GREEN BAY - Standing behind the podium he once did to address the media as the Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator for 12 weeks, Joe Philbin spoke Monday as the team’s interim head coach to begin its 13th after the dismissal of Mike McCarthy on Sunday evening.
Sometimes emotional but always measured, the 57-year-old Philbin said he didn’t have reservations stepping in for his longtime friend, nor did he feel he needed McCarthy’s blessing to do so. Instead his focus is on the final four games of the regular season and trying to win all four.
“We’re not going to make sweeping, structural changes,” he said of the final quarter of the season. “It’s not like we’re going to fly some magical players or magic coaches in here in the next four weeks. We’ve got a good group of men, we’ve got a good staff, we have to get these guys to play better and we have to make some plays. We have to help each other out and play more complementary football. We just haven’t had a lot of momentum to sustain itself over a period of time. it’s a little bit of the chicken and the egg.
“You’re not making plays, so you guys are (saying), there’s not a ton of energy, there’s not a ton of juice. But what starts that? It’s a little bit of the approach, the mindset. So we have to play sounder, better football. We’ve got to step up and make plays.”
Within that, Packers president and chief executive officer Mark Murphy said Philbin will be evaluated as a potential full-time head-coaching candidate.
“He’s also been part of some of our best teams here, the Super Bowl team and the teams around that era,” Murphy said. “And another advantage quite honestly of making the change now rather than after the season is this gives us an opportunity to see Joe as our head coach for four games, see how the team responds and see how the coaches and others respond. And hopefully we can finish the season on a strong note.”
Philbin waved away any notion that this is an audition to be the permanent head coach.
Jim Owczarski and Olivia Reiner analyze Mark Murphy, Brian Gutekunst and Aaron Rodgers' discussions with the media following Mike McCarthy's firing. Packers News
“My ambition in 2018 right now is to help this team play its best football of the year. Period,” Philbin said. “And the future’s the future. We’ll deal with that as it comes.”
Philbin said he will remain the offensive play caller, though he had not yet sorted out who would take over the day-to-day duties he had as the offensive coordinator. He also didn’t get into what, if any, changes the offense might undergo under his total control.
Philbin went 24-28 in three-plus years as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. He was fired after a 1-3 start to the 2015 season. He then spent the last two seasons in Indianapolis as the Colts’ assistant head coach and offensive line coach.
McCarthy's next move
There’s a chance McCarthy might pull from Andy Reid’s playbook.
A source familiar with McCarthy’s thinking said his preference is to coach in 2019. That doesn’t mean he will. McCarthy, 55, has the option to take a season away from coaching and collect the final year of his contract, but following his termination Sunday, the former Packers head coach is expected to have suitors. A few teams expressed interest in McCarthy on Monday, the source said.
Murphy referenced the chance for McCarthy to recharge over the season’s final month and focus on his next coaching job as a reason the decision to fire him was made with four games left in the season.
“I think a side benefit, quite honestly, is for Mike,” Murphy said. “I think he’s going to be a strong candidate. I think there will be a number of openings across the league and this allows him to focus on the next opportunity for him.”
Reid was the Eagles' head coach for 14 seasons before being fired in 2012. Instead of taking a year away from coaching, Reid was hired to coach the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013. The Chiefs have since resurrected their on-field success, and are considered a primary Super Bowl contender this season.
“I look at a situation a couple years ago with Andy Reid in Philadelphia,” Murphy said, “obviously he had great success there, and you look with the change there, and in terms of making a coaching change there, he’s obviously gone on and had great success in Kansas City. And obviously Philadelphia, the success they had with the coaching change, it’s worked well for both.”
It is uncertain which teams expressed interest in McCarthy, but the Cleveland Browns could be one. The Browns are the only other team in the NFL with a head-coach vacancy after firing Hue Jackson earlier this season. McCarthy makes sense as a candidate because rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, the top overall pick in last spring’s draft, is an ideal fit for his system.
McCarthy also has familiarity with the Browns front office, including general manager John Dorsey.
“If Bruce Arians is a hot coaching name,” a league source said, “Mike McCarthy definitely will be. This guy won a Super Bowl and has 10 seasons with Aaron Rodgers.”
It’s uncertain whether Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley will crack the Packers' short list of candidates to replace McCarthy, but Riley is expected to at least garner some interest from Murphy.
Riley would be an interesting match with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. They are three months apart almost to the day. Riley, 35, was born Sept. 5, 1983. Rodgers was born Dec. 2, 1983.
When asked Monday, Rodgers seemed to open the door to a relationship with a coach his age.
“One of my good friends in the league is Andrew Whitworth,” Rodgers said of the 36-year-old Los Angeles Rams left tackle, “and he’s older than I am. And his coach is younger than he is.”
It was a direct reference to Rams head coach Sean McVay, whom Rodgers has praised in the past. McVay is only 32 but has led the Rams to the NFL’s best record with an offense that is considered visionary.
Murphy made it clear Monday he will not consult Rodgers on his decision to be the Packers' next head coach. Rodgers appeared to make it clear, however, that he would be open to the Packers hiring a coach close in age.
“I think there’s been a trend,” Rodgers said, “at times of getting those younger coaches, but it’s about casting a vision and getting guys to buy in and play better.”