Wednesday, October 14, 2009

McCarthy's Lack of Accountability Resurfaces Old Concerns

I’ve tried. Really, I have. At the beginning, I didn’t want to, but I vowed to give Mike McCarthy every benefit of the doubt. I figured, hey…just because I didn’t like how Ted Thompson was handling things didn’t mean I had to immediately downgrade any of his hires, too.

Revisiting the situation, I remember that was a time that I was very emotional about how things were handled with the personnel. 2005 was nothing for anyone involved with the Packers to be proud of, and Mike Sherman certainly took the brunt of it. I had some issues with how Thompson had handled Sherman. While I wasn’t in any sort of camp that believed Sherman was a great coach or GM, he deserved as fair of a shot as anyone to prove it or not.

Without dredging all the icky details of the Sherman firing, let’s just suffice it to say that I thought the situation could have been handled a lot better, without anyone having to play the scapegoat. Thus began some of my criticisms of Thompson’s leadership style, but as the search for a new head coach went on, I vowed to not be hypocritical and to give whomever Thompson hired a fair shot.

Anyone, that is, except Mike McCarthy.

Yep, I would have been happy with nearly anyone. No, I wasn’t excited about Childress, but there were a lot of names that intrigued me. Tim Lewis, Russ Grimm, Al Saunders, Ron Rivera…no real stand-out names but a lot of potential. But, I had already crossed McCarthy off my list. Why?

One word: accountability. I knew really very little about McCarthy, but I did know that he was the Packers’ quarterbacks coach under Ray Rhodes in 1999. That year, Favre had suffered through one of his most undisciplined seasons in a Packer uniform: 23 interceptions, a career-low completion percentage, and a non-winning season. As a huge Favre fan at the time, I had a grave concern that McCarthy would not bring the discipline and accountability that Favre needed at that point. In 2005, Favre threw 29 interceptions and a career-low 70.9 passing efficiency rating. I wanted accountability…and if McCarthy couldn’t hold the team leader accountable, how would he hold the rest of the team accountable?

And accountability was critical, not just for Favre, but for the atmosphere of the team as a whole. One of the biggest (and more valid) criticisms leveled at Mike Sherman was that he was overly loyal to certain players and assistant coaches. I often perceived Sherman standing with his arms at his side, waiting for Favre to win or lose the game. But, you also saw certain players remain on the roster, getting second and third chances when others did not.

When McCarthy was hired, I went through a couple of stages of grieving, no doubt. It’s the wrong fit, I thought, but after a week or so of wailing and gnashing teeth, I decided to give McCarthy a chance. Perhaps in retrospect, he was a far better choice than some of the other assistant coaches out there that have yet to be offered a HC job.

As time wore on, I was glad I chose to give him that chance. As Thompson rebuilt the team, I saw a level of flexibility and problem-solving that we didn’t see under Sherman. Where Sherman tended to stick stubbornly to his gameplan, McCarthy was willing to tinker with the system, introducing larger protection packages and five-wide formations to counter a struggling offensive line. Even as Favre broke his personal attempts mark in 2006 with 613, breaking his previous high the year before (609), you had a feeling he was playing to the strengths of the talent he was given to work with.

When the Packers nearly made the Super Bowl in McCarthy’s second season, I felt justified in having given McCarthy that benefit of the doubt. It sure seemed like he was able to pull it together in a rapid fashion. Accountability? No problem.

But since that season, we’ve either seen a different Mike McCarthy or the real Mike McCarthy. He’s always fielded a team that ranked high in penalties, yet as the team has matured, foolish penalties have continued to plague them. But, as the head coach has come under fire for those penalties (often resulting in more negative yardage that positive rushing yards from our halfbacks), a myriad of excuses have been offered, repeated, and gone unfixed.

More and more, expressions like “pad level”, “fundamentals”, and “gap control” are cited as the reasons for gaffes on offense, defense, and special teams. But as McCarthy leads a team in his fourth season as head coach (following a 13-3 season only two seasons ago), the excuses have run out of steam.

George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It seems that McCarthy is falling into the same trap that Mike Sherman once fell into: being overly loyal to players who continue to disappoint and make mistakes. Players like Brandon Jackson, Justin Harrell, Brady Poppinga, Jarrett Bush, and AJ Hawk continue to get chance after chance, only falling to the wayside when injury removes them from the roster. James Campen, the offensive line coach, somehow avoided the massive coaching slaughter at the end of last season and continues to be unable to make chicken salad from the drafted talent he has to work with.

As MM’s defensiveness and annoyance continues, he digs in deeper to the same dysfunction that plagued Sherman at the end of his tenure: you made your bed, and now you choose to sleep in it instead of fixing the problems that need to be fixed.

In some ways, my initial fears are becoming more and more realized…fears that, quite honestly, had gone forgotten for some time. McCarthy had made a believer out of me, but now it seems like he can’t fix the problems that are evidently in front of him.

Now, granted, some of the problems come from a lack of talent. Thompson’s misses along both lines and both backfields have given McCarthy depth players having to become starters, and NFL-E talent and stumblebums to provide depth. But a good coach has to find a way to make that work. And an excellent way to get that done is to accomplish what he keeps repeating: these players have to have excellent fundamentals.

But, if they don’t have decent fundamentals after four years in the system, when do we expect that to happen? When are players going to be sat down when they mess up, giving them the impetus to feel that their job is on the line? Again, it would be helpful if Thompson would be willing to bring in more than an old tackle at the veteran’s minimum to challenge the current roster, but the product on the field still is the responsibility of the coach: a coach who is going to face a chopping block far sooner than a general manager. When the same coaching errors continue to happen, week after week, that day is coming sooner rather than later.

One preseason, he runs easy practices to reduce the strain on the team and try to keep them healthy. The next year, he runs the hardest training camp in the memory of most long-time fans. Yet, the results appear to be the same when the hitting actually starts.

The truest test of a coach’s ability is to look at what he is doing with the talent he has been given, and while he is working with a dearth of talent in a couple of spots (safety, offensive tackle), most scouts will tell you that Thompson has given the Packers a pretty good pile of talented players to work with. Al Harris, Charles Woodson, Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Ryan Grant, Cullen Jenkins, Aaron Kampman, Nick Barnett, Nick Collins, Ryan Pickett…do the Lions or the Browns have any player on their team that can compare to these guys? Yet, despite the talent, week in and week out the Packers can’t seem to even reach the sum of their parts, much less exceed them.

That is the definition of synergy: the ability for a team to surpass the sum of their parts.

Certainly, the 2007 Packers were the very definition of a synergistic team. Today, they are the opposite, in which the amazing talents of Kampman, Jennings, and Rodgers are diminished because of the efforts of the team around them.

Incidentally, the opposite of synergy is antergy.

Let’s be honest: the Packers are expected to win the next two games. There is no excuse for not being able to beat the Lions or the Browns, who will come in with a combined record of 2-8 and are clearly nowhere near the caliber of talent the Packers possess. The true measuring stick will likely come down to the next game against the Vikings, at home, on November 1st: a redemption game in so many ways for the Packers.

A loss there will cast a lot of doubt on McCarthy and his ability to truly hold a team accountable. Another loss before that will seal it up.


IPB said...

NOW.... we're hitting it where it needs to be.

This is one of the first straight-on write-ups I've seen in a long long time. Thank you for that.

I have been a critique of the "play-it-safe" protocol that MAC favors, even during the 2007 season...where, I might add, the Packer could have, should have, been 15-1, not a simple 13-3. Tell me that should not have been possible. In your last Article I posted some direct language to certain facts - which I now see displayed in this one.

At the beginning, 2006, I heard the word [Pittsburgh] and I thought for sure, the Packers had turned a corner, back in the right direction. Both Teams have such great history, how can they not prosper taking advantage of the tactics the other might be using. (??)

To disagree - I've been a regular fan of Brady PopPinga since he came onto the Team. My attitude is the coaching staff has never been able, or refuses, to use him properly, or in the right situations.

To be more clear - all real fans of the game know that good coaches are GREAT teachers. Without that resource, the 1st round draft picks wallow and die on the vine. I've seen it happen all the time.

While some of our Coaching staff does seem to have what it takes - a larger percentage are lucky they can simply hold down jobs. AND, that's how they treat the situation - like a job. You do not get the sense that there is a passion for the game in the lot of them.

In many of my comments over the last two seasons, I've directed a pointed attitude at the OLC and the OC, as well. I never was a fan of the OC staying up in the box, and away from the players on the field. ANY asst coach can go sit up in the box and report back thru the headset. Sherm Lewis usually preferred to stay down on the field, and that's as it should be. The OC can better delegate to his assistants what needs to be focused on. Simplistic? Maybe.

A fair to middlin' GM would look outstanding as long as the Coaching Staff has the talent level to MOLD and TEACH the players.

What worries the most, is this political correctness that's invaded the Sporting Press throughout. It's almost comical how they (like Hollywood) focus on only the few, when it's the many that make the game great. The same PC process also causes some issues to not be dealt with WHEN THEY SHOULD BE.

Example - I wonder how Holmgren would deal with a QB who couldn't, or wouldn't, make up his mind. I think, much like what TT did, MH would have gone out and brought in a future replacement - end of discussion. And, you can bet the Gunslinger wouldn't be sassin' anyone, nor running home to mama to complain either. Holmgren would have simply benched the guy. Especially after that 2nd attempt of not knowing if he felt like he would come back or not.

Enough is enough, already.

Personally, CD, I think you should delve down another layer and sharpen the lens. Remember when Sherman took the ball out of Favre's hand when we played Carolina a few years back, right when Favre was slingin' us into the WIN column? Tell me MAC didn't do that at least in 4 different games, last season.

I see no problem with shootin from the hip .... the real packerfans can handle it - the pretenders, the Dan Marino type followers who now say they USED TO BE packerfans would not handle it well. And, for the life of me, why would REAL packerfans care about that.

IPB said...

Oops - meant to say CRITIC....

C.D. Angeli said...

Thanks for your thoughts, IPB.

I'm a strong believer in being assertive. Sometimes what we see in both Thompson and McCarthy is that passive-aggressiveness. Oftentimes, both play it safe and conservative. There are some coaches or GMs that take it the other way and are overly aggressive (Dan Snyder comes to mind). Being assertive means taking the chances that you need to, that have a moderate-risk/high-reward potential, but not every risk that comes along.

I agree that the "play it safe" approach may help you avoid making glaring errors, but it doesn't get you to the top of the mountain, either.

Anonymous said...

I am always curious how a great article can be followed by one like this.

First ... of this TALENT
nearly half are not Ted guys at all
and after 5 years only 3 are ted draft choices

the problem is not enough talent

2nd, it starts in the trenches and we have dog squat


Many people, including yours truly posted last year, the year before and this preseason about the disaster waiting and gave the reasons why, to many refused to see, just like to many refuse to see the NFCC game for what it was

that does not change reality and nobody is winning in the NFL with the people we had on this OL starting in MINN, NOBODY

and the fact is ted just gives jobs (MM role is not clear to me) to his draft choices, job they did not earn and did not deserve

instead of asking why MM does not sit people

you should be asking how those people got to be starters

because that is the initial problem and when CERTAIN people get what they did not earn and then keep after it should have been taken away

teams splinter

"Thompson has given the Packers a pretty good pile of talented players to work with. Al Harris, Charles Woodson, Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Ryan Grant, Cullen Jenkins, Aaron Kampman, Nick Barnett, Nick Collins, Ryan Pickett…

Anonymous said...

Totally agree about MM. It has always concerned me that he didn't come from a winning program. As was noted with respect to the previous post, he belongs to the Schottenheimer coaching tree, which is not of championship caliber. MM has proven he is a pretty good quarterback coach, but he doesn't seem to know how to win football games, and the endless recurrence of the same problems -- penalties, bad special-teams play, weak running game, feeble line play on both sides of the ball, a general lack of toughness and cold-weather indomitability -- tell me that he has taken the Packers as far as he can. They are a bunch of underachievers. Sometimes you see a flash, but it never takes hold. I am tired of hearing about how this will get "cleaned up" and that will get "fixed," but nothing ever is. If this season doesn't rapidly turn around and the team play to something like its potential, I think he has to go. And I would like to see TT hire Gruden. He has a history in Green Bay and he seems to like Rodgers -- almost drafted him in '05 but took Cadillac Williams instead. Most of all, Gruden has fire and intensity. He is the type who could push a potentially pretty good team into gear.

IPB said...

Thanks for comeback, CD. Much appreciated.

As for "Anonymous" - IF you have posted over several seasons, why is you can't afford anyone know you at least by a moniker?

No.2 - THIS team is LOADED with talent. It's all over the place. What the REAL issue is.... is how the ASSISTANT coaching staff cannot make hay out of what they've been given. THIS IS THE REAL CRUX... not that we don't have any players worth a tinker's damn.

Personally I have no use for Daryn Colledge. To me, he's just another Ross Verba, and that experiment went NO where real fast. You would think that a guy who gets such high praise from so many sports writers would at least get better at the trade, IN HIS 3RD SEASON. But, that ain't happening.

I also thought Scottie Wells was given a contract waay too early - he should have been made to wait until AFTER that season was done.

It's nice to see Josh Sitton stepping up - he really does look like a permanent replacement at RG. He's not Marco Rivera yet... but, we'll see.

TJ LANG, I think, has potential... but with Campen as the OLC.. it could be yet another failed process.

I see 85% of our issues as coaches not knowing how to TEACH.

It's really THAT simple.