Coaching shake-ups by Seahawks, Packers, Panthers show there's no room for complacency in NFL
Mike McCarthy could’ve made excuses. Pete Carroll could have asked for a mulligan. Ron Rivera could have said, “We were this close…”
But as their offseasons began in disappointing fashion these last two weeks, those three coaches demonstrated that in the NFL, there’s no room for complacency.
McCarthy didn’t view the Packers earning a 7-9 record despite the nine-game absence of his future Hall of Fame quarterback as a moral victory.
The Seahawks going 9-7 and missing the playoffs by just one game amid an injury-plagued year didn’t give Carroll any consolation. And Rivera didn’t accept the Panthers’ return to the playoffs (where they lost 31-26 to the Saints) one year after going 6-10 in 2016 as sufficient progress.
Instead, all three coaches made the difficult decisions to fire key members of their coaching staffs in hopes of better positioning their teams to win the Super Bowl in 2018.
McCarthy fired both offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt days after parting with defensive coordinator Dom Capers. Carroll fired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and offensive line coach Tom Cable, and the team also might not return defensive coordinator Kris Richard.
Firings and hirings happen every year. But it’s not often that you see perennial playoff contenders make such drastic moves.
McCarthy, however, best explained the reasoning.
“Are we doing enough to win a world championship, or are we doing everything we need to do to win a championship?” he asked during a recent news conference after his team having missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years and for only the third time in his 12 seasons as head coach.
“You don't get to say, ‘But if Aaron (Rodgers) doesn't get hurt’,” McCarthy said. “That's a loser's mentality. We don't get to operate that way.”
How many times have team leaders preached staying the course following bumps in the road similar to the ones Green Bay and Seattle experienced this year? How many coaches have given the “trust the process” line when their teams still don't quite deliver?
McCarthy, Rivera and Carroll will not settle, however, because they understand any NFL team's window remains open for only so long.
When Rodgers, 34, broke his collarbone six games into the season, the Packers’ Super Bowl hopes essentially shattered with it. Rodgers’ eight-game absence also exposed the deficiencies that his supreme talents had helped mask.
McCarthy said after the season that Rodgers’ replacement, Brett Hundley, “should’ve been better prepared for the situation that he was put into,” which is an indictment of Bennett and Van Pelt.
To start, McCarthy hired Joe Philbin for a second stint as offensive coordinator. Philbin served as the Packers' offensive coordinator from 2007-11, helping them win the Super Bowl in 2010, before taking Miami's head coaching job in 2012.
Down in Charlotte, Rivera’s reasons for change are clear. In Cam Newton, he has one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the league. But the 2015 NFL MVP remains unrefined.
Believing a better offensive coordinator and position coach will help cure inconsistencies and help Newton truly live up to his MVP caliber potential, Rivera looks to have zeroed in on hiring Norv Turner. Rivera also wants to hire Turner’s son, Scott Turner, who as quarterbacks coach in Minnesota not only aided Teddy Bridgewater, but also helped Sam Bradford in 2016 complete a dazzling 71.6% of his passes, the second-highest single-season clip in league history.
The hope is that a new scheme and guidance can push Newton, who has completed just 58.5% percent of his career passes, to develop as a passer and set up his skill position players for greater success.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks’ wave of change comes at the end of a season that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time since 2011, Carroll's second at the helm.
Bevell was praised for designing an offense that helped make Russell Wilson a star.
But the offense as a whole has regressed in the last two seasons, and Carroll saw the coordinator and his scheme as part of the problem. Sharing the blame with Bevell is Cable, who also served as the run-game coordinator. But since 2011, the Seahawks have drafted a league-high 16 offensive linemen, five of whom have never started a game. And since Marshawn Lynch’s departure after the 2015 season, Seattle’s rushing attack has finished 25th and 23rd in the NFL.
Throughout this season, the sense in Seattle was that the foundation had started to crack. A team that once looked like a rising dynasty with back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl in 2013 (a win) and ’14 (crushing defeat) seemingly was trending in the wrong direction.
“We are challenged by change, but excited to attack the future with great purpose,” he wrote in a statement when Seattle announced the Bevell and Cable firings.
With improved health alone, the Seahawks likely would find themselves back in the postseason next season. But Carroll – like McCarthy and Rivera – wants and needs more than just playoff appearances.
Elite aspirations consist of much more.
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.
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