The hiring of Dom Capers ultimately will determine the future of Mike McCarthy in Green Bay.
McCarthy announced the hiring of the 58-year-old Capers on Monday to coordinate a Packers defense that seemingly has grown in talent the past few seasons while declining sharply in production. Capers has a long history, dating to the mid-1980s, of shaping defenses for seven NFL teams.
"Number one," began McCarthy, "if you look at Dom Capers as a person, what he's accomplished, I think he brings a credibility, which will improve with his presence, his communication. Clearly, one of the most thorough interviews that I've been through, taking myself back to Pittsburgh in 1992, when he instituted that defense there with the Steelers, and bringing it from the New Orleans Saints in 1991, and just the progress that defense has made in the NFL over the last 15 to 20 years. His vision of playing defense and my vision of how we're going to move forward in Green Bay I would say is a big part of why I think he's an outstanding fit for our organization."
The Packers are just over three weeks removed from a 6-10 season that was less than a year removed from a 14-4 season. The sharp drop-off has many Packers fans wondering if the Packers and McCarthy are as good as they seemed in 2007. The Packers are 28-22 under McCarthy in three seasons.
By hiring Capers, McCarthy took his first step toward determining his fate. He has found a coordinator who he thinks can design an aggressive pass-rushing, consistent run-stopping defense, which is what the Packers will need to win a championship. Because even if quarterback Aaron Rodgers continues on as a franchise quarterback, a good defense is always better than a good offense.
On Monday, McCarthy balked at the notion of feeling any more pressure in his job, considering he is turning over the majority of his defensive coaching staff.
"I mean, how much more pressure can you have?" he asked. "My view of how I attack the job is going to stay the same. I think I bring passion, energy, work ethic to the job every day and I have one goal in mind. I'll do everything in my power to bring home the next championship, and that's the way I view it. That will never change. Unfortunately, you have to make some tough decisions, and that was part of the last two weeks. Trust me, it was very difficult."
McCarthy has passed his first major test, to an extent, since being named Packers coach in 2006. General manager Ted Thompson brought him in primarily because of his experience with quarterbacks, and with the Packers looking to develop Rodgers, their first-round pick in 2005, into a franchise quarterback, McCarthy became a natural choice.
Three years later, McCarthy's influence can be seen in Rodgers, who is coming off one of the best seasons ever for a first-year starting quarterback following a legend. Rodgers' skills are sharp, his decisions are sound and his knowledge of McCarthy's offense is thorough. He is as polished and prepared as almost any quarterback in the league.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Packers' defensive development since McCarthy took over. Hiring Bob Sanders as defensive coordinator to continue the promise that Jim Bates brought in 2005, the Packers finished 12th, 11th and 20th in the NFL defensive rankings the past three seasons. The defense suffered through arguably its worst three-game stretch in team history late in the season with dreadful performances against the Saints, Panthers, and Texans.
Perhaps McCarthy was aware of the critical nature of his latest hire based on the candidates he interviewed. He sought out the most veteran of defensive coaches — Mike Nolan, Gregg Williams, Jim Haslett — instead of taking a more risky approach on a young, up-and-comer like Sean McDermott of the Eagles. Of course, taking the safe route last time — choosing Sanders — turned out to bite him in the leg.
With Capers, however, McCarthy at least has major experience to go along with the major change in philosophy he needed. It will be Capers' job to make a difference or McCarthy's second major test could turn out to be his last.
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org