Mike McCarthy Could Be the Next Ugly Exit in Green Bay
Nothing lasts forever, especially in professional sports.
In all likelihood, Green Bay will add a new chapter with Mike McCarthy’s dismissal after the 2018 season. And like most endings, this one has gotten a little bit ugly. The Packers have lost four of their last five games their playoff hopes are all but gone. For all intents and purposes, the season is over and a divorce with one of the most successful coaches in team history seems imminent.
That McCarthy would end his tenure in Green Bay with a whimper is not unusual, though. The Packers seem to be predisposed to ugly endings. Over the last 25 years, more than a few high-profile coaches and players have left the organization on a sour note.
1999: The exodus of head coach Mike Holmgren
Head coach Mike Holmgren added a clause to his contract in February 1998 that he may leave for a position "equal or greater to a head coach and general manager,” as long as the team hiring Holmgren compensated the Packers with a second-round draft choice in the 1999 season. After the Packers lost in the postseason to San Francisco to end their 1998 season, Holmgren was hired by the Seattle Seahawks.
General manager Ron Wolf interviewed only one candidate to replace Holmgren – Ray Rhodes. Rhodes had previously been in Green Bay as a defensive coordinator in 1993, but resigned, citing problems his children had living in the NFL's smallest city as well as the harsh Wisconsin winters.
1999: The retirement of receiver Robert Brooks
In February 1998, the Packers signed wide receiver Robert Brooks to a then-massive five-year, $15 million contract. It was seen as a risky deal, given Brooks’ long injury history and a reported six concussions. Pain in his knees was so excruciating that Brooks couldn’t practice without medication or practice twice a day in training camp without lying flat on the floor between workouts.
After being excused from minicamps in the 1999 offseason, Brooks practiced just once in training camp and informed the team of his intention to retire. In September, the Packers requested repayment of 80% of the $3.5 million signing bonus Brooks received in February 1998 to give the Packers more room under the salary cap.
2000: The firing of head coach Ray Rhodes
The Packers became the first NFL team to have an African-American head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator in 1999, but finished the season with a disappointing 8-8 record. The coaching staff, led by head coach Ray Rhodes, was fired after the 1999 season.
The firing drew national criticism from Rev. Jesse Jackson and his civil rights group Rainbow Sports. The coalition expressed “grave concerns and disappointment” over Rhodes’ firing in a letter sent to Ron Wolf. The two sides spoke shortly after the letter was sent and had a “very amicable” conference, according to Jackson.
2001: The unexpected retirement of Ron Wolf
Less than two years after Holmgren departed in search of a job with both head coach and general manager responsibilities, Packers general manager Ron Wolf retired. Despite having future general managers Reggie McKenzie and John Dorsey within the organization, team president Bob Harlan did not interview any candidates and promoted head coach Mike Sherman to the job. Sherman was stripped of the title after the 2005 season.
2004: The departure of wide receivers coach Ray Sherman
The tragic, accidental death of the coach’s son prompted Sherman to leave the Packers after the 2004 season for new surroundings in Tennessee. During Sherman’s tenure with the team, he helped develop seventh-round pick Donald Driver into a star and helped Javon Walker become a deep threat for Brett Favre.
2004-2005: The holdouts of corner Mike McKenzie and receiver Javon Walker
Less than two years after signing a five-year extension, cornerback Mike McKenzie held out for a trade. Sherman held the line with his disgruntled cornerback until mid-September 2004 before ultimately trading McKenzie to the Saints.
Following the 2004 season, star receiver Javon Walker hired a new agent and demanded a trade ora new contract. He ultimately returned to the Packers in 2005, but tore his ACL in the team’s first game. Green Bay would trade Walker to the Denver Broncos during the 2006 NFL Draft, using the second-round pick acquired in the trade to select Greg Jennings.
2006: The departure of defensive coordinator Jim Bates
Defensive coordinator Jim Bates joined the Packers for the 2005 season, taking over a defense maligned for giving up late leads. He turned the unit around tremendously, and the Packers finished seventh in total defense and first in pass defense despite a 4-12 record.
Bates badly wanted to be head coach after Mike Sherman was fired, and was interviewed one day before the hiring of Mike McCarthy. Despite meeting McCarthy twice after his hiring, Bates decided to leave the team.
2008: The retirement of quarterback Brett Favre
Quarterback Brett Favre retired after the 2007 season. He subsequently changed his mind, flying back to Green Bay during the annual Family Night scrimmage at Lambeau Field to meet with general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy. Favre refused to back up Aaron Rodgers and he was traded to the New York Jets with a poison pill provision stating the Jets could not trade him to another NFC North team.
Favre was released following the 2008 season and signed with the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent. He retired after the 2010 season.
2013: The departure of receiver Greg Jennings
A year before hitting free agency, wide receiver Greg Jennings asked for a contract extension worth $15 million per season, $5 million more than the highest paid receiver. Jennings turned down the Packers’ offer of $8 million per season.
After a disappointing 2012 season where his sister tweeted insults towards Aaron Rodgers, Jennings signed with the rival Vikings for $5 million per season.
2017: The release of cornerback Sam Shields
The talent cornerback Sam Shields helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV as a rookie, and was one of the best at his position before his fifth concussion ended his 2016 season after one game. The Packers, Shields claimed, rarely reached out to him after he was placed on injured reserve.
Shields was released that offseason in a move that saved the Packers $9 million in salary cap space. Though he was away from football the following season, he made the Los Angeles Rams 53-man roster out of training camp in 2018.
2018: The release of tight end Martellus Bennett
The Packers signed talented tight end Martellus Bennett to a three-year, $21 million contract with the hopes that Bennett would give the team a weapon over the middle of the field and in the red zone.
Bennett struggled throughout the season, and his effort level seemed to drop after Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone against the Vikings. By November, the Packers released Bennett and claimed the tight end failed to disclose his shoulder was badly injured.
Bennett posted on social media about how team doctor Pat McKenzie mishandled the situation, and a wave of both current and former Packers came out in support of Dr. McKenzie. The tight end, meanwhile, was signed by the Patriots shortly after his release and played in two games with New England.
2018: The departure of general manager Ted Thompson
General manager Ted Thompson stepped down from his post after the 2017 season, weeks after the Cleveland Browns hired John Dorsey. Dorsey, who played for Green Bay in the 80’s and worked in the team’s front office for decades, was considered a top candidate to replace Thompson.
Dorsey poached Eliot Wolf, long considered to be a candidate to replace Thompson in Green Bay, to join his staff in Cleveland after Brian Gutekunst was promoted to Packers general manager. Eliot’s father Ron Wolf says, “Obviously the people up there don’t think he’s worthy or they would’ve hired him. End of discussion.”
2018: The firing of quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt
McCarthy let quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt go following the 2017 season without consulting quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers, who rarely comments on team decisions, called the move “an interesting decision” in a radio interview.
Van Pelt joined the Cincinnati Bengals nine days after his contract with the Packers expired.