"Terrible," Greg Jennings said when asked what kind of job McCarthy has done this season. "Terrible."
Asked the same question, Donald Driver said: "Who?"
You know, your head coach ...
"Oh, I forgot about that guy."
McCarthy won't get any votes for coach of the year, but if there was an award for second-half coach of the year, he'd be a front-runner. Left for dead at 4-4 and with at least a vocal minority of the fans calling for heads to roll after back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Tampa Bay, McCarthy just kept going about his business.
No ranting and raving.
No wholesale changes in the starting lineup.
No wild deviations in the game plan.
With McCarthy putting an incredible amount of trust in a group of players that had posted a 10-14 record in the last season and a half, the Packers turned things around. Only the San Diego Chargers did better than the Packers' 7-1 record down the stretch, a streak that put the Packers into the playoffs with a game on Sunday at Arizona.
"He's done a great job," guard Daryn Colledge said, "to turn around a team that had every inclination to probably cash it in. A lot of teams probably would have rolled it up and said, ‘You know, we'll get 'em next year.' But we continued to fight and McCarthy continued to keep his faith and continued to push us. We said we were going to get something done this year and we've done it. We've made the playoffs."
Much has been written and said about the incredible about-face made by Dom Capers' defense, which allowed 21.5 points per game in the first half of the season and just 16.5 in the second half.
The offense, though, has been just as big a factor with consistently quality performances, going from a sack-plagued 26.9 points per game in the first half the season to an efficient 30.8 points in the second half.
Outside of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski becoming the head coach at Boston College after just one season for the Packers, the offensive side of the ball has had practically unprecedented continuity during McCarthy's tenure.
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin replaced Jagodzinski after serving as offensive line coach. James Campen was elevated from assistant line coach to the line coach. And quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, running backs coach Edgar Bennett, receivers coach Jimmy Robinson and tight ends coach Ben McAdoo all have been in their roles during each of McCarthy's four seasons.
"If it's a good staff, there's a benefit. If it's not a good staff, I don't know how good of a benefit it is," Philbin joked. "Let me just say this about the guys that I work with on a daily basis: I consider myself very fortunate. We have excellent position coaches on our side of the ball, as we do on defense. These guys are professional, they're hard working, they have an excellent relationship with their players."
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Instead, the players kept their trust in the coaches and the coaches maintained their trust in the players. What happened in 2007 wasn't a fluke. It wasn't all Brett Favre. The talent was in place and the schemes were in place. They had faith in each other that the season could be turned around.
"Ultimately, the biggest thing is if your players believe in you," Philbin said. "As a coach, you've got to believe in the players and the players have got to believe in the coach that when the door shuts and you're in that room with those guys, they better have faith and confidence in their coach and vice-versa. I think, hopefully, that exists on our side of the ball. It's a credit to the relationships that our guys have with their players."
It starts at the top with McCarthy. After a horrific loss at winless Tampa Bay, the Packers were 4-4 with the meat of their schedule still to come. But McCarthy stuck to his guns. There were no fire-and-brimstone speeches. No ultimatums. Just a message of faith and trust.
He made only one change to the starting lineup, replacing struggling Allen Barbre with Mark Tauscher, a move that seemed to cure everything that was wrong with the offensive line. He simplified the passing game a bit, but also handed more freedom to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He continued to pound away with the running game, with Ryan Grant rewarding that faith with 4.8 yards per carry and seven touchdowns in the second half of the season.
"I don't think he's a guy that flies off the handle, loses his cool a whole lot or panics a whole lot," Philbin said of McCarthy. "You want your players to have poise and be able to execute in critical situations. As a coach, you've got to exhibit those qualities that you want your players to emulate. Certainly, Mike's poised, he's got confidence in what he's doing, he believes in the plan he has in place and he stuck with it and it paid some dividends."
Consistently during his tenure, McCarthy has kept the players' well-being in mind. With overwhelming attendance in offseason workouts, McCarthy sees no point in burning out his players with grueling two-a-day practices in August. Injured players aren't rushed back into action. Down the stretch, he's lightened their workload on Fridays. This Friday's practice — before the biggest game of the season — might be the shortest Friday practice of the year.
"Just taking care of guys, he's always been a player-friendly coach," Jennings said. "You definitely have to do your part and he'll do his part. As far as the on the field and the play-calling, he's always giving us opportunities to make plays. He's always putting us in the best position to be successful."
Driver agreed, then pointed to McCarthy's approach. Because McCarthy didn't panic, neither did the players.
"He's kept this team together," he said. "He told us that, ‘You're going to hear everybody outside and that we're this and we're that. All that matters is what we do inside this locker room.' He kept this team together. I always told him that he's our rock. As long as he doesn't break, we're fine."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.