When Mike McCarthy decided in the offseason to give up play calling, he thought he’d have more free time in his day-to-day schedule.
Turns out he has less.
“It’s really opened my eyes to some things I’d like to change next year, but I know I couldn’t change this year because of the timing,” McCarthy said. “I’m already planning things — and these are things you guys will never even see. These are more analytics and things like that. That’s what this new (role) has given me, more time to dive into everything and go back to almost Year 1 and evaluate everything we do.”
McCarthy shared the observation Wednesday evening during an interview with Press-Gazette Media that was part of the Green Bay Packers coach's annual one-on-one sit-downs with several media members the week of the regular-season opener.
He was loose and talkative for the third and final interview of the evening, just four days before he starts his 10th regular-season opener as Packers coach, and laughed heartily when he described his days as "hectic," which ran counter to his expectations.
During the 28½-minute conversation, which was conducted in the small, comfortable waiting room adjacent to the Packers’ media auditorium at Lambeau Field, McCarthy talked extensively about his new coaching role now that Tom Clements is calling plays, and on the Packers' preparations for the upcoming season. Following is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Q: Did you do any team exercises to address the loss in the NFC championship game, like some Seattle players did by taking a trip to Hawaii to train together and air grievances after a goal-line interception cost them the Super Bowl? Did you address the devastating manner of your loss to the Seahawks?
A: We addressed it early, but we made it a part of the lessons to be learned. We always take the last year and talk about the changes we’re going to make and the adjustments we’re going to make from the prior year, and the things we’re going to emphasize. That was part of the same filter, analysis approach going from one year to the next. We’ve also had time in training camp to spend on Seattle because we play them in Week 2. That was another opportunity to address that. Yeah, I feel confident we’ve moved on to our new opportunity.
Q: Outside looking in, it’s hard to think the championship game wasn’t a factor in your decision to give up play calling even though you mentioned the communication issues in the season opener at Seattle as one of the reasons. But did the thought that you might have intervened on some calls, such as the ill-fated decision to try to block the field goal on Seattle’s fake that went for a touchdown, push your decision over the edge?
A: Trust me, you have my word, there are things today that I know I’m going to change for next year. That’s the way I’ve always gone about my job. You see things over time (that) maybe it’s time to make a change. I try not to make abrupt changes, especially something that big. I’ve had a number of people ask me, ‘You sure you want to do this?’ People that I trust. Ted (Thompson, the Packers’ general manager) and I had the conversation a couple times. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. And I clearly knew it was the right time. The way I did (announced) it was the way I had to do it. When you change people’s titles (when they sign a new contract), obviously if their title changes, what’s their responsibility? … I was always raised, don’t tell ’em anything. Meaning keep your business your own business. If coaches' titles didn’t change, heck I might not have talked about it (publicly) until the first preseason (game)."
Q: So what are you doing during the work day now when you used to be preparing a game plan? Going to different meetings?
A: Yeah. Training camp is a challenge because of all the media responsibilities. It never really flows. This training camp is probably as different a one as we’ve ever had. (Preseason games on) Thursday, Sunday, Saturday, Thursday, very herky-jerky for me personally as far as getting to meetings. Now I’m back in the routine. I want to be in the special teams and defensive meetings as much as I possibly can, and get to the offensive meetings as my third priority.
Q: What do you offer to the defensive and special teams meetings? Do you feel like you are the No. 3 special teams coach, as you said you would be when you announced the change?
A: I know I said that. It’s a lot like it was in prior years with the offense. The first couple years I used to install the passing game and presenting to the players. Then as (former offensive coordinator) Joe Philbin — I can’t remember what year it was I turned it over to Joe. And Tom (Clements) was here. My biggest influence comes with the coaches and the game planning meetings and our time together. I talk to the team and I talk in more detail now with all three phases than I have in the past. But my impact as far a pure football scheme is more on the third floor, that’s where our (coaches) offices are.
Q: Do you still have a call sheet for games and expect to make a few calls a game?
A: I have a new one. It’s not going to be as big as the old one. Yeah, I’ll have a call sheet Sunday.
Q: Are you and Clements meeting every week to game plan? Or is he just going to come to you with a game plan?
A: No, you install the game plan in pieces, so you’re in there along the way. I’m a stickler for (limiting) volume, so it’s something I want to keep a hand on in all three areas. At the end of the week I’ll sit down with Aaron (Rodgers) like I used to, as far as how the game’s going to be called. I’ll spend more time one-on-one with the coordinators than I have in the past. We have a game management meeting on Friday, and I’ll also have an individual meeting with each coordinator, which will be new this year. We’ll go through their call sheets in more detail than we have in the past.
Q: Will you watch as much opponent video as you did as play caller?
A: Probably a similar amount. Definitely more as far as special teams and our defense, their offense. When I was calling games I watched a lot of film, and I watched a ton of it at the end of the week. I’d go back and redo games on Saturdays, because I’m looking at them differently once the plan’s been set. I don’t know if I’ll watch as much on Saturday as I used to.
Q: You’ve been a successful play caller in this league. What’s your plan if the new arrangement doesn’t work out as well as you envisioned for the first month or six weeks?
A: A hypothetical question. This is not a one-man show. There are a lot of things that go into not only calling a game but being connected to the quarterback and the offense. I have a lot of confidence in our operation.
Q: You lost a key offensive weapon in camp this year with Jordy Nelson’s season-ending torn ACL. What have you seen that makes you think you still have a championship team?
A: The offense and defense, we have to play to one another. If we do that I’m confident we can be successful. That’s what’s so exciting about opening week. Everybody thinks they have a good team, and everybody has goals. Now we get to go play the real games. It’s important to us to play to our identity and continue to grow. I think we can play to each other a little better. I thought the second half of (last) season our football team played very well to one another. We obviously played our best football in the second half. That focus will be the same this year.
Q: The third preseason game usually is something of a dress rehearsal for starters to play together for at least a quarter, and in that game Philadelphia scored 39 points and put up 325 yards in the first half. Did that mean anything in the way you see your defense heading into the season?
A: Philadelphia offensively played excellent. Defensively we were a step behind, particularly up front. I felt we played a little flat. We had some coverage breakdowns that resulted in big plays, and their passing game was the key to their success the first quarter and a half. The other part of it was, we were coming off that Sunday game (the week before). We weren’t in the dress rehearsal mode where all three phases of your team go out there and play a half of football. We’ve done some of that in the past, but every year is different. Your injury report, especially with the odd games we had, kind of takes over.
Q: On the injury front, two years ago in training camp your players missed a cumulative 244 practices because of injuries. Last year you changed your practice schedule based on GPS data, and that number dropped to 142. This year it was 203. To what do you attribute this year’s increase?
A: We had some young guys that didn’t get over injuries. It’s hard to give an accurate answer on that because there were players that have never been through the grind of a training camp let alone a season. If you did further research, the first-year players (injuries) were a lot higher than prior years.
Q: Do you feel like you’re still on the right track with the practice schedule changes you made in ’14?
A: Oh yeah, absolutely. The thing you have to keep your eye on when you’re talking about training regimens and things like that, the fatigue injuries you have to stay on top of. Those are indicators to take a hard look in certain areas.
Q: You added a nutritionist last year, you monitor players’ hydration. What else? Do you monitor players’ sleep?
A: We’ve done a lot of sleep studies, we’ve been heavy in that for about four years now. Most of it’s education and a one-on-one program type things.
Q: How do you do that?
A: It’s a one-on-one personal thing with our training staff.
Q: Virtual training (primarily for quarterbacks) hit the market this year. Are you using it?
A: Pretty cool stuff. No, we haven’t made that leap or investment yet.
Q: What do you think of it? Considering it for next year?
A: I’m still watching it. I had a chance to look at some things last spring. We have a very good system of teaching as far as our classroom and so forth. There are areas we can improve in as far as using more video. I like the advances we made there. Virtual reality is something we’re just watching. I want to see how it fits in. You have your primary focus of training them while they're here and your secondary is when they’re away. So where does (virtual reality) fit?
Q: Head coaches wrestle with balancing getting your team ready versus limiting key players’ and starters’ exposure to injury in the preseason. You emphasized starting fast this year. Has anything this preseason such as the Nelson injury, even though it was on a noncontact play, changed your thinking on that balance and possibly playing key guys even less than you have?
A: I’d say our (starters) on offense played the least amount they’ve played since I’ve been here if you go by snaps. Now is that a reaction to what happened to Jordy? Was it because of injuries to the offensive line? It’s different every year. You have objectives, but what’s the risk? At the end of the day, a big part of my job is risk assessment. You’re never going to eliminate all the risk whether it’s on the practice field or a preseason game. If you can lower it you’re being smart. The only way you eliminate it is don’t play guys. The question you need to answer is, does Aaron Rodgers need to play in preseason games? No, he doesn’t. But does the No. 1 offense need to play together in preseason games? That’s the real question. It’s the ultimate team game because there are 11 guys out there at once. We talk so much about individuals in evaluation and individuals’ health. But to get continuity and flow and to get rolling on offense or defense, those guys have to play together.
Q: Can you envision a day when key players or starters play in only one preseason game?
A: I don’t think it’s going to change in the next year or two, but I won’t be surprised if it goes that way. I won’t be surprised if (the schedule) goes to two preseason games. The ability to collect data today is an abundance compared to five years ago, and it’s not even close to when I first started in this job nine, 10 years ago. I have access to a lot more information to make educated decisions on lowering the risk.
Q: Speaking of which, what role are analytics playing now that they weren’t even a few years ago?
A: It’s a lot like a computer program. You may be on version No. 2 or 3, and this (offers) ability to make some jumps to versions 4 and 5. There’s just more out there. We’re being creative in some of the things we’re doing. Not a whole lot right now because of where we are (in the season). But this new role of mine (not calling plays) has opened doors for me to look at things I haven’t looked at this closely in a while. I’ve always been on top of what’s out there in the world, whether it’s computers, analytics, health.
Q: What role do you see for newly signed receiver James Jones? He’ll probably be taking snaps away from young receivers with upside in Ty Montgomery and Jeff Janis. Why did you think bringing in the older (31), experienced Jones was the way to go?
A: James Jones is unique. James is one year removed from our program. James is a game-ready starter. Our sub offense (i.e., three and four wide receivers), he’s someone that’s been very productive. I thought his preseason tape (with the New York Giants) was good. It’s been great to have the opportunity to get him back here. That’s worked out very well so far. You know we’ve always catered to the younger guy. Our younger players get a lot of one-on-one time. We have segments in meetings, we have segments in practice, we have things we do year-round that are tailored to the younger players. Jeff Janis and Ty Montgomery will get the opportunity to continue to develop. None of our players will ever be stifled by a veteran coming in here. That’s just not the way our program works.
Q: What do you think you have in Montgomery and Janis?
A: They’re young, ascending players. There’s talent there. They’re different. I’d really like to see Jeff take a big step this year. He’s shown spurts of it. Ty’s just getting started. We’ve played him everywhere so it will be good to see him get locked in on his primary responsibilities now.
Q: What do you think of rookie quarterback Brett Hundley’s development from the first day of camp to the last? What do you see there?
A: I thought Brett did an excellent job in the preseason. Like the other (rookies) obviously he had a lot of information to process in the offseason. Clearly having the opportunity to start against Philadelphia, that was a big night for him. I thought he really took a step, played very well, and backed it up with another good performance against the Saints. That’s what you look for in your backup quarterbacks, go out in the preseason and play with those kind of numbers.
Q: Finally, one highly personal question. Has your brother’s death affected the way you view football and work? (McCarthy’s brother, Joe, died of a heart attack last January at age 47).
A: Oh yeah, I think it’s obvious. It makes you appreciate every day. The urgency of taking advantage of every opportunity. You don’t ever want to live with regret and wish you would have done more together as adults, those types of things. He’s a great man. We miss him, and it will never be the same.