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Pack-ing it in: Packers fire head coach McCarthy after 13 seasons

After leading the Green Bay Packers to 125 wins, nine playoff appearances and a Super Bowl Championship, head coach Mike McCarthy has been relieved of his head coaching duties with the team. The 55-year-old head coach who spent the last 13 seasons in Green Bay, is known as the coach who revitalized an aging Brett Favre’s career while developing Aaron Rodgers into one of the most physically talented quarterbacks in the NFL. McCarthy will undoubtedly be an attractive head coaching target for many teams, particularly those with young developing quarterbacks.

The Packers’ 2018 campaign has been nothing short of disappointing. The team entered the season with playoff aspirations, and was considered by many to be a Super Bowl contender with a healthy Rodgers back at the helm. Now, following Week 13, the Packers sit at 4-7-1, all but eliminated from playoff contention in a very competitive NFC. While Rodgers has thrown for over 3,500 yards and 21 touchdowns to just one interception, the offense has looked the worst as it ever has under McCarthy’s tenure.

The team is averaging just 23.9 points per game — 17th in the NFL. The running game, while productive, has been incredibly underutilized by McCarthy, who was the team’s offensive play-caller. Rodgers has simply looked off this year, as he has been on a record setting pace of throwaways, his completion percentage is the second lowest of his career at 61.8 percent and has looked like he has no confidence in the players around him on offense.

While Rodgers undoubtedly does deserve some blame for the Packers’ struggles on offense, it must be acknowledged that he played through a serious knee injury at the beginning of the season that held him out of valuable practice time with his young receivers.

The reported rift between Rodgers and McCarthy, reported by Sports Illustrated by Kalyn Kahler, has apparently been growing for years. A relationship that was built off of mutual respect and healthy competition apparently soured a few seasons ago, with Rodgers reportedly becoming fed up with McCarthy’s stale play-calling.  While the two were able to continue their success through the rift, it ultimately became too much to handle this season. In the end, the Packers chose their star quarterback, who signed a four-year extension with the Packers this offseason, over their embattled head coach.

McCarthy was incredibly successful during his tenure with the team. He led the franchise to the playoffs every year from 2009 to 2016. He also groomed Rodgers into a two-time MVP quarterback and helped developed one of the best offenses in the NFL during his tenure. His win in Super Bowl XLV in 2011 cemented his legacy as one of the greatest coaches in franchise history. There is even a street named after him — Mike McCarthy Way — in Green Bay.

However, while he was immensely successful, he may also be known as the coach that couldn’t win more than one Super Bowl, despite a clean transition from Favre to Rodgers, two of the game’s greatest gunslingers. His teams, despite making the playoffs nine times, lost on the final play of the playoff games five times, including a brutal collapse in the 2015 NFC Championship game to Seattle, a game in which McCarthy took a great deal of heat for making the offense incredibly conservative while the Seahawks stormed back. His offensive system was once incredibly innovative, but grew stale and relied too much on Rodgers running for his life and finding an open receiver.

In the face of offensive injuries this season, McCarthy refused to scheme young receivers open by using motion and changes at the line. His offense was simply line up and go get open. There was no creativity. The young receivers, who missed valuable practice time with Rodgers early in the year, were not up to the task and Rodgers clearly lost trust in them. There were countless third down and short situations this season in which every receiver would be 20 yards down the field, rather than at the sticks. Because of this, Rodgers has held onto the ball far too long, and missed throws he routinely made in his prime.

When Rodgers was hurt, the clear option was to turn to the run game. Running back Aaron Jones is averaging the second most yards per carry in the NFL with 5.7 yards per carry, yet the most carries he has had in a single game was 15. Against the Seahawks, who have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL, Jones was schemed into the game early, and scored two touchdowns in the first half. The Packers scored 21 points in the half. However, McCarthy took him out of the game plan inexplicably for the second half, and the Seahawks stormed back. In the second half, the Packers scored three points.

The first telling sign of the end of McCarthy’s tenure was in the team’s matchup against the then undefeated Los Angeles Rams. Rodgers came out slinging, and the defense held one of the best offenses in the league to its lowest point total at that point in the season.

However, when the Packers fell behind late, and a Rodgers’ comeback seemed inevitable, running back Ty Montgomery shockingly decided to run back the kickoff, only to fumble any chance of a comeback away, despite being told to take a knee in the end zone. If he went against his coach’s wishes directly, it shows that he had lost respect for him.

That doesn’t happen on a Bill Belichick or Andy Reid coached team, as the players are drilled to “do their jobs” and earn their players’ respect naturally. When the now 3-9 Arizona Cardinals essentially ended the Packers’ playoff hopes the day McCarthy was fired, it showed they were playing for their coach Steve Wilks. They played for pride. The Packers didn’t look like they played at all, despite entering the game 14 1/2 favorites.

“Honestly, I was literally watching the game, and I was sitting there thinking ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened right after the game,’” said former Detroit Lions wide receiver, newly inducted College Football Hall of Famer and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson to The Ticker. “Just cause of the state of the NFL, they don’t care and they’ll do it any time. He won a Super Bowl with them, had some success earlier there, but it seemed like it might be time for something new because they’re not the same Green Bay you’re used to seeing.”

Whatever the future holds for both McCarthy and the Packers is yet to be determined. Joe Philbin will serve as interim head coach of the Packers until the end of the season while the team begins its head coaching search for the first time since 2006. McCarthy will be a head coach in the NFL next season — it would be more of a shock if he isn’t than if he is.

His best option will be to go to a team with a young quarterback that he can groom, such as the New York Jets or Cleveland Browns. The Packers’ best option will be to hire a coach that will keep Rodgers in check, while also utilizing the best of his natural abilities. This is not the end of either side’s career or success by any means. A change of scenery is often necessary for continued success, especially in
the NFL.

As always, all good things must come to an end. McCarthy will be remembered by Packer fans fondly. He will be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. However, the organization decided that it is in a win-now situation, and isn’t winning. The Rodgers era is in its final stretch, and if the team wants to win another championship, it needs to change and fast. Otherwise, the Packers will cement their status as the most underachieving franchise of the past 25 years.

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