Mike Trgovac considers himself a lucky man.
And why not? His wife is tolerant of the frequent moves demanded by someone in the coaching profession, and he's got to work at two of the most prestigious football programs in the country.
"To me, this organization was always run first-class," Trgovac, the Packers' new defensive line coach, said last week. "I've been very blessed. I've been a coach at Notre Dame and I've been a coach of the Green Bay Packers. When you talk about college coaching and the tradition of college, Notre Dame is No. 1. Then you look at Green Bay, it's kind of the ultimate franchise, just me growing up being a football buff."
Trgovac is back for a second tour of duty in Green Bay, having worked for coach Ray Rhodes during his ill-fated one-year tenure in 1999. He faces an enormous challenge this time around. The defensive line is the team's indisputable weakness, with Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins amounting to the only sure things up front — and they both have injury issues. Beyond that, he's got to mold a line that can hold up to the mental rigors of learning the 3-4 and the physical rigors of being primarily run-stoppers.
The challenge, though, is one thing that attracted him to this job. Trgovac spent the previous six seasons as Carolina's defensive coordinator. Coach John Fox offered him a two-year contract extension, but Trgovac wanted to take a step back. His fondness for Green Bay, coach Mike McCarthy ("he does things the right way") and his desire to work with new coordinator Dom Capers ("a guy that I've admired") made the Packers a great fit. As did the allure of building something from scratch, which is what the Packers will be doing with a new defensive coaching staff and likely at least a few new faces.
"Particularly with me being a coordinator before, one of the hardest things is when you lose one guy and you have to bring one guy along to your deal, so you're spending time with him," Trgovac said. "I think everybody gets on the same page when the one coordinator gets up there and everybody is hearing it fresh again for the first time. To me, it's one of the funnest things in coaching."
To get a coach with Trgovac's track record was a coup for Capers and McCarthy. From 2002, when Trgovac served one season as the Panthers' defensive line coach, through 2006, the Panthers ranked fifth in the NFL in yards. He was part of three top-eight defenses, including 2003, when Carolina reached the Super Bowl. The Panthers fell into the middle-of-the-pack in yards in 2007 and 2008, but they still ranked a respectable 15th in 2007 and 12th in 2008 in points.
One of the driving forces behind those defenses was the pass-rushing prowess of Julius Peppers and the run-stuffing presence of Kris Jenkins, the older brother of Cullen Jenkins. Barring a big-time free-agent signing, Trgovac won't have a dominating presence as he makes his first foray into coaching in a 3-4.
That just adds to the challenge and the excitement.
"Any time you get something that's new, it's fun for you. It refreshes you," Trgovac said.
Trgovac said the nose tackle is the key position in a 3-4 defense because he must hold firm against double teams to help the inside linebackers stop the run. He said Ryan Pickett is "going to get a great shot at being that guy."
As for defensive ends, the "ideal" size is about 290 pounds so they are strong enough to anchor the run but agile enough to get after the quarterback or drop into coverage. Jenkins, Johnny Jolly and, if healthy, Justin Harrell, fit into the mix. "Good run player. Good transition pass-rusher, meaning a guy that has to transition from thinking run and going to pass," Trgovac said. "It's not the olden days, where they had to sit there and two-gap all the time. It's not the big old fat guy that's sitting there taking on everyone. These guys have to be athletic. They have to make plays, and they're going to be called on to do that."
Trgovac's last stay in Green Bay lasted just one year because then-general manager Ron Wolf fired Rhodes. While team President Mark Murphy has given an overwhelming vote of confidence to McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson, there's no guarantee either will be back if the Packers don't show signs of improvement this season. And with such a massive shakeup on defense, this transition could be difficult.
Not to worry, Trgovac said. He went to Washington when he knew Norv Turner might be fired in 2000; he was. He stayed in Washington when Marty Schottenheimer took over, but Schottenheimer was one-and-done. Trgovac settled in for a seven-year stay at Carolina, but now the 49-year-old is on the move, with no guarantee of job security.
"As assistants, that's why you have to marry a good girl. I picked a military girl, so she was used to moving," Trgovac said with a smile. "That's the NFL. You just have to be ready for it and prepared for it."
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, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.