Why Isn't Edgar Bennett a Head Coach?
It’s not a stretch to say that the Packers would not be where they are today without Edgar Bennett.
Only Ted Thompson can compete with Bennett’s Packers pedigree over the last 25 years. Since Bennett joined the team in 1992, he has been a part of only four non-playoff teams.
As a running back, he was a part of the best offensive years of Brett Favre and started for the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. As a coach, he presided over the ascension of Aaron Rodgers and helped develop his stable of weapons, from James Starks to Randall Cobb.
Now, Bennett is the highest ranking offensive coach for one of the league’s most powerful attacks.
So why isn’t the talented player, coach and man given more consideration to be an NFL head coach?
Does Edgar Bennett want to be a head coach?
“If an opportunity like that comes up and I’m fortunate to have a chance like that, I just want to make the most of it," Bennett said during the 2015 season when asked if becoming a head coach is his career goal.
When the opportunity does come along, his current boss thinks Bennett has what it takes.
“I think Edgar Bennett is head coach material in the National Football League,” Mike McCarthy said before the start of last season. “When you look at what he’s done at every position, he’s had success. He did a great job with the running backs, great job with the receivers and that’s a big part of why he’s our offensive coordinator today.”
Bennett waited patiently to start his coaching career
Coaching seemed to be in the cards for Edgar Bennett. His father coached high school basketball in Florida, and Bennett was the kind of detail-oriented, smart player who winds up either coaching or scouting.
When Packers head coach Mike Sherman hired Bennett in 2001 as director of player development, he also gave him another, informal charge – start learning how to coach running backs.
For two years, Bennett assisted running backs coach Sylvester Croom. He attended every running backs meeting, offensive and team meeting, staff meeting and practice. Bennett coached from the sidelines, while Croom worked from the press box. When Croom was hired to be Mississippi State’s head coach in 2003, the 34-year-old Bennett was ready to assume control.
Not so fast. Sherman determined it would be too hard to replace Bennett, who acted as a go-between the players and coaches. Johnny Roland was hired to coach running backs in 2004, but left the team a season later.
As a result, Bennett was named the team’s running backs coach in 2005. The Packers finished that season with a 4-12 record, and Sherman was fired. Bennett’s long-awaited opportunity was in jeopardy.
Bennett rises through the ranks under McCarthy
When new coach Mike McCarthy came to town, he only promised Bennett an opportunity to interview for his old job. Bennett aced the interview, and McCarthy kept him as running backs coach.
Five years later after the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, McCarthy needed to replace the departing Jimmy Robinson as wide receivers coach. He tapped Bennett, despite Bennett having spent his entire playing and coaching career in the backfield.
"To be honest, the first thing you think about is leaving your comfort zone," Bennett said of the decision to switch position groups. "But it goes back to wanting to improve and grow as a coach and embracing it.”
The wide receivers in Green Bay were consistently reminded by their coach of the importance of ball security and eliminating drops. When Randall Cobb struggled with fumbling early in his career, Bennett leaned on him.
"I could have had a great day and he'd beat me up," Cobb said. "He'd say, 'Don't fumble in practice,' and I didn't fumble in practice. It's just one of those things he'd continue to beat in your head and really continue to motivate and push you.”
Bennett’s hard line on fumbling came from his playing days. As a rookie fullback in 1992, Bennett was benched by head coach Mike Holmgren twice for fumbling. The rookie learned his lesson and fumbled only once in 474 touches over the next two years.
A promotion to offensive coordinator
So where does Bennett go from here?
The Packers under McCarthy regularly block other teams from interviewing their assistants for coordinator jobs while the coach is still under contract with Green Bay.
By 2015, Bennett had spent over a decade as a position coach. It’s unclear whether teams had contacted the Packers to interview him for a coordinator job, but it was clear to McCarthy that Bennett was ready for a new challenge.
When McCarthy handed play-calling duties off to Tom Clements in 2015, Bennett was promoted to offensive coordinator. Clements focused on the big picture, and Bennett handled the day-to-day duties and scripted practice.
By December 2015, McCarthy took back the play-calling from Clements after four months. Between McCarthy, Clements, Bennett and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, no one quite knew how the distribution of power would look going forward.
When Mike McCarthy announced in January that Clements chose not to return to Green Bay in 2017, it left Bennett as the highest-ranking offensive assistant under McCarthy.
When will Edgar Bennett become a head coach?
Two of the three previous coaches in Green Bay to rise through the ranks to offensive coordinator have gone on to work as head coaches. Joe Philbin became the Packers’ offensive coordinator after nearly a decade as a position coach in Green Bay. He went on to work as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
Ben McAdoo followed a similar route, working behind the scenes before making the jump to offensive coordinator as a member of Tom Coughlin’s staff in New York. He completed his first year as head coach last season.
If Bennett stays in his current role, it could be only a matter of time before he gets a similar call. Over the past 10 years, an average of eight new head coaches are hired each season. If that day comes, Bennett will be ready.
“If things work out and I’m put in position to be a head coach, that’ll be a tremendous blessing,” Bennett said before the 2016 season began. “But what matters is continuing to grow, getting better every day.”