McCarthy Gets It

Fifth-year coach Mike McCarthy's comments on Atari Bigby reveal the refreshing way he runs a Packers team that is coming off an 11-win season and appears ready for bigger and better things. Our Matt Tevsh provides the insight.

Mike Sherman would have been fumed. So, too, would have Mike Holmgren. And Vince Lombardi? He most definitely would have scoffed at the notion.

Mike McCarthy, on the other hand, is different. Sure, he can be as stern as any of the three above-mentioned former Green Bay Packers coaches, but when it comes to understanding players and the business of football, he refuses to let the combination bother him.

Take, for example, the head-scratching holdout of restricted free agent Atari Bigby. The four-year veteran was one of only two players not at this week's mandatory minicamp because he has yet to sign his one-year tender. In what should have been a mere formality of an agreement for the oft-injured starting safety, the perception is that he is holding out for a better deal and the chance to hit a payday during uncertain labor times in the NFL.

Whether Bigby deserves a long-term deal is really irrelevant for the purpose of this commentary. What is relevant is McCarthy's singular focus on coaching his team, a refreshing perspective in an era that glorifies big-ego head coaches and the sound bites that often define them.

"You have to coach the people that are here, from our perspective, because you can't concern yourself or worry about things you can't control," McCarthy said this week. "You're dealing with so many different individual business situations, and we all have contracts. I don't think it is my position, and frankly it is not my focus, to referee right or wrong. And that's why my approach is always the same when I stand in front of this microphone. It's an individual business situation that Atari and his representatives are handling, and that's what (Packers' vice president of football administration/player finance) Russ Ball and (general manager) Ted Thompson do an excellent job of. I know there is communication throughout. Those are the things that I concern myself with. I know Atari has been in Arizona, and the feedback as far as his conditioning and his health has been very positive. Those are the things that I am focused on, and his business situation will be resolved when he feels appropriate."

McCarthy could have every reason to be peeved publicly with Bigby, or Johnny Jolly for that matter, the other player who missed camp due to legal matters. Packers fans might remember Holmgren using the media in subtle ways to address contract matters or Sherman being consumed by the 2004 holdout of cornerback Mike McKenzie to the point it affected the team on the field over the first month of the season. McCarthy will not fall into that trap.

"I just think the game of football is very similar to the game of life," McCarthy went on to say. "There are things you can control and there are things you cannot. In our sport of football, whether you are being competitive on the field, sometimes players are not available, due to injury or some other circumstance. You have to have that part of your game planning and part of your installation to overcome that because the game is always going to go on. That's something that everybody learns very quickly being part of the NFL. I think it is no different from a business approach. Everybody has a window of opportunity from a business standpoint, and everybody is trying to maximize that, and no one needs to apologize for that. So I don't think it's personal. I have never viewed it as personal. I don't think it is disrespectful to the organization because I am definitely going to always do what I feel is in the best interest of the organization. There is an individual business side of our business. I'm just stating the obvious. I don't think it makes any sense to get emotional about it and waste any time with it. Like I said, we all have contracts and sometimes things are not lined up the way you want and you just work to get it straightened out."

McCarthy instead spends his time in the offseason conducting quarterback schools and micromanaging camp schedules. He will take the uncommon approach of giving his players a day off during the summer training period or even cut short a minicamp by one day, like he did Wednesday by cancelling the last day of practice.

Some might question this approach, though it is hard to argue. Player participation in the offseason workouts and camps is as high as it has ever been under McCarthy, and respected veterans like Charles Woodson and Al Harris, who chose to do their own things in the offseason, are handled appropriately. In turn, they give McCarthy their full commitment.

Perhaps the bottom line is that the Packers are coming off an 11-5 season and a trip to the playoffs. The team, on paper, is as good as it has ever been under McCarthy with no signs of a letdown.

With offseason camps coming to a close this week, the Packers appear to be ready for bigger and better things. That includes McCarthy, who, entering the prime of his coaching career (46 years old, fifth season), is showing that he clearly gets it.

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

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