the fly in the title game.
This season, however, was a disaster, with the Packers ranking 22nd in yards and 20th in points (23.8 per game), even though Charles Woodson, Nick Collins and Tramon Williams combined for 19 interceptions.
That fact more than anything led to McCarthy's decision to eliminate almost the entire defensive staff rather than replace a part here and there. Washington, for instance, deserves credit for turning the undrafted Williams into a starting-caliber cornerback. Ditto for Schottenheimer for helping Collins raise his game. A new coordinator will bring in his own guys — guys who, in all likelihood, will know what their new boss wants — so the staff will be able to focus on coaching the players rather than the coordinator having to teach the coaches who are teaching the players.
From sources, Mike Nolan remains the best guess to replace Sanders. When Nolan was head coach of the 49ers, McCarthy was his offensive coordinator in 2005. Nolan, however, would bring a 3-4 scheme, and the Packers really don't have the personnel to run it. The other logical choice is Moss, a trusted confidante of McCarthy who has said he's not tied to Sanders' scheme.
Meanwhile, the release of Gullickson is somewhat surprising given he was voted the best in the business by his peers after last season. But he becomes the fall guy for a team that was hit hard by injuries, especially on defense.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com.