Why Mike McCarthy is Coaching for His Job in 2018
I think Mike McCarthy is coaching for his job in 2018, and here's why.
We already know a few things about this season for sure.
First, Mike McCarthy is going into the second to last year of his contract, but coaches rarely get to the last year of their contract much less have their contracts expire. That happened to Marvin Lewis this offseason high and he was signed to and an extension (which I guess technically is a new contract with the Bengals). But other than that it really is unusual for a coach to get to the last year of his contract and then have people decide what they're going to do with him.
So in a way, this is the last year of McCarthy's contract. The Packers did have an opportunity to extend him, but they chose only to add that single year, not giving him that additional job security of a long-term contract.
Secondly, this is the second time that McCarthy has done a major staff overhaul. This is the most coaches he's turned over in one offseason since 2009. He’s riding into 2018 with his hand-picked staff, a mid-30s MVP-caliber quarterback, and his first injection of new perspective on defense in nearly a decade. What else is there for Mike McCarthy to fine tune? He's got what he wants, he's been here a long time, he's got an all-world quarterback. It's time for some action.
Whether you believe the Packers are wasting Aaron Rodgers or that they should have won more Super Bowls by now or not, the fact is that they haven't won a Super Bowl since 2010. How many shots do you give a guy to get back to that game after he wins it? With all that in mind, I think it's McCarthy coaching to keep his job rather than to avoid losing it in 2018.
Setting expectations for 2018
So let's explore a little bit about what it would take for Mike McCarthy to keep his job. Much like the series we've been doing over the past few weeks, I think it's all about meeting expectations. Expectations for coaches vary pretty widely for coaches at different points in their careers.
Bill Belichick is probably past expectations at this point. If Patriots fans have any expectations for Bill Belichick at this point I don't know what they could possibly be, because he has given them more than any sports fan could ever hope to have in like five lifetimes.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, think what the expectations for a guy like Doug Pederson were at the start of last season. He was heading into his second season as a head coach, he had a budding young quarterback, and a defense that had some pieces, and defenses can be fickle from season to season. What do we really expect from Doug Pederson in that respect?
Mike McCarthy falls somewhere in between those two coaches, somewhere between 2017 pre-Super Bowl Doug Pederson and the immortal Bill Belichick. So what are the expectations?
I think it's helpful first and foremost to lay out what the expectations are not.
First and foremost, they aren't just making the playoffs. I think that's a fairly decent baseline expectation. If you have Aaron Rodgers, you should be able to at least make the playoffs, so it's not going to save McCarthy if the if the Packers make just make the playoffs. Conversely, this also isn’t a “Super Bowl or bust” situation. The 2018 season isn't going to be an all-out failure if Mike McCarthy fails to win a Superbowl for the Packers. I think the expectations for McCarthy are somewhere in between those two extremes.
What are the criteria for McCarthy keeping his job?
I think this is a situation of needing to see a certain level of success from the team and some improvement in overall feel for where the program is under McCarthy.
Let's define success. To me, success for Mike McCarthy and the Packers in 2018 would be a convincing NFC North title win. The Minnesota Vikings have lived on the top for far too long. One season is absolutely far too long. The Packers need to knock them off the top of the NFC North and say that as long as Aaron Rodgers as the quarterback in Green Bay, the road to being the NFC North champs is going to go through the Packers. That's step one.
Step two, I think, is advancing at least to the divisional round of the playoffs, hopefully with a bye. The Packers need to be dominant enough in the regular season that they get to the divisional round either by a bye or a convincing wildcard win. No more backing into the playoffs, really needing a win and in Weeks 16 and 17, trying to run the table, or what have you. No more of that. The Packers need to be dominant in the regular season and get to the playoffs on their own strength, not needing help from anybody else.
From here gets a little bit more tricky. When we start talking about improvement what do we mean by that? The fact of the matter is the Packers really didn't scare anybody on offense or defense in 2017. When Aaron Rodgers was the quarterback and healthy, they were scary. But once he was gone there was no amount of coaching that made the Packers scary on offense, and the defense was just an absolute train wreck in which players had given up by the end of the season.
If there's an easy way for the team to improve in those areas, it's via the coaching staff, to say nothing of the players that they may acquire this offseason. They've got a coaching staff in place that should be able to get improvement out of these guys. Not only that, but we must again emphasize that Mike McCarthy has had his pick of guys to make things better. If the Packers can’t improve with the group of coaches that McCarthy has picked, nobody in this coaching staff has any business being involved in the Packers in 2019.
Then it comes down to things like perception and feel for the team. Consider these general questions about the Packers: When have you felt energy around this team? When have we felt a sense of general competence, making sure all the t’s were crossed and the i’s were dotted? When was there a sense of innovation around the Packers? When was the last time you felt like the Packers were ahead of the curve in any area?
Without getting into a discussion about Mike McCarthy's weight, this is something that I do tend to agree with Bob McGinn about: there's just no sense of fire or drive or intensity around the top end of the Packers organization and that includes Mike McCarthy.
As far as general competence, McCarthy is pretty good at this generally, but in 2017, you saw a lot of that start to fall apart. Running plays on defense with nine or ten guys on the field, not being able to get play calls in quickly, not having Brett Hundley prepared enough to run basic offense. That's stuff that a good coach should be able to straighten out, and Mike McCarthy didn't seem to have a super great handle on that in 2017.
A wildcard in the process
The unknown variable in all of this is Mark Murphy. With the Packers leadership structure the way it is, now he's the guy making all these calls. What would it take for him to fire Mike McCarthy? Since he has the final say over who's the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, what would it take? What are his criteria?
Given how the general manager search appeared to go, at least on the outside, I'm not sure Murphy has defined criteria. That may not be a bad thing, but it does make you wonder a little bit. You should be able to plan for these things ahead of time to an extent when your only decisions on stuff like coaching are going pop up a couple times a year. I wonder if Mark Murphy is. If the time comes to fire Mike McCarthy, will he be ready to make the call?
This post is an adapted transcript of the most recent episode of Blue 58, a Packers podcast from The Power Sweep. Listen to the full episode below, and don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, CastBox and more to stay on top of the best in Packers news and analysis.