The Green Bay Packers shocked the football world Sunday night when they announced the firing of longtime coach Mike McCarthy.
The firing itself, after 13 largely success years, wasn’t entirely unsurprising. The Packers are enduring a season from hell, and Green Bay is almost certainly going to miss the playoffs for the second straight season.
The timing of the in-season dismissal was quite a surprise. Many assumed the Packers would wait until season’s end to give McCarthy his pink slip. But making the move now gives Green Bay a head start on their search, allowing it to begin its own internal evaluations as it builds a list of candidates.
Good luck finding anyone who doesn’t think that list will include New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The 42-year-old shows up on just about every list of head-coaching options, and it stands to reason Green Bay would be no different.
However, is McDaniels really a fit for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers? There’s much to consider for all parties involved.
On the surface, a McDaniels-Rodgers combination makes all the sense in the world. McDaniels’ innovativeness paired with Tom Brady’s skill and command for the Patriots offense has led to unmatched success in Foxboro. If Brady and Bill Belichick are considered the greatest QB/coach duo of all time, then Brady and McDaniels deserve similar recognition when it comes to QB/coordinator duos.
The working theory is the Packers can hire McDaniels, and he arrives in Green Bay ready to overhaul an outdated playbook. McCarthy, in his prime with the Packers, was considered a terrific offensive mind. He transformed Brett Favre’s career and then ushered Rodgers onto the main stage and into the record books. When you watched McCarthy’s Packers in recent years, however, things looked stale and out of sync. The offense didn’t click like it once did — even with Rodgers at the helm.
Once a well-oiled, football-moving machine, the Packers offense couldn’t even get into gear. With an offense built on man-beater routes, Packers receivers — through injuries and bad drafting — were no longer able to beat their men. When things broke down, and Rodgers freestyled, his wideouts couldn’t shake free and improvise. All the while, McCarthy was either unable or unwilling to make adjustments, and when he did, it usually was too late.
Maybe that’s where McDaniels, known in part for his ability to adjust, would help the ailing Rodgers. McDaniels has helped maximize Brady’s twilight and could do the same for Rodgers.
Assuming Rodgers is willing to do so.
What Brady lacks in physical skills, he more than makes up for with smarts and a willingness to work within the system. “System quarterback” is often thrown around like it’s a bad thing, but Brady mastery of the Patriots system is what makes him so good.
“Aaron can pretty much do anything with the ball. I feel Tom Brady is precise, easier to play with. It was easier to play with Tom than anybody else,” former Patriots and Packers tight end Martellus Bennett said in August. ” … Brady makes the game easy, what he expects, where he wants you to be, where he’s putting the ball, he does so many repetitions with you, mental reps, physical reps, walkthroughs, he’s always letting you know.”
Rodgers isn’t without fault, but he shouldn’t have to shoulder all the blame, either. He’s had to work with two rookie wide receivers and a crumbling offensive line this season that’s exacerbated the issues.
All the while, he was butting heads with McCarthy, too.
“And if McCarthy calls a play that Rodgers doesn’t like early in the game, that can sour the mood for the rest of the game,” Sports Illustrated’s Kalyn Kahler wrote last week. “Several sources familiar with the inner workings of the organization say that it devolved into a competition over who can call the better play, and both want the credit when things go right.”
Those are the types of things that McDaniels should think long and hard about when considering the Packers’ job.
Although it’s not like the McDaniels-Brady relationship has been without its own instances of head-butting. Who could forget this sideline blow-up?
Those types of fights can be taken one of two ways. They can be looked at as healthy if not very passionate disagreement if the relationship is strong, whereas it could also be viewed as toxic if the relationship is frayed. Over the years, Brady has made it clear where he and McDaniels — who he’s called the best coordinator in football — stand.
“Josh and I have had a great relationship for 18 years, and he’s one of my best friends,” Brady said in training camp this year. “I love working with him. We’ve had a very special relationship that I cherish, and it’s been that way for a long time.”
And when McDaniels decided last year to leave the Patriots to take the Indianapolis Colts’ coaching job, Brady reportedly was one of the central figures in convincing McDaniels to change his mind and stay in Foxboro.
Maybe Rodgers and McDaniels would be able to strike up a similar relationship. Rodgers considers Brady a friend, and if it’s good enough for Brady, it should be good enough for him. But they could also butt heads. It’s not like McDaniels’ taught a master class in interpersonal skills as Denver Broncos head coach.
Maybe all Rodgers needs is a change in voice. When Favre needed to be reined in late in his Packers career, McCarthy was able to do so, and Favre had an MVP-caliber season in McCarthy’s second year in Green Bay. Perhaps McDaniels would be the same for Rodgers in a similar juncture of his career.
“I desperately want to be coached,” Rodgers told Peter King in 2015. ” … I love talking football with smart coaches. I love the input, the dialogue, the conversation. I love feeling like I need to play well for my coach, like he is expecting me to play well. It’s fun to be able to make all those coaches proud.”
There certainly would be plenty for each to prove. Rodgers faces more naysayers than ever before in his otherwise storied career, while a cloud still lingers over McDaniels the head coach, stemming from his disastrous stint as head coach in Denver paired with the Colts debacle from a year ago.
It would be fitting for them to team up and wage those wars together.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images