In the first days of 2006, the Green Bay Packers fired coach Mike Sherman and began an extensive search for his replacement, with as many as eight credible candidates emerging. General manager Ted Thompson ultimately interviewed seven of those candidates and landed on a dark-horse choice: San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy.
McCarthy, then age 42, had been the Packers quarterback coach in 1999 but then moved on to New Orleans after Packers head coach Ray Rhodes was fired. McCarthy became Saints offensive coordinator, then moved on to San Francisco. The 49ers had struggled on offense the year before, with hobbled No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith and a boatload of inexperience hurting the cause, so McCarthy wasn't seen as the likeliest choice.
In his 12 full seasons with the Packers, Green Bay went to the playoffs nine times, including eight straight seasons from 2009-16. His teams won six NFC North titles and appeared in four conference championship games. The crown jewel, of course, was a victory in Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season, followed by a regular season in which the Packers went 15-1 before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs.
Who else was in the running when the Packers hired McCarthy in 2006? A look back at those candidates and what they've done since.
Payton, the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator, had previously turned down the chance to be Oakland's head coach. He had worked with Bill Parcells, Ray Rhodes and Jon Gruden, and the former college quarterback had been an offensive coordinator with the New York Giants as well. He had coached Kerry Collins, Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe during standout seasons.
Since: Perhaps this is why everyone remembers Payton, because he went on to have quite the career with the New Orleans Saints as their head coach. He started in 2006, like McCarthy, and immediately led New Orleans to the NFC title game. His Saints have been to six playoffs and won four NFC South titles (with a fifth looking like a sure thing this year). He's only been to one other championship game, when his Saints went on to win Super Bowl XLIV (after the 2009 season) and Payton's famous decision to open the second half with an onside kick became the resonant moment. Under Payton, Drew Brees has put himself on the short list of "greatest quarterback of all time," and despite three straight losing seasons from 2014-16, he remains with the team and has led them to a 21-7 record in 2017 and 2018 (so far).
The veteran defensive coordinator, then with the Chargers, had head coaching experience in Denver and Buffalo, and still more as an interim coach in New Orleans and Atlanta. His father, Bum Phillips, was one of the mentors to Packers general manager Ted Thompson, and the friendship between the two dated back to Thompson's playing days with the Houston Oilers, when Phillips was a defensive line coach.
Since: Phillips became head coach of the Dallas Cowboys instead, holding that spot for nearly four seasons before getting fired in November of 2010. In Dallas, his teams won two NFC East titles in his three full years on the job, though the Cowboys never advanced to the NFC title game. He was defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans from 2011-13, then interim head coach for the rest of his final year, before winning a Super Bowl as defensive coordinator of the Broncos in 2015. Today, he's defensive coordinator for another Super Bowl contender, the Los Angeles Rams.
The Chicago Bears defensive coordinator was fielding multiple head coaching interviews despite his relative inexperience as a top coordinator.
Since: The Chicago Bears went to the Super Bowl after the 2006 season with Rivera as defensive coordinator, but in a surprise move, the Bears didn't retain Rivera for the 2007 season, and he became the defensive coordinator in San Diego before being hired as the Carolina Panthers head coach in January of 2011. With the Panthers, he's overseen three NFC South titles and four playoff appearances, including a trip to Super Bowl 50 after a remarkable 15-1 season in 2015. The Panthers are 6-6 in 2018 and could head back to the playoffs under Rivera.
The best internal candidate was the Packers defensive coordinator, age 59 at the time and a former interim head coach with the Dolphins. He had led the Packers from 25th in defense to seventh during the 2005 season. But when he didn't win the head job, he was not retained by McCarthy.
Since: Bates got back into football in 2007 and was defensive coordinator for the Broncos and Buccaneers. But he left Denver in early 2008 and was fired in November of 2009 with the Bucs after the team started 1-9. Jim's son, Jeremy, has been a coordinator in the NFL with several franchises, currently as offensive coordinator with the New York Jets.
The Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator had a long track record of working with Bill Parcells with the Patriots, Jets and Cowboys before joining ex-Parcells assistant Romeo Crennel in Cleveland. He'd been offensive coordinator with three franchises.
Since: Carthon was fired as offensive coordinator in 2006 and served as running backs coach with the Arizona Cardinals from 2007-08, then as assistant head coach with the Kansas City Chiefs from 2009-12.
The New York Giants defensive coordinator was a former first-round pick of the Packers in 1983 and played with the Packers for four seasons before a spinal condition trimmed his career. He began in pro coaching as defensive backs coach with the Steelers in 1995, then moved up to defensive coordinator before he was fired in 2003. He became the Giants coordinator shortly thereafter.
Since: Lewis remained a coordinator with the Giants in 2006 and made stops as an assistant coach with the Panthers, Seahawks, Falcons and 49ers. He's been named the head coach of the Birmingham Iron in the Alliance of American Football, an eight-team league set to debut in February of 2019.
The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach had a history of success as a player and coach, though he was seen as someone who'd be apt to run the football and didn't have a ton of background in the West Coast offense.
Since: Grimm stayed with the Steelers and was a candidate to replace Bill Cowher as head coach in 2007, though Mike Tomlin ultimately won the job. He wound up becoming the offensive line coach in Arizona until 2012, then served the same role with the Tennessee Titans from 2016-2017.
The former University of Wisconsin assistant had been a offensive coordinator with the Eagles, and he's the only one of these eight who never got to interview for the Packers job despite interest. Instead, the Vikings hired Childress (and Childress subsequently hired Packers quarterback coach Darrell Bevell to be part of his staff).
Since: Childress stayed with the Vikings until 2010, leading Minnesota to two NFC North titles and one NFC Championship – the famous game in which Brett Favre's late interception helped New Orleans reach the Super Bowl. He was fired midway through the following 2010 season and served as an assistant thereafter in Cleveland, Kansas City and Chicago. He's been named head coach of the Atlanta Legends in the aforementioned Alliance of American Football, an eight-team league set to debut in February of 2019.
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