On October 15th against the Vikings, Packers “All-World” quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, and would not return until December 17th against the Panthers, losing that game. The Rodgers injury exposed the flaws within this organization, as the Packers finished below .500 for the just the third time since 1991. This injury brought about an off-season of change that was long overdue. Ted Thompson was reassigned to finish out his contract, and will retire at the end of next season. Longtime defensive coordinator Dom Capers, offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, and inside linebackers coach Scott McCurley were all fired or did not have their contracts renewed. The Packers organization is also hoping that most of the rest of their remaining assistants leave to pursue other opportunities. They have already hired a new GM, Brian Guteknust, and settled on a defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine. To make sense of all of this, we called upon our insightful in-house analyst T.J. Bryce to give us his opinion.
For some of you that have been lucky enough to have experienced it, you might want to think back at the time when you had ridden on Disney’s Space Mountain, the fast-paced indoor roller coaster attraction at the Magic Kingdom. It is a fast-paced, thrilling fun ride, in the dark, so you don’t see what’s ahead of you. All you feel is the very real sensation of going up and down.
Actually, every Packers fan in the world has been on that ride since week one back in September. We finally got off the ride, two nights ago at about 8:30 p.m. U.S. Central time, when the Packers announced Mike Pettine would be their new defensive coordinator. Before proverbial “ride” started, the first five weeks of the season went as expected. After their thrilling comeback in Dallas, 2017 had the makings of a very special season. But the very next week that broken collarbone changed not only the Packers season, but the landscape for most of the league. In the days following the news Aaron Rodgers would likely miss the remainder of the season, the roller coaster ride took a sharp turn. For about a month, it stayed like that. But then strange things started to happen. The Wild Card contenders in the NFC started to lose. The Packers pulled off minor miracles two weeks in a row, in overtime, against the Buccaneers and the Browns. The Browns overtime win was perhaps less than a miracle, but more a product of quite possibly the dumbest decision an NFL quarterback has made in recent memory. That’s when DeShone Kizer decided to launch the ball straight up in the air on third down, on his team’s one and only overtime possession.
The stage was set, and the roller coaster ride took another sharp exciting turn. Aaron Rodgers “Sat Up,” just as The Undertaker has in many a match over his near 30-year career in the WWE. Rodgers came off injured reserve and started in Carolina. Three interceptions later, the roller coaster ride took a nosedive. The very next night, Buccaneers kicker Patrick Murray’s kick went wide right against Atlanta, and the Packers missed the playoffs for the first time since the second Bush administration. The following day, Rodgers went back onto injured reserve (with a few barks from other teams regarding protocol,) and the hapless Packers lost their last two games, finishing below .500 for just the third time in recent memory. Those last two games were “auto pilot” games for most of the players, and it showed.
After the Packers embarrassed themselves in Detroit in week 17, fans were all geared up for change. It really didn’t happen at first, and the roller coaster ride took another noise dive. Ted Thompson showed no indication of pushing Mike McCarthy make any changes, and McCarthy took “forever” to decide to finally fire Dom Capers. The way they went about it, is what I believe to be the last straw for the “higher ups” in the organization. For a good 36 hours after the Lions game was over, they were acting as if it was no big deal, nothing happened, the ship was not sinking, and everything’s fine. They fired Capers, and then basically said they would replace him when they got around to it, possibly with an assistant.
That is when Mark Murphy said “Enough is enough.” and the roller coaster ride took an exciting turn for the better. Murphy marched into Thompson’s office Monday night and told him he was being relieved of his GM duties, effective immediately. This kicked McCarthy into gear, and in the following days he fired most of his coaching staff, including both coordinators, and many of his assistants. But then the roller coaster ride took another turn for the worse. Murphy seemed determined to name the Packers cap manager and contract negotiator Russ Ball the new general manager, because of their past relationship, and because Thompson told him too. Of course Thompson would want Ball to get the nod. If things took a turn for the better, he could still take the credit. The fan base wanted Eliot Wolf, the prodigal son of Ron Wolf, the man who brought the Packers out of the basement and into prosperity in the 90’s. None of this mattered, because Brian Guteknust “wowed” in his interview, and the Packers chose their best scout as their next GM. Crisis avoided. Having their cap manager as their GM would have been an EPIC mistake. Your GM should be your best scout, not a financial guy. At first, I wanted Wolf, but then I realized, Guteknust is 10 years older than Wolf, and unlike Wolf, he has played and coached football before becoming a scout. From what we understand, he is going to be more aggressive than his predecessor in player acquisition, not just (in my opinion) over-relying on draft choices. That is the change they needed. With that settled, the attention turned back to the coaching staff.
I have been calling for McCarthy to be fired since the middle of the 2015 season. After the decisions he has made this off season, and the way the rest of the coaching market has unfolded, I’m not so sure anymore. My two (realistic) choices to replace him were Jim Harbaugh and Jon Gruden. I thought either one would just jump at the chance to coach the Green Bay Packers and a healthy Aaron Rodgers in 2018. I was wrong. Jim Harbaugh said he was not ready to return to the NFL, and the Raiders threw stupid money at Jon Gruden. The raiders spent 100 million dollars for a coach. Let that sink in. There is no way in their right mind the Packers should even consider trying to match that. Aside from those two, there really aren’t any coaches out there who would be considered to be an upgrade for this upcoming season, especially after the decisions McCarthy made in the hiring department.
As I’ve told a few select people recently, we have the tale of two Mike McCarthy’s. The Mike McCarthy of the last few years has been a lifeless, emotionless, predictable coach. I want the real Mike McCarthy back. The original Mike McCarthy. Mike McCarthy, is a brilliant, innovative, unpredictable genius, with exciting but balanced game plans, running an unstoppable offense, and a man who knows exactly what button to push, at what time, with each player. When the real Mike McCarthy walked the Packers sideline, all of those traits were apparent. You know who made it all go? A man named Joe Philbin. We’ll stop right here, and return to this subject next week.