The Current Legacy of Mike McCarthy

Mike McCarthy

According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, head coach Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers is feeling the heat, as his team lost yet another heartbreaking overtime loss in the postseason.

This time the loss came against the Arizona Cardinals, and while that loss is painful to Packer Nation, nothing hurt more than the epic team meltdown of the team in the final moments of the NFC Championship Game last year versus the Seattle Seahawks.

In his take on McCarthy, Florio said this:

“It’s just a matter of time before we start compiling a list of coaches on the hot seat for 2016 and Mike McCarthy will be at or near the top, despite all those playoff appearances and despite beating Washington in the Wild Card round. More should be expected of a guy who still has Aaron Rodgers, and who still late in the season looked at good as ever. At some point the Packers may decide that maybe we a need a better coach to get the most out of him.”

I would disagree with Florio about Rodgers looking as good as ever late in the season. Don’t get me wrong, Rodgers had some fabulous moments, but the fact is that No. 12 went 12 straight games (including the playoffs) without having a passer rating of over 100.

That says a lot. Why? Rodgers is the all-time passer rating leader in the history of the NFL with a mark of 104.1. To take that a little further, going into 2015, Rodgers had six consecutive seasons of having a passer rating of over 100. But in 2016, Rodgers had his passer rating go down to 92.7.

92.7 is better than average and a lot of NFL quarterbacks would love that passer rating. But not Rodgers.

at Lambeau Field on September 30, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

In terms of McCarthy feeling some heat, that’s up for conjecture.

But it’s also true that he has fired a couple of coaches over the past couple of years who were with him in the beginning of his tenure in Green Bay in 2006.

Last year McCarthy fired Shawn Slocum as special teams coach after the gaffes made by special teams in the NFC title game last year. Earlier this week, he fired Jerry Fontenot as tight ends coach. In addition to firing Fontenot, McCarthy also fired running backs coach Sam Gash.

Is that a case of a head coach feeling the heat or is that a case of a head coach not happy with the performance of the units that a specific coach (Slocum, Fontenot and Gash) looked over?

McCarthy has been head coach of the Packers for ten years now and a lot of NFL teams would gladly take what he and the team have accomplished in that time.

In the regular season, the Packers have gone 104-55-1 in that period (.653 winning percentage) and have won five NFC North titles. The Packers have also been to the postseason eight times in McCarthy’s ten years in Green Bay, which includes seven straight times now.

The main point of contention to the people who believe McCarthy should be on the hot seat is his overall postseason record. After the loss to Arizona, McCarthy’s postseason record is now 8-7.

Including in that record is a victory in Super Bowl XLV.

It also has to be noted, that in five of the seven losses in the postseason, the losses occurred on the last play of the game, four of which were overtime games.

Just think about that for a minute. McCarthy and his Packers are 0-4 in overtime games in the postseason. Let’s just imagine if the team could have gotten a break or two in those contests and the team won actually two or three of those overtime games.

That would put McCarthy at 10-5 or 11-4 in the postseason and maybe even another shot or two at an additional Super Bowl win.

I talked to former Packers great Jerry Kramer earlier this week and we talked about these close losses that the Packers have had in the postseason recently. Kramer talked about what Vince Lombardi used to tell his teams in Green Bay about close football games.

“Coach Lombardi use to say the game is a game of inches,” Kramer said. “And I didn’t believe that it first. I thought is was BS. It’s a game of touchdowns with long runs and passes.

“But the more you play the game and the more you watch the game, you see a first down is short by two inches so you have to punt. Or you make the first down by an inch and the drive continues. Or the ball is tipped or deflected by an inch or two and is intercepted or caught by another receiver.

“So ultimately, it is a game of inches. And you don’t know when that inch is coming. You don’t know when that moment is coming. But if you play every play like it’s a game of inches, than I think you’ll have a better chance of success.”

Kramer should know. When the Packers won the 1966 and 1967 NFL Championship Games against the Dallas Cowboys, each game came down to the final seconds of the game.

In the 1966 title game, on a fourth and goal situation at the two yard of the Packers, it came down to one final play for the Cowboys, as they trailed the Packers 34-27 and were trying to force overtime. Quarterback Don Meredith rolled right and was pressured by linebacker Dave Robinson.

Meredith heaved a desperation pass with Robinson all over him and the pass was intercepted by Tom Brown of the Packers. But what if Meredith would have thrown it further to the right by a foot or so and was caught by a receiver of the Cowboys for a touchdown?

That would have forced overtime and maybe the Cowboys would have been playing in Super Bowl I instead of the Packers.

Or how about the 1967 NFL title game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game. The Packers were down 17-14 and were at the one yard line of the Cowboys. It was third and goal with 16 seconds to go in the game.

The Cowboys expected a pass on third down, because the Packers didn’t have any time outs. But Lombardi crossed up the Cowboys after conferring with quarterback Bart Starr on the sideline.

Bart's sneak behind Jerry

Lombardi and Starr decided to use a wedge play in the direction of Jethro Pugh of the Cowboys with Starr sneaking the ball. The play had been suggested by Kramer earlier in the week.

“Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films. I said we could wedge Pugh if we had to. And Coach Lombardi said, ‘What?’ And I said that we can wedge Pugh if we have to. So we ran the film back three or four times, and coach says, ‘That’s right. Put in a wedge on Pugh.’

Starr followed the classic block by Kramer on Pugh and happily fell into the end zone, as the Packers won 21-17.

But what if Starr had slipped like running back Donny Anderson had done on the previous two plays on the icy surface of Lambeau Field and not made it into the end zone?

Where am I going with this? Lombardi was 9-1 in the postseason, but he came very close to losing a couple of those games. If the Packers had lost both the 1966 and 1967 NFL title games, Lombardi would have had a 5-3 record in the postseason, with no Super Bowl wins.

But the fact is that Lombardi and his Packers did win those games. And it’s also true, that the game truly is a game of inches. Especially in the postseason.

Let’s give a couple of examples here. Don Shula won more games in NFL history than any other coach, as he had a 328-156-6 record in the regular season (.677 winning percentage). He also won a couple of Super Bowls.

But Shula also lost three Super Bowl games and was just 19-17 overall in the postseason.

Look at Tom Landry, who is third all-time in victories in the NFL, as he had a 250-162-6 mark in the regular season (.607 winning percentage). He also won a couple of Super Bowls.

But Landry also lost three Super Bowl games and was just 20-16 in the postseason overall.

McCarthy has only coached about a third of the time that those two coaching icons coached in the NFL and based on his track record so far, would probably match or come near to the accomplishments of Shula and Landry if he even comes close to their coaching tenures.

In fact, I can think of only one head coach in the NFL currently who has exceeded the job that McCarthy has done over the past 10 years in the NFL. That would be Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots.

Belichick and his Patriots were 124-36 in the regular season during that time. Only once did the Pats not make the playoff in those ten years. The Pats also won nine AFC titles.

But in the postseason in those ten years so far, Belichick and his Pats are just 12-7 with one Super Bowl win. That may change as this current postseason continues.

It should also be noted that Belichick and his Patriots won three Super Bowls before 2006. All of the postseason magic has happened with a fellow named Tom Brady as Belichick’s quarterback.

Brady and Belichick

Speaking of a game of inches, do you remember how the Belichick/Brady run of greatness started? It happened in the “Tuck” game against the Oakland Raiders in the 2001 postseason. Without that call which reversed a fumble by Brady, who knows what happens in the future?

Before he left the New York Giants after this past season, Tom Coughlin had been head coach of the G-Men since 2004.

Coughlin had a pretty good run, especially with two Super Bowl wins in the past nine seasons.

But his tenure was up and down. The Giants were 102-90 in the regular season (three NFC East titles) in 12 seasons, and were 8-3 in the postseason.

The only other head coach who has been with the same team in the NFL the past 10 years is Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints.

Payton has done very well with the Saints and has also won a Super Bowl, but his record in the regular season is 87-57 with just three NFC South titles. In the postseason, Payton and the Saints have a 6-4 record.

It’s a debatable point, but besides the coaches I’ve mentioned, you would have to include Pete Carroll and Mike Tomlin into this discussion about coaches who have done well over a five-year period and who are also currently head coaches.

The bottom line is that McCarthy gets a pretty high grade when you compare what he has done so far in the NFL over the past 10 years with other coaches. The fact that only four NFL coaches (out of 32) lasted that long should say something.

Although McCarthy has made some moves with his coaching staff  over the past couple of years , I don’t see him being on the hot seat in 2016. Not as long as Ted Thompson is his boss. That might change if Thompson decides to retire and someone like Eliot Wolf became general manager.

But the Thompson/McCarthy marriage has been a good one. Could it have been better? That goes without question. If it was better though, people might be comparing McCarthy with Belichick, especially if he had brought another Super Bowl win or two back to Titletown.

Unlike Mike Holmgren, the last head coach to lead the Packers to a Super Bowl win before McCarthy, the current head coach of the Packers is not looking for greener pastures or more power within the organization.

That’s an important point.

McCarthy is just 52 years of age. He could coach another dozen or so more years in the NFL, based on his track record. And he would like to remain in Green Bay.

Yes, they say coaches burn out after 10 years with a team. That’s been true in some case, but not all.

Landry spent 29 years coaching the Cowboys, while Shula coached the Dolphins for 26 years.

Belichick has been with the Patriots now for 16 years.

It’s also important to remember that organizations which have stability at the head coaching position do very well over a period of time in the NFL. The Packers have had just four head coaches since 1992 and look at the success the team had had.

Compare that to the Cleveland Browns under the ownership of Jim Haslam. Since he took over the team in 2012, Haslam has fired three head coaches and numerous other front office people.

The Browns have had a 19-45 record in that time. Talk about a team in disarray. It all starts from the top.

The Packers are different. The team has had two team presidents since 1992. Both Bob Harlan and Mark Murphy have allowed the general manager of the Packers to make all the football decisions regarding the team.

That has led to 244-139-1 record in the regular season, along with 11 NFC Central/North titles over those 24 seasons. The Packers have also made the playoffs in 18 of those seasons and have played in three Super Bowls, winning two of them.

TT, MM & MM

McCarthy has played a large part in that success. And he wants to add to it.

Now it’s true that McCarthy has made a few coaching miscalculations over the years in some key games. When one is 0-4 in overtime in the postseason, all of his decisions are looked at under a microscope.

Still, when compared to the best of the best in the NFL among head coaches in the history of the league, McCarthy fares very well.

We shall see what the future holds for McCarthy and the Packers. But all in all, his tenure in Green Bay has been better overall than almost all of the coaches in the NFL during that period.

The only exception in my opinion is Belichick.

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