Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy is shaking up his offensive coaching staff after a disappointing 2015 season.
The Packers parted ways with tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot and running backs coach Sam Gash, the organization announced Tuesday. The changes come at two underwhelming positions on an offense that finished the regular season 23rd in yards and 28th in third-down percentage.
Fontenot was one of six remaining assistant coaches from McCarthy’s first staff in 2006. A 16-year NFL veteran, Fontenot first came to Green Bay as a coaching intern in 2006. He stayed on staff as an offensive assistant that season and was promoted to assistant offensive line coach the following year.
He replaced Edgar Bennett as running backs coach in 2011 before moving to tight ends the following year.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with Jerry for the past 10 seasons,” McCarthy said in a statement. "He has given a lot to this organization and has been a big part of our success. We wish Jerry, Stephanie and their family all the best moving forward.”
Fontenot had success early with Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless, but the position was largely a disappointment the past two seasons. Often ineffective in the pass game, the tight ends’ blocking has been an issue for the past few years.
Despite an obvious need, the Packers neglected to address tight end early in last year’s draft. So McCarthy must have felt Richard Rodgers, rookie sixth-round pick Kennard Backman and former undrafted free agent Justin Perillo didn’t make enough progress under Fontenot’s watch.
Rodgers caught 58 passes and had eight touchdowns, but averaged only 8.8 yards per catch. When asked about Rodgers and second-year receiver Davante Adams, McCarthy said: “I think both those guys definitely need to make a jump.”
Gash recently completed his second year on the Packers’ coaching staff. Since the Packers typically issue their assistant coaches two-year contracts, it’s possible his contract ran out.
A two-time Pro Bowl fullback, Gash spent the previous six seasons on the Detroit Lions' coaching staff, serving mainly as running backs coach. He was fired in 2013 and took a year off from coaching before Green Bay hired him to replace his former teammate, Alex Van Pelt, as its running backs coach in 2014.
In his first season, Gash helped Eddie Lacy blossom as a pass-catcher and finish seventh in the NFL with 1,139 rushing yards, but questions about Lacy's commitment and conditioning towered over the running game this year. Lacy, who was benched in December for missing curfew, finished with just 758 rushing yards and three touchdowns after totaling 3,001 total yards in his first two NFL seasons.
Lacy and James Starks still powered the Packers to 12th in NFL rushing this year, but also combined for nine fumbles. After McCarthy’s proclamation on Monday that Lacy “cannot play at the weight that he played at this year,” it’s possible the Packers are looking for a more authoritative coach to handle Lacy going forward.
“I would like to thank Sam for his contributions to the team over the past two seasons,” said McCarthy. “We hope for the best for Sam, Alicia and their family in the future.”
The Packers fiddled with their coaching staff last year when McCarthy gave up play-calling duties. That shift saw offensive coordinator Tom Clements become associate head coach, receivers coach Edgar Bennett move to coordinator and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt taking over the receivers, as well.
The new format didn’t work. McCarthy resumed play-calling duties in December, leaving Clements to oversee the offense from the coaches’ box during games. Despite the demotion, McCarthy said on Monday that he anticipates Clements will return next season, but added that "we will change."
Those evaluations officially are underway.
“The structure was obviously a part of the failure on offense,” McCarthy said Monday. “That's something that will be closely evaluated.”