Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy poses for a photo with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after his post-Super Bowl press conference inside the Media Center at the Dallas Sheraton on Monday, Feb. 7, 2011. / File/Press-Gazette
Coach Mike McCarthy used the Green Bay Packers’ playoff run that ended with a Super Bowl championship as an opportunity to develop leadership among his players.
McCarthy had the team vote for six playoff captains, one from each phase of the game, and part of that group’s responsibility was to designate a representative to give a pregame speech each week.
“That is something that just popped in my head,” McCarthy said at his season-ending press conference Wednesday at Lambeau Field. “I was thinking about it driving home one night and prayed on it. I didn’t know if that was the right thing to do.
“I was never comfortable with the level of leadership on the prior teams that I have coached here, and I thought that would be a great opportunity to try to develop leadership. I am always looking for opportunities to develop leadership, whether it is an assistant coach, whether it is a player. There was a positive response that came from that.”
Still, McCarthy was unsure at first. Most coaches like to have the final say before the team takes the field. McCarthy was giving up a level of control.
“It was risky … you’ve just got to trust your instincts,” McCarthy said. “No one is comfortable delegating leadership, especially when you are the leader. Let’s be honest, everybody has an ego. What I have learned about egos is the ability to have discipline with your ego. It’s fun to drive the car, don’t get me wrong. It’s a lot of fun to have the big chair and the big office, but you have to do what is best for the team.
“If you feel you are missing something, well, how do you develop it? Just because it may not show up in a book or someone may not have done it that way in the past, I don’t think that is the right way to look at things. … I think Aaron (Rodgers) and Charles Woodson jumped through the door with the opportunity, and I am looking for more players on our team to grow in that area.”
The results were obvious. When the drama surrounding the team photo arose, it was Rodgers and Woodson that went to McCarthy and had the date of the picture changed.
Later in the week, Rodgers told the media that several players on injured reserve hadn’t been around the team much during their rehab. The quarterback sent a message he and others in the locker room felt needed to be vocalized.
Woodson stood up to say a few words during halftime of the Super Bowl. He looked around, his arm in a sling after breaking his collarbone in the second quarter, and barely got a word out when the tears came. The message from Woodson was not articulate – basically just win -- but the image of their leader in tears meant more than any speech would have.
Woodson will not need surgery on the broken collarbone.
Receiver Donald Driver has a high ankle sprain and probably would not have been able to play if there was a game this week.
Linebacker A.J. Hawk suffered a chronic wrist injury and will need arthroscopic surgery.
Cornerback Sam Shields had a shoulder sprain and is still being tested.
Receiver Jordy Nelson, who was seen on crutches at one point Tuesday, suffered a knee bursa contusion that was quite painful in the fourth quarter, but did not leave the game.
“He’ll be fine,” McCarthy said. “It won’t be a serious injury. Obviously it looked bad. It was a pretty significant injury that he fought through the fourth quarter and played with. Played very well but played injured.
“A lot of credit should go to Jordy Nelson for fighting through that.”
Outlive your life
McCarthy was very secretive about the identity of the guest speaker that would address the team the night before the Super Bowl. It turned out to be sports psychologist Kevin Elko, a Pittsburgh native that worked for the Saints at the same time McCarthy was an assistant.
The message: Outlive your life.
“It was a great message to our football team,” McCarthy said. “A very personal message to our football team. It was something that I think guys really took to heart. … I told the football team yesterday that we’ll all be connected together for the rest of our lives. We’ll all be connected as champions. Hopefully our children will also be connected through this championship.
“Super Bowl 45 will always be special and it will definitely outlive all of our lives.”
McCarthy was asked about the flood of phone calls he received after the Super Bowl and which one stood out the most.
“I think the President of the United States would probably be the first one to acknowledge,” McCarthy said. “It was great to talk to Mr. President. It was a neat conversation. He was very complimentary of our football team and what we endured as a football team. Very complimentary of Aaron Rodgers, notable of Charles Woodson. But that’s one of many.”
McCarthy said Obama extended an invitation for the Packers to visit the White House. He said a date hasn’t been set and could be impacted by collective bargaining negotiations.
Near perfect planning
McCarthy makes no apologies for being a creature of habit. It’s a trait that helped keep the Packers calm throughout the final weeks of the regular season and the playoff run when a single loss would end the season. Situations changed, but the schedule did not. Players knew exactly what and when they needed to do things.
McCarthy gave the team off the early part of the week following the NFC championship game to get all of their personal affairs in order. The team began practice on Friday, went through the normal schedule and had 90 percent of the game plan installed before leaving.
“Even talking with Dom (Capers), just to get his feedback, we felt that we hit the mark on our preparation,” McCarthy said. “We were nervous about not going down there until we absolutely had to, because we feel we have such a great training environment here in Green Bay, and just the way our facilities laid out. Just our preparation has gone so well throughout the year, especially the way we finished the season, we felt we were really in sync, and we did not want to disrupt that.
“So that was part of the reason why I started the work week so late. … I really liked Highland Park (in the Dallas area), the indoor facility. I thought it laid out very good for the way we practice, and I felt very good about the way the week went.”
Not looking good
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins said Tuesday that he’d be surprised if the Packers end up resigning the seven-year unrestricted free agent. He had packed his bags, cleaned out his locker and was set to join his wife and children at his home in Belleville, Mich.
McCarthy didn’t sound any more optimistic when Jenkins was brought up.
“Cullen Jenkins has been an excellent player for us in my whole time here,” McCarthy said. “Really those types of decisions are something that we’ll be working on here in the coming weeks. But Cullen is a very good fit for our defense. It’s a part of the landscape of the NFL. I don’t have an answer for you today.
“I have really enjoyed coaching Cullen. He has been an extremely productive and premier player, especially when he is healthy. I have enjoyed coaching him and hopefully we’ll see what happens.”
McCarthy was asked about his jewelry interests, considering a new Super Bowl ring is on the way.
“The only jewelry that I have on is what my daughter has given me and what my wife has given me,” McCarthy said. “That is about as far as my interest in jewelry goes. I am the last guy to design a ring, I’ll admit that right here.
“I got a lot of advice from the players yesterday, so I am sure we’ll have a dynamic ring when the decision is made.”