Green Bay Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac and defensive end Cullen Jenkins during practice in the Don Hutson Center, Friday, January 28, 2011. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette
IRVING, Texas — In the 1990s, Mike Holmgren compiled an offensive coaching staff that included five future NFL head coaches.
Though the five — Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci, Marty Mornhinweg, Andy Reid and Mike Sherman — never all worked for the Green Bay Packers at the same time, at least two were on Holmgren’s staff throughout his tenure as head coach.
Not surprisingly, it was difficult to keep such an all-star cast intact.
More than a decade later, the Packers might soon be facing the same problem on the other side of the football.
In just the second year under veteran coordinator Dom Capers, the Packers’ defense has quickly gained a reputation for having a standout staff.
“You have a lot of coaches who are not necessarily good teachers, but the thing about our staff is you have guys that actually sit down and teach the game, especially for a young player, and get them to understand exactly why they’re doing different things instead of just telling them to do it,” Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. “That’s the thing about our staff that makes them so good.”
Even though Capers is 60 years old, he continues to show a zest for concocting game plans and tweaking his scheme, and that has helped the Packers reach Super Bowl XLV on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. And it almost certainly means retirement is nowhere in his near future.
That’s good news-bad news for the Packers. It means they should have their respected defensive coordinator for several more years, but it also means they might soon lose guys like defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, safeties coach Darren Perry, cornerback coach Joe Whitt and assistant head coach/linebackers coach Winston Moss because they almost certainly would need to leave for another team in order to become a coordinator.
“Probably,” Trgovac acknowledged. “When you get a setup like this, it’s hard to leave this setup. You’ve got a good team and one of things you always look for is, do you have a quarterback on the team? And we’ve got a pretty good one here. So you’ve got the chance to win.”
Perhaps no one on the Packers’ staff has a better insight into Capers’ thinking than Trgovac. Their wives have become close friends since Trgovac joined Capers in Green Bay in 2009, and Trgovac knows how much Capers looks up to his close friend and counterpart with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dick LeBeau.
“We were just talking about this the other day because Dick’s 73 years old now and still (coaching),” Trgovac said. “Dom’s either with his wife or he’s coaching football. He’s not going to do anything else. Right now, I don’t think his wife is going to want him around. She likes that six-month hiatus she gets every year, and Dom’s going to coach forever. He’s so healthy. He doesn’t look like he’s 60. He’s going to be doing this for a long time. This is what he does, and this is what he knows.”
The Packers could be in danger of losing one or more of Capers’ assistants after the Super Bowl. The Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders both need defensive coordinators and are believed to be interested in members of the Packers’ staff, most likely Perry. Trgovac has said he plans to stay put in Green Bay for at least one more season in large part because he wants his daughter, a high school junior, to finish school in Green Bay.
Trgovac wants to be a coordinator again after doing the job from 2003 to 2008 with the Carolina Panthers. He ran a 4-3 defense but has fallen in love with Capers’ 3-4 and likely would run it if he got another shot. Trgovac might be the likely successor to Capers with the Packers if he’s willing to wait it out.
The other three might not be willing to wait, especially considering they have head-coaching aspirations. Moss, 45, has already interviewed for a head coaching job — in 2009 with the Raiders — and said this week he desperately wants to run his own defense and someday his own team.
“He’s head coach-ready today,” Whitt said of Moss.
Perry, 42, and Whitt, 32, are quickly becoming mentioned among the top young assistants in the game. Perry has extensive experience in the Capers-LeBeau system, having played and coached with the Steelers. He has helped develop Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins. Whitt has been credited with developing young corners Tramon Williams and Sam Shields while also working well with Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson despite being two years younger than Woodson.
Then there’s Kevin Greene, the former outside linebacker who quickly has shown a knack for teaching players at his old position.
As solid as the individuals on this staff appear, the key to its success might be the sum of the parts.
“I think the egos are in check,” Perry said. “We don’t have coaches that are concerned about who’s going to get the credit. In this business, the more unselfish guys that you have, because this is the ultimate team sport and if your players see fragments in your staff, you’re probably going to have it in your players and in your defense. So to me, that’s one of the top criteria that you have to have in order to play championship-level football, and it starts from the top.”