Packers coach Mike McCarthy unveils revamped staff
GREEN BAY – Three weeks after the Green Bay Packers concluded their first losing season in nine years, coach Mike McCarthy unveiled a retooled coaching staff Wednesday that features seven new faces and multiple reassignments.
Almost all the new hires – including two former head coaches and four former coordinators -- either have worked with McCarthy at some point during his career or with some of his closest colleagues.
Two of the new hires aren’t really new because both were on the staff in 2017. One took a college job and the other was fired after the season, and both are back with new titles.
While many of the hires had been made public through various news reports, none had been confirmed until the Packers announced the new staff Wednesday morning.
The only assistant whose future isn’t settled is safeties coach Darren Perry, who still was weighing other opportunities but has a standing offer to return to the Packers. If Perry returns, it probably would be with a different title.
McCarthy said he spoke with Perry on Wednesday and was hoping to have his status completed by the end of the week. Perry attended an analytics meeting Wednesday with the staff.
McCarthy made 13 changes in personnel or titles to his 2017 coaching staff, the most from one season to the next during his 12 years as head coach.
Chief among the additions were offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. This will be the third time McCarthy has gone into a season with a new offensive coordinator and the second time with a new defensive coordinator since arriving in ’06.
It is the first time he has made changes at both of those positions in the same year.
McCarthy did not stray far from his professional circle with his new hires.
Three come from fired Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano’s staff, including Philbin, one of McCarthy's closest friends in the business and Pagano’s associate head coach last season.
Two come from fired New York Giants coach and former Packers quarterback coach Ben McAdoo’s staff.
One served with McCarthy on coach Mike Nolan’s staff in San Francisco.
And Pettine served as a defensive consultant with the Seattle Seahawks last year and shares the same agent with McCarthy and Seahawks general manager John Schneider. McCarthy and Schneider are close friends and Schneider served as a reference for Pettine.
Those who return from McCarthy’s offensive staff are run game coordinator/offensive line coach James Campen, running backs coach Ben Sirmans, tight ends coach Brian Angelichio, assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko and wide receivers coach David Raih.
Campen was promoted from offensive line coach and Raih was promoted from offensive perimeter coach.
On defense, Joe Whitt Jr. and Winston Moss are returning. Whitt will not coach cornerbacks as he did a year ago, but instead will serve as defensive passing game coordinator, which will put him in a position of authority he has not previously had.
Moss, who was on McCarthy’s original staff in ’06, will continue to serve as associate head coach/linebackers.
In addition, special teams assistant coach Jason Simmons has been moved to secondary coach, which will include picking up Whitt’s former duties of coaching the cornerbacks and possibly Perry's duties of coaching the safeties.
In two surprising moves, assistant defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery was hired as defensive line coach and Scott McCurley was hired as a defensive assistant.
Both were off the staff for a short while. Montgomery accepted an offer from Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher to be his associate head coach/defensive line earlier this month, but sometime after Jan. 8 backed out of it so he could return to the Packers.
McCurley was fired along with defensive coordinator Dom Capers and defensive line coach Mike Trgovac the day after the season ended, but McCarthy rehired him at a lower-level position of defensive assistant.
Missing from the staff are multiple former assistants of Pettine, who was head coach of the Cleveland Browns for two seasons (’14-15) and defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills (’13) and New York Jets (’09-12). Pettine’s defense, developed in coordination with former Jets and Bills head coach Rex Ryan, is complicated and will require a lot of teaching.
The only coach with a connection to Pettine is Ryan Downard, who has been hired as a defensive quality control assistant. Downard was a defensive assistant on Pettine’s staff in Cleveland and most recently was safeties coach at Bowling Green.
Pettine reportedly interviewed Jim O’Neil, his former defensive coordinator with the Browns, but O’Neil accepted a job with the Raiders as senior defensive assistant.
Philbin, who was on the Packers' staff from 2003-11, the last five as offensive ordinator, replaces Edgar Bennett, who was stripped of his title shortly after the season ended. Bennett turned down a position as wide receivers coach and accepted a similar position with the Oakland Raiders.
Philbin was head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2012-15 before joining Pagano’s staff.
McCarthy said the offense is taking a "back-to-basics approach" and believes Philbin's ability to teach will be a big plus.
Asked how he envisions his role, Philbin said, "Making Mike McCarthy look like the smartest play caller in the National Football League."
Pettine replaces Capers, who was fired after serving nine years under McCarthy.
McCarthy said Pettine was a good fit based on the characteristics he was looking for. McCarthy said he had a list of five things he wanted to focus on in interviews and "Mike nailed them all."
Pettine said he and McCarthy had mutual friends and got to spend some time together at an owners meeting when he was with Cleveland. Pettine said it "felt like we were in tune."
Asked about his defensive philosophy and scheme, Pettine said, "First we're going to be prepared. Scheme is a small part. It starts with fundamentals. I want to make sure guys know scheme is worthless unless you play with emotion and technique. I like to appear multiple without necessarily putting that much in."
With the addition of Philbin and Pettine, McCarthy adds two former head coaches with coordinator experience to his staff.
In addition, he added two former offensive coordinators in quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti, who was McAdoo’s quarterbacks coach last year and offensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams in ’15, and pass game coordinator Jim Hostler, who coached the wide receivers with the Colts last year and was offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers in ’07.
Philbin undoubtedly had an influence on McCarthy hiring Hostler as well as Maurice Drayton from the Colts' staff. Drayton was an assistant special teams coach under Pagano and will serve the same role under special teams coordinator Ron Zook.
Drayton also coached with Whitt at The Citadel in the early 2000s.
In addition to Cignetti, Patrick Graham was hired from McAdoo’s staff and will serve as defensive run game coordinator/inside linebackers coach. Graham coached defensive line for McAdoo, but linebackers is his preferred position. He coached both defensive line and linebackers for New England’s Bill Belichick from ’09-15.
NOTE: McCarthy said he already is seeing changes in the Packers' organizational restructuring that occurred when team president Mark Murphy appointed Brian Gutekunst as general manager but decided to have Gutekunst, McCarthy and finance chief Russ Ball all report to him.
"I've talked to Mark Murphy more in the last three weeks than I did in my first 12 years here," McCarthy said. "It's been great. Mark's a football man."