Monday, January 5, 2009

Mass Coaching Exodus Creates More Questions

If I were a super-analytical expert at determining the meaning behind personnel moves, I would deduct the following from today's mass firing at 1265:

Mike McCarthy does not believe that the offense was a problem last year.

After Mike Stock's "retirement" last week, McCarthy painted the house clean with a wide brush today, firing not only Bob Sanders from his DC post, but also defensive ends coach Carl Hairston, defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn, secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer and nickel package/cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington.

In addition, strength and conditioning coordinator Rock Gullickson was also shown the door today.

I found this collective dismissal to be rather surprising. I just wrote two days ago that it was looking like Stock might be the only casualty, but instead, nearly the entire defensive coaching staff was shown the door.

How do we interpret this? Well, there's a couple of ways to do it. First of all, the general discussion in the Packer blogosphere is that this may be a harbinger of a massive shift in the defensive scheme, most notably to a 3-4 formation. However, this seems somewhat unlikely, if you think about it. Why would McCarthy, who is under fire for a visible collapse, shift his defensive scheme when we know it will likely have a long transition time?

It may be a possibility. Several of the names proposed for the new defensive coordinator, primarily Mike Nolan, would likely want to bring the 3-4 if hired. And clearing out many of the other coaches opens the door for such a change.

I think its a bad idea, if that is the case. I've never...ever...been a fan of bringing in a scheme and trying to find players to fit into it. I've made this case repeatedly with the ZBS, with many of the linemen drafted by Thompson as good "fits" for the scheme. As we've found, when the ZBS didn't go as expected, many of our linemen struggled in more traditional run plays.

The lack of a true quality nose tackle and our best DL's lack of "fit" in a 3-4 (Aaron Kampman) means massive changes on the roster, and that isn't going to happen in one offseason.

What makes me nervous is that McCarthy may have just been looking to get a clean slate, and lowering the boom on the most disappointing squad on the team. But many of the problems that plagued the defense also plagued special teams, as well as the offense. Most of all, we saw overall problems with execution and discipline, with the most basic of skills (pad level, gap control) repeatedly cited as issues.

This wasn't just limited to the defense. Our run offense was inconsistent all season. Our offensive line was the most penalized in the league. Our offense was unable to pull out close wins at the end of the game, even when given opportunities by the defense and good field position by the special teams.

This was a team-wide problem.

It's that imbalance that concerns me. Schottenheimer and Washington coached two Pro Bowl players (out of four) this season. Did our pass defense give up some big plays at critical times this year? Sure, but no more than game-ending interceptions by our quarterback or an ability to pick up a first down and short on three straight running plays.

It strikes me of scapegoating the defense and special teams. Did they deserve blame? Absolutely they did. They dropped off greatly from last season. But, our running game did, too.

The axing of Gullickson also baffles me. In 2007, he won the Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year award, likely due to the charmed season we had with injuries. This year, because we had a "normal year" of injuries, he gets axed?

Much ado has been made about McCarthy's soft approach to practices and scheduling. Was Gullickson the problem here?

It seems easy to "fire". In all the time I've been a Packer fan, I've heard people call for coaches' heads repeatedly. Firing someone for the sake of firing them is unwise, simply because you don't like the job someone is doing. You have to have the better option ready to go.

Analogy: When Ted Thompson let Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera go, most of us didn't bat an eye, because we know they were on their way out. It wasn't the release of the two guards that was the problem, it was the failure of Thompson to have any reasonable plan of replacement for the two (remember Wil Whittaker and Adrien Klemm, the 7th round pick and street free agent brought in to replace them in 2005?).

I've met Bob Sanders when I brought my kids to the All Pro Dad conference at the Hutson Center last year. He's a stand-up guy and a man of faith. He's a good guy. Being a good guy isn't enough to keep a job in the NFL, as we all know, though. Bart Starr would still be coach today if that were the case.

But when you see a stand-up guy fired amidst a season of team-wide injuries and underperforming all season, you sure hope there was a better option in place before they sent him his pink slip.

Finally, the fact that Winston Moss is still a member of the Packers coaching staff also is concerning. If you are going to fire the secondary coaches, which was probably our strongest unit on defense, and our defensive line coaches, which was our second strongest unit on defense, why do you keep the coach of our weakest and most disappointing unit on defense?

I know Moss is applying for a HC job, has the title of Assistant Head Coach, and it is likely that MM wants to give him the opportunity to have his best showing at interviews. But, my guess is that McCarthy is hoping Moss gets that job. If he doesn't and continues on the Packers' staff, the pressure will not only be on MM to give him the DC job, but it will be in the face of the firings of everyone else around him. Not all that comforting when the linebacking corps was perhaps the weakest link on a disappointing squad.

Worse than the defensive line, you say? The line lost many players this season, including the guy McCarthy called the team's best athlete, Cullen Jenkins. Add to that the subtraction of a solid Corey Williams and the cut of the underperforming KGB, and you can easily say that Hairston and Nunn had a lot less to work with than Moss, who had four players with cap figues all around $4M, ranking in the top 12 salaries on the team, in fact adding a solid player to the corps.

I'm sure all eyes will be on McCarthy's moves over the next week to replace these coaches. I hope there's a plan in place, and this wasn't just a grand show to prove he's serious about fixing those pad levels and gap controls.


packerbacker1 said...

Well written and well thought out as usual.

But in regard to gap control and pad level, which could be true, I believe in the case of the DL and OL it is more a case of coach speak. MM has been really supportive of TT - as could be expected of a quality guy who was literally given the opportunity of a lifetime. A chance he was not going to get anywhere else.
Last year MM spoke out about the problems at guard and disappointing play but got nothing more to work with...just another rookie phenom who "had a mean streak".
Mean streak, gap control and pad level seem to more accurately reflect bad players getting shoved around. It is not that the concepts are tough or new. It is that the players even with lower pad level and in the right gap are just not physically gifted enough or strong enough to stay there.
That is entirely on the a poster who has felt TT had a bad idea with the trade downs, and who was not getting depth (it being impossible to have depth at a position where you dont have a starter)....and as someone who believes TT just gives jobs to his draft choices who have not earned the jobs while letting better producing players go....I see this totally as a reflection of the low talent level on the team.
Last year we got outstanding coaching/QB play and lucky with was not TT who had no business accepting an award that should have gone to the gm from 3-5 year PRIOR to last year.

C.D. Angeli said...

Can't disagree with much that you have there, pb1.

I bring up the gap control and pad level very much tongue-in-cheek, as I'm sure you've guessed. There was far more talk and less action for McCarthy this season, and those coachspeaks were a symptom of larger issues.

The picture I use to illustrate this article also reflect what you are saying...its amazing that it seems like the axe is falling everywhere else but the two folks who should be getting some accountability seem to be sitting scott-free.

Mike Woods had a good comment in his article in the GBPG today...MM needs to be careful when he points his fingers that there isn't a mirror nearby. Same can be said for Ted.