More wins than Lombardi, but Green Bay were right to send McCarthy Packing

Matt Jones 5/12/2018
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On the face of it, Green Bay have just got rid of a man who has led the team to the second most wins in Packers’ history – Mike McCarthy has more wins in Wisconsin than even the late, great Vince Lombardi.

But, in the cold light of day, the Packers are staring at the very real prospect of a second-straight year without featuring in the postseason, while for all those wins, one of the most consistent and talented teams in the NFL over the last decade has only lifted one Lombardi Trophy during McCarthy’s 13-year reign.

When you factor in he’s had who many consider the greatest quarterback in the league over that same period as his focal point, the decision from Packers’ CEO Mark Murphy seems more sensible than savage.

And, ultimately, Murphy has probably made the decision with the future of Aaron Rodgers at the forefront of his thinking.

In sporting terms the stud gunslinger is in his twilight, having turned 35 on Sunday, the same day his long-time coach was dismissed. But in NFL terms the California native is still relatively young – six of his contemporaries are older.

Mick McCarthy (r) was fired by the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Mick McCarthy (r) was fired by the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

And with Tom Brady still leading the New England Patriots to Super Bowls at 41 and Drew Brees still breaking records at breakneck speed with the New Orleans Saints, you have to believe there’s plenty of time for Rodgers to earn himself that second Super Bowl ring.

Former Packers tight end Mark Chmura criticised Rodgers for his part in McCarthy’s firing, calling the veteran a “prima donna”.

No12 has been vocally critical of his team’s play-calling this season and is described by some as being so smart that he’s difficult to coach.

But why shouldn’t the coaching be criticised? After all, it’s hard to defend their 4-7-1 record this season. It is the joint ninth worst record in the league – with two of those victories coming against the wretched 2-9 San Francisco 49ers and the perennially mediocre Buffalo Bills (4-8).

The last straw was Sunday’s 20-17 defeat to the awful Arizona Cardinals, whose win moved them onto 3-9.

When assessing the bigger picture, that record is likely to see them miss out on the postseason for a second year in succession, which has never happened previously under McCarthy – who prior to 2017 led his side into the playoffs eight seasons in a row.

They never reached the Super Bowl after that exhilarating 31-25 2010 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but were always at the forefront. A year later they posted their best regular season record under McCarthy of 15-1, but lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the New York Giants – although Tom Coughlin’s team did go on to win the Super Bowl.

In 2014 and 2016 they were thwarted in the NFC Championship game by the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons – both of whom found Father Time too much to handle in the finale as Brady led the Patriots to his and their fourth and fifth titles.

Another factor that points to a parting of ways being the correct decision is how strong the NFC has become in recent years.

The Philadelphia Eagles last year broke a three-year stranglehold AFC teams (essentially the Patriots) had held on the Lombardi – four of the last six winners have come from the American Football Conference.

But the AFC’s dominance has been built largely on New England and the ageless Brady – who has led his team into four of the last seven Super Bowls.

The NFC, meanwhile, is hyper competitive this year, with the 11-1 Los Angeles Rams the best team in the league and both they and the Saints among the top three scoring teams, just behind the Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys and Seahawks are all jostling for playoff position too and boast powerful line-ups.

Meanwhile, in a loaded conference, the once-leading Pack are falling behind into the chasing pack – which is simply unacceptable when you have a QB as good as Rodgers under centre.

Of course McCarthy’s feats at Lambeau Field shouldn’t be forgotten. Regardless of the sole Super Bowl triumph, he will go down as one of the most successful coaches in franchise history – leading the Pack into the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons.

Only Green Bay founder Earl ‘Curly’ Lambeau won more games in charge (231) than McCarthy – and largely because he was head coach for 30 years.

The Packers won six NFL Championships under Lambeau from 1929-44 before the influential Lombardi kick-started the Super Bowl era with two more NFL Championships and three Super Bowls – including the first two in ’66 and ’67.

The man considered the greatest coach in American football history orchestrated the modern NFL era although it would be 30 years before the Packers would win a fourth title in 1997 thanks to the arm of Hall of Famer Brett Favre and coach Mike Holmgren.

They are now joint third for most Super Bowl wins alongside the Giants, courtesy of McCarthy and Rodgers’ 2010 exploits.

But ultimately, at the top level of sport there is rarely any room for sentiment. The NFL is a particularly cruel environment, you either sink or swim.

The ‘Lambeau Leap’ is a well-used phrase coined by fans and commentators – touchdowns in Green Bay are often celebrated by the scorer jumping up into the arms of the vociferous Wisconsin crowd.

Murphy has taken a leap by letting go of McCarthy. Now he must find the right replacement and hope he and Rodgers can launch the Packers back into the arms of the NFL’s elite.

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Josh McDaniels and John Harbaugh among Green Bay Packers head coach options

Matt Jones 3/12/2018
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Pack your bags: Mike McCarthy.

It’s the end of an era at the Green Bay Packers as head coach Mike McCarthy was fired on Sunday after 13 seasons in charge.

The ‘Lambeau Leap’ is a famous phrase coined by commentators and fans alike in the NFL – the beloved, celebratory jump Packers players make into the crowd at Lambeau Field when touchdowns (and there have been many under McCarthy) are scored at home games.

But now Green Bay chiefs have made the leap by parting ways with a coach that won them a fourth Super Bowl just eight years ago after a poor start to the season.

The Packers slumped to 4-7-1 after a demoralising 20-17 defeat to the woeful Arizona Cardinals (3-9) on Sunday at Lambeau with a second straight year failing to make the post-season now almost impossible, having previously made eight straight visits under McCarthy.

It may not have been a very gracious move by Packers’ president Mark Murphy, but was perhaps necessary, with even the biggest Cheesehead accepting that things had gone stale this term.

As such, Aaron Rodgers and Co are on the search for a new coach, with the job sure to be one of the most coveted in the NFL.

Here we look at potential McCarthy replacements in Wisconsin:

JOSH McDANIELS New England Patriots offensive coordinator

Josh McDaniels

When any head coaching role becomes available in the league, it can be pretty much guaranteed McDaniels’ name will be in the frame.

And with good reason too. McDaniels is a long-time running buddy of prolific Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, with the 42-year-old one of the few staff members who has been part of every one of the Pats’ five Super Bowl wins inside the last 16 years.

McDaniels was just 25 when he joined the New England set-up in 2001 – back then simply as a lowly personnel assistant. He graduated to a defensive assistant in the 2002/03 season before becoming quarterbacks coach two seasons later.

He has already earned experience as a head coach in the NFL with Denver from 2009-10 and was with the St Louis Rams as OC and QB coach briefly before returning to the Patriots in 2012 in the same roles – guiding Brady and Belichick to two more Super Bowl titles.

McDaniels’ reputation is such that he is currently the highest paid offensive coordinator in the NFL.

With Aaron Rodgers under centre, the Packers are certainly going to pursue a head coach with an offensive background. They have had only one defensive head coach (Ray Rhodes) in the last 31 years and he only lasted a year.

When you factor in McDaniels has worked with Brady for most of his career and helped mould Jimmy Garoppolo, he would seem an ideal candidate.

And that’s even when you throw in the fact he might well have burned his chances of receiving any offers after he agreed and then reneged on a commitment to take over the Indianapolis Colts during the off-season.

JOHN DeFILIPPO Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator

    ] CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com – May 30, 2018, Eagan, MN, NFL, Minnesota Vikings OTA's

Despite being only 40, DeFilippo has been in the NFL in various guises for well over a decade, but it is last season’s Super Bowl that puts him very much on the Pack’s radar.

He was the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach last season – working for Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich, now the head coach of the Colts – playing a pivotal role as Philadelphia stunned the Patriots with a slick and stylish offence that relied on the run-pass options now so popular throughout the NFL.

He has earned a reputation as a creative play-caller who could create an explosive partnership with Rodgers – the league’s best quarterback.

Following the Super Bowl, DeFilippo joined the Vikings as offensive coordinator – who were one game away from a showdown with the Patriots, losing to DeFilippo and Philadelphia in last season’s AFC Championship game.

The Vikings are 6-5-1 so far this season but DeFilippo’s reputation and skills in working with starting QB Carson Wentz and then back-up Nick Foles once Wentz went down with injury last season, are still impressive.

And playing his part in out-thinking Belichick and McDaniels in an exhilarating 41-33 Super Bowl triumph over juggernauts the Patriots is sure to have the Packers thinking of calling.

ERIC BIENIEMY Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator

ERIC BIENIEMY

Bieniemy enjoyed an eight-year playing stint in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals and Eagles from 1991-99, but it’s safe to say his success in college did not translate into the pro ranks.

He finished third in the Heisman Trophy race in 1990 behind winner Ty Detmer with 1,628 yards and 17 touchdowns, but the running back racked up just 2,811 total rushing and receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in his NFL career.

But it is in coaching where he has earned a fearsome reputation – having first landed in the league with the Vikings as running backs coach in 2006.

Since then he returned to the college scene with Colorado (he was RB coach there from 2001-02) as offensive coordinator before landing back in the NFL with the Chiefs as their running backs coach from 2013-17.

He succeeded Chicago Bears-bound head coach Matt Nagy as Andy Reid’s top offensive lieutenant at Arrowhead Stadium this season and has worked wonders with second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes – who is slinging touchdowns for fun for the 10-2 Chiefs.

They lead the league in scoring under Bieniemy with 444 points – 25 more than the LA Rams – at a whopping average of 37 per game.

The 49-year-old has not been a head coach at either the college or pro level so far, so his appointment comes with risk. Head coach Reid also calls the majority of the plays at Arrowhead. But as the Chiefs have been proving this season, they are happy to balance risk with reward.

JOHN HARBAUGH Baltimore Ravens head coach

at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.

All of the coaches touted so far have either very limited head coaching experience in the NFL, or none whatsoever.

In Harbaugh, the Packers would be going a very different way. Like McCarthy at Green Bay he has been in Baltimore a long time – 10 years – and has also tasted Super Bowl success, beating his brother Jim’s San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

The 56-year-old Ohio native is believed to be on thin ice in Baltimore though. Although still very much in the playoff hunt at 6-5 this season, Harbaugh has only seen the Ravens fly into the postseason just once since their Super Bowl triumph six years ago. They have not been beyond the regular season since 2014 and have not recorded double digit wins either, with Harbaugh believed to be on borrowed time.

But he has won 100 games since 2008 and boasts a 10-5 record in the postseason, and perhaps after a decade in the north-east, is simply in need of a change of scenery.

If he is fired by Baltimore, a former Super Bowl winner with a sharp offensive mind would surely need to be considered by the Packers. Harbaugh would, among a field of fresh-faced hopefuls, arguably be the best option should Green Bay choose to go for a solid, experienced NFL coach.

KYLE SHANAHAN San Francisco 49ers head coach

Kyle Shanahan

We’re going a little left field with this choice perhaps – especially as Shanahan would seemingly have enough on his plate right now, leading one of the worst teams in the NFL.

But, like Harbaugh at Baltimore, the 49ers hierarchy might at least be contemplating parting away with Shanahan – particularly after becoming one of just two teams mathematically out of playoff contention (along with Oakland) following this weekend’s demoralising 43-16 hammering in Seattle.

Considered one of the brightest coaching prospects in the league, the 38-year-old son of three-time Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan, was handed the reins of one of the NFL’s most storied teams two years ago, but life in the Bay Area has been anything but smooth sailing.

He’s currently on his third-string quarterback this season, Nick Mullens, after former Brady understudy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3.

Up until then the relationship between quarterback and coach – they combined for five straight wins to end the 2017 season as the 49ers rallied from 0-9 to finish the season 6-10, building huge optimism ahead of 2018 – was flourishing.

Despite currently owning an 8-20 record as head coach and on course to finish fourth in NFC West for a second straight year, the 49ers would be extremely hasty in getting rid of Shanahan so soon, but his star is certainly beginning to fade.

LINCOLN RILEY Oklahoma head coach

Lincoln Riley

Outside of the NFL, Riley is the hottest coaching prospect around, with the offensive revolution he’s orchestrating at Oklahoma revered for its dynamism.

Just 35, Riley acted as a student coach for Mike Leach while playing as a quarterback for Texas Tech in 2002, before a five-year stint as offensive co-ordinator at East Carolina University.

He joined the famed Sooners’ programme in January 2015 under head coach Bob Stoops. When Stoops retired in June 2017, Riley replaced him – aged just 33 – becoming the youngest coach at college football’s highest level.

With Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield in tow, Riley led his team to the Big 12 conference championship and the 2018 Rose Bowl, where they lost to Georgia in double overtime 54-48. They boasted a 12-2 record and are 12-1 this year, with Riley this term leading his side to the Orange Bowl against Alabama at the end of December.

He won’t be going anywhere until after that date and Oklahoma will surely do everything to keep him, while both Riley and the Packers may feel he’s a little green for the NFL just yet. Having said that, Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay is just 32.

JIM HARBAUGH Michigan coach

Jim Harbaugh

John’s younger brother has been to the Super Bowl, too. His 49ers lost to his older brother’s Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, suffering a heartbreaking 34-31 defeat.

The Packers are aware of Harbaugh’s offensive ingenuity. While in charge of San Francisco he knocked them out of the playoffs twice – including an explosive divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park on their way to that 2012 Super Bowl appearance where a certain Colin Kaepernick was on fire in orchestrating a 41-33 triumph.

But his three-year tenure in San Fran ended in acrimony with the former quarterback renowned for his fiery temperament and being difficult to work with.

Harbaugh is not easy to manage and tends to wear out his welcome quickly. He has not had the success many thought he would after returning to the college ranks with Michigan in 2015 either – failing to win any major college titles.

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Los Angeles Rams clinch NFC West title as Patrick Mahomes keeps Kansas City cooking

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Todd Gurley starred one again for the Rams.

The Green Bay Packers fired head coach Mike McCarthy as a Mason Crosby missed field goal saw the Green and Gold slump to their third straight NFL loss.

Aaron Rodgers completed 31 of 50 for 233 yards and a touchdown, but his 35th birthday was to end in disappointment as Crosby hooked his 49-yard attempt wide as time expired.

Zane Gonzalez had put the Arizona Cardinals 20-17 ahead with 1:41 left to play and the loss meant Green Bay have a 4-7-1 record for the season leading to the departure of McCarthy, head coach since 2006 and Super Bowl winner in 2010.

The Los Angeles Rams clinched the NFC West title for the second season in a row, with Todd Gurley rushing for 132 yards and two scores in a 30-16 win over the Detroit Lions.

A three-point game going into the fourth quarter, Gurley sealed the win after muscling his way into the end zone with two minutes left on the clock.

The league’s other LA team, the Chargers, came back from 23-7 down to pip the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-30, after Mike Badgley scored a field-goal at the third time of asking.

Mick McCarthy (r) has been fired by the Green Bay Packers.

Mick McCarthy (r) has been fired by the Green Bay Packers.

With three seconds left on the clock, Badgley missed from 39 and 34 yards, but offside penalties were called against the Steelers. He made no mistake from 29 to secure the win.

Patrick Mahomes threw four touchdowns as the Kansas City Chiefs saw off the Oakland Raiders 40-33, the Chiefs making light of the loss of star running back Kareem Hunt, who they released earlier in the week following an altercation with a woman in a Cleveland hotel earlier this year.

Josh Allen had two scores and rushed for 135 yards but the Buffalo Bills went down to divisional rivals the Miami Dolphins 21-17.

Another AFC East side, the New York Jets, capitulated in Nashville, leading 16-0 but going down 26-22 to the Tennessee Titans to record their sixth loss in a row.

The Jets had a pick-six, blocked a punt and a point after attempt but their defence crumbled in the fourth quarter with Marcus Mariota finding Corey Davis for the game-winning touchdown with 36 seconds left.

Overtime was needed in New Jersey as the New York Giants blew a 10-point lead late in the fourth but won 30-27 over the Chicago Bears with an Aldrick Rosas 44-yard field goal.

Patrick Mahomes was immense once again for the Chiefs.

Patrick Mahomes was immense once again for the Chiefs.

The Jacksonville Jaguars restricted the Indianapolis Colts to 265 yards in a shutout 6-0 win, while the Houston Texans D-Line forced four turnovers from the Cleveland Browns in their 29-13 victory.

Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and 300 yards, but was picked off four times as the Carolina Panthers went down 24-17 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while Tom Brady passed 1,000 career rushing yards in his 19th season as the New England Patriots beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-10.

The Seattle Seahawks saw off the fading San Francisco 49ers 43-16, the Atlanta Falcons lost their fourth in a row 26-16 to the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos kept up their purple patch with a 24-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Phillip Lindsay rushing for two touchdowns.

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