Mike McCarthy Rips Packers Firing, Talks Empowering Aaron Rodgers and More

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2019

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy speaks in a post game news conference following an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Green Bay, Wis. Arizona won 20-17. McCarthy was fired as head coach following the game. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Mike Roemer/Associated Press

Former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy spoke at length Wednesday about his departure from Green Bay and his future in coaching. 

In an interview with ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, McCarthy said he was taken by surprise when he was fired after a Week 13 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals last season:

"As a head coach, I've always tried to stay immune to and stand in front of all the outside noise. That was always my focus with my players. It was always to protect them as much as possible from the drama. I think that's important. And I stayed true to that to the last day. If we missed the playoffs, I expected change might happen. But the timing surprised me. Actually it stunned me. But time provides the opportunity for reflection and clarity, and that's where I'm at now. And it's clear to me now that both sides needed a change."

Also, McCarthy took issue with the manner in which his firing was handled by team president Mark Murphy:

"It couldn't have been handled any worse. Anytime you lose a close game, it's a difficult time emotionally afterwards, but when you lose a home game at Lambeau Field in December, it's really hard. And that hasn't happened very often. I walked out of my press conference, and I'm thinking about the game, thinking about how our playoff shot was now minimal. That's where my head was at. And when I was told Mark Murphy wanted to see me—and the messenger was cold and the energy was bad. Mark said it was an ugly loss, and it was time to make change. He said something about the offense and the special teams, and he didn't think it was going to get any better. There was no emotion to it. That was hard."

Now, for the first time since 1986, McCarthy is without a coaching job. While he did interview for the New York Jets' head-coaching vacancy, that spot went to Adam Gase, and McCarthy is set to take the 2019 season off.

At the time of McCarthy's firing, the Packers were just 4-7-1 and in line to miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Prior to missing the postseason in 2017, however, Green Bay had reached the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons.

Per Demovsky, only three other head coaches in NFL history have taken the same team to the playoffs eight or more years in a row.

During his 13 years in Green Bay, McCarthy went 125-77-2 with nine playoff appearances and one trip to the Super Bowl. That Super Bowl run was a magical one, as the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV.

While the Packers had several more opportunities to make it back to the Super Bowl in the following years, they were never able to do it despite the presence of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers was arguably more responsible than anyone for the Packers' success during McCarthy's tenure, but questions regarding the relationship between the coach and quarterback emerged last season.

McCarthy said he "entrusted and empowered" Rodgers more than any quarterback he has ever coached, and while he acknowledged that things weren't always perfect between them, he had nothing but positive things to say about the future Hall of Famer:

"As far as coaching him, I'd use a lot of words. He's challenging, very rewarding and fun. We had a lot of fun. Some of my greatest one-on-one conversations, accomplishments, adjustments and adversity we fought through have been with Aaron. The difficulty in coaching a Hall of Fame quarterback is keeping that connection, the efficiency and the fluency with the other players on offense. They want to do more. They're capable of doing so much more, but the reality is you have to remember is it's the coordination of 11 men on every play. But yeah, it's pretty fun to go through your entire offensive playbook and know you can run everything in there with your quarterback. I mean, that's a joy. His job was to score as many points as he can. My job was to make it all work. We can all grow personally and professionally, but because of the experience I had not only with Aaron but with all my players, I know I'm a much better person and a better coach than I was 13 years ago. I hope Aaron and all the players I coached, I hope they feel the same."

With McCarthy out of the fold, the Packers turned to former Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur as their new head coach. LaFleur will look to take Rodgers and the Packers back to the playoffs in 2019 for the first time since 2016.

As for the 55-year-old McCarthy, he's waiting in the wings until an NFL head-coaching job potentially opens up next offseason, and he is ensuring that he remains busy during the interim:

"I'm laughing at the word 'off.' I don't feel like I've taken any time off. I'm focused on improving as a coach. I have a plan to be the best prepared I can be when, God willing, I get another opportunity next year. I cannot thank DV Sports enough for creating a platform for me called The McCarthy Project. It gives me, along with a few coaches I'm working with, the ability to engulf ourselves into the video research, data and analytics. It's about getting back to the fundamentals, studying trends while going back and restructuring old playbooks from New Orleans all the way through Green Bay. We've already broken down eight offenses from the league, so yeah, I'm careful about using the phrase 'taking a year off.'"

As a Super Bowl-winning coach who ranks 25th in NFL history in combined regular-season and playoff wins, McCarthy figures to be a hot commodity when the next hiring cycle rolls around.

Also, McCarthy was long regarded as one of the NFL's best offensive head coaches during his time with the Packers, although he undoubtedly benefited from the presence of Rodgers.

Even so, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Green Bay ranked 10th or better in total yardage nine times and 10th or better in scoring eight times under his watch. That included finishing as the top scoring offense in both 2011 and 2014.

NFL teams seem to be trending toward hiring head coaches with offensive backgrounds more often than ever due to the increased emphasis on offense across the league, and that should bode well for McCarthy's chances to landing somewhere in 2020.

His tenure in Green Bay didn't end ideally, but once he gets another year removed from his firing, it will be difficult to ignore the remarkable level of consistency and success he enjoyed as head coach of the Packers.

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