Tuesday, November 11, 2008

McCarthy: Gruff and Ornery Ain't Gettin' the Job Done

Normally, you won't find me offering a ton of criticism of Mike McCarthy. After starting out categorically opposed to his hiring in 2006, I have given him the benefit of the doubt and have been generally quite happy with the job he has done since then.

But yesterday, McCarthy went on a contentious, defensive snarlfest with the media in his press conference, and it did very little to alleviate any concerns many of us took away from the Viking game. He was Gruff and Ornery with the press, as he has often been in the past, but this is a different situation for him: having a team fail under high expectations. Right now, we are looking for leadership.

Repeatedly, he seemed to take a defensive posture with the media, coming off as frustrated ("I'm not going to nickel and dime specifics here for you today. "), sarcastic ("He has a ligament tear. If he wants to tell you which one, he can tell you. "), and bordering on combative ("Focus and discipline is your opinion."). Certainly, he's a frustrated coach, frustrated with his team and the results on the field, but after a loss like this, people are looking for answers and hope.

This is the second game in a row in which we faced a team that played poorly enough to lose, and gave us chance after chance to take the game on a silver platter. However, for the second week in a row, we didn't take advantage of enough of those opportunities to win it.

The play has been sloppy and undisciplined, and unfortunately, the same problems keep resurfacing: a lack of consistency in the run game, league-leading penalties, and a sieve of a run defense. We keep getting the same explanations, ranging from "We need to clean up our house" to vagaries like "pad level" and "gap protection". Yet, nothing appears to be getting done about it.

The most eyebrow-raising comment, to me, was the one in which he denied his own playcalling might be to blame for some of the struggles.

(Did the constant pressure deny you the opportunity to stretch it deep early in the game?)

I'll say this guys. You can sit here and dissect it all you want. And I'd love to tell you the play-calling was just flat awful. You can blame it on me. I'd be all for it. But I don't think that's the case, especially after viewing the film...[lists each squad and critiques their performance]...We had a chance to win the game in the end, we did not. I understand how this works. You get to swing all the way to the right when you win, and you want me to swing all the way to the left when we lose. I'm not going to do that. We were one play away from winning the game. For as many things that went wrong in the game, there were many things that went right.
Why does this bother me?

1) It wasn't even answering the question that was asked. He was asked if he thought the pressure denied the long ball, and he went into a discussion about whether the play-calling was to blame. Defensive much?

2) He seems to be saying that as long as you have a chance to win the game at the end, the play-calling must have been fine.

3) He seems to be calling his team out publicly. Sometimes that isn't a problem. But McCarthy's credo has been to keep a positive locker room, and I don't quite see how this is helping that. Just a few weeks ago, the talk was that despite the three-game losing streak, McCarthy seemed to be keeping the locker room together.

This is just a week removed after McCarthy had to deal with Jarrett Bush publicly questioning why he was pulled of the kick block unit, James Jones publicly questioning why he was inactive without being told, and Jermichael Finley publicly throwing his quarterback under the bus. McCarthy had to do damage control on all three situations.

And, the very next loss, McCarthy absolves himself of his play-calling accountability while going into a squad-by-squad critique of where the problems were?

Sorry, even if it is true, its not cool. Not at this point in the season, not with the biggest game of the year coming up next week, not with self-doubt already starting to creep in.

Gruff and Ornery has been celebrated here in Titletown. When the Packers had just gone 4-12 and fired Mike Sherman, Gruff and Ornery was celebrated as a house-cleaning, no-nonsense attitude that this team needed. When you are in the midst of a 13-3 season, Gruff and Ornery is kind of cute...the grouchy coach who just can't smile in the face of success, still finding things to gripe about.

But, coming off a 13-3 season with high expectations, as well as being a part of a critical decision to trade away Brett Favre this offseason, Gruff and Ornery is losing its appeal, especially when it doesn't appear to be making a difference on the field.

In what will be my biggest potshot in this article, McCarthy's repeated vagaries are starting to sound uncomforatably Sherman-esque. Instead of getting the weekly "It is what it is," we are getting discussion of the pros and cons of "combatative penalties" instead. We are getting "we'll be cleaning it up" week after week, but the penalty yardage is still pretty dirty. We hear the words "moving forward", but in the last two weeks, we've done nothing but move backwards.

As I've said, I have really liked Mike McCarthy, and think he has been a gem of a coach. But high expectations and the pride that comes with being so successful so quickly can be a bad mix when the microscope suddenly gets much more intense.

What I respected so much about McCarthy in the past was his ability to take problems, go back to the drawing board between games, and "spit and wire" solutions that you could see the results of on the field. Instead of getting contenteous with the media for repeatedly pointing out the problems, its time for McCarthy to do what he is best at, and fix them.

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