Just under a month after the Packers won the Super Bowl, Mike McCarthy was rewarded Friday with a contract extension that will keep him in Green Bay for at least the next five years.
McCarthy received a well-deserved raise that will pay him around $5 million per season, a bargain for one of the best head coaches in the NFL.
Besides the bump in salary, McCarthy will benefit from the honeymoon that typically follows a championship season. Anything he does or says in the coming months will be revered and respected, and other coaches will no doubt attempt to duplicate the winning model he has constructed in Green Bay.
McCarthy’s coaching performance in 2010 should go down as one of the best in recent memory. Overcoming a string of devastating injuries and narrow defeats to win a title was nothing short of remarkable.
But maybe the best part for the Packers is that McCarthy knows better than anyone that winning a championship guarantees him nothing in terms of future success.
Mike Shanahan, Brian Billick and Jon Gruden are examples of Super Bowl winning head coaches over the past 15 years that were eventually fired. In simple terms, they couldn’t sustain success.
In the 10 seasons following Denver’s back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998, Shanahan’s Broncos produced just four post-season berths and one playoff victory.
In the seven seasons following Baltimore’s Super Bowl victory in 2000, Billick’s Ravens made the playoffs just three times and mustered one post-season victory.
In the six seasons after Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl championship in 2002, Gruden’s Buccaneers qualified for the playoffs just twice and never won another postseason game.
Even short-term accomplishments are difficult to achieve. Other than New England’s Bill Belichick, no other Super Bowl champion coach over the past 10 seasons has managed to win a playoff game the year after capturing a title.
But there are good reasons to believe McCarthy will find success following his Super Bowl victory:
His ego won't get the best of him
Make no mistake, every Super Bowl winning coach possesses a healthy dose of confidence. You can’t lead a group of 53 talented and driven professional athletes, or stand in front of the media five times a week during the season, without feeling special. A head coach carries clout and his opinion matters.
Yet McCarthy doesn’t seem like the type that will allow success to go to his head. Maybe part of it stems from his blue-collar roots. He was a toll collector while working his way through college. He played college football at the NAIA Division II level and climbed the coaching ladder the old-fashioned way by putting in long hours.
McCarthy also knows first-hand that NFL jobs can be fleeting. He was part of Ray Rhodes’ staff in Green Bay in 1999 that was dismissed after one season. He was also keenly aware that his hiring in 2006 as Packers coach wasn’t well received in all corners of the fan base, with some questioning his qualifications with no prior head coaching experience.
McCarthy has been resilient through it all. He has learned to pick himself up, dust himself off and keep moving forward. It’s unlikely he will forget what led to his prosperity.
He listens to his players
The worst thing a coach can do is try to please everyone. It’s important to set standards and stick to convictions. However, that doesn’t mean he should ignore other viewpoints and be unwilling to adjust when necessary.
McCarthy appears to have struck the right balance between holding his players accountable while also being aware of their needs. His willingness to allow selected veterans to take practices off, for example, has worked wonders with Charles Woodson and Chad Clifton. A rigid approach is not always best, and McCarthy isn’t stuck in a “my way or the highway” mentality.
The Packers’ Super Bowl team photo controversy had the potential to cause a distraction but McCarthy diffused the situation perfectly. On one hand the coach publicly criticized Nick Barnett and Jermichael Finley for going public with their complaints. But after listening to his team captains, McCarthy decided to include Barnett, Finley and all the injured reserve players in the team photo.
McCarthy’s firm but fair approach in dealing with players works.
He genuinely wants to be in Green Bay
McCarthy is one of four head coaches in Packers history to win a championship. Curiously, the other three – Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren – wound up coaching elsewhere.
McCarthy has indicated he hopes this is his last coaching job. His wife is from the area so it’s possible McCarthy will stay in Green Bay long-term, even after his coaching days are over.
McCarthy has expressed no desire to seek more power as Holmgren did when he departed for Seattle. He hasn’t overstayed his welcome as Lambeau did. And unlike Lombardi, who won five championships during a seven-year span before stepping down, McCarthy still has things to prove.
McCarthy has a strong working relationship with his boss, General Manager Ted Thompson, who also received a contract extension that will keep him around at least through the 2015 season.
The Packers are young and talented
Things can turn sour quickly for any NFL team, with the potential for injuries, contract squabbles, draft busts and legal troubles always lurking. The Packers have the additional challenge of avoiding complacency following a championship season.
But beyond those variables, McCarthy has a relatively young team with the potential to improve.
Franchise building blocks like Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews could be dominant for years to come. Injured players on the mend such as Finley and Ryan Grant could instantly make the offense better. And the presence of a shrewd architect like Thompson will presumably keep the flow of talent coming.