Packers QB Aaron Rodgers says accountability never an issue under former coach Mike McCarthy
GREEN BAY - You watch the Green Bay Packers' offense this season, how disjointed it has looked week to week, how off schedule it has operated, and it’s hard not to wonder.
Aaron Rodgers is a two-time MVP. At his best, he has played the quarterback position perhaps as well as anybody ever. His arm talent, his elusiveness, his creativity, his intellect – his all-around skill set may be unparalleled.
But who holds him accountable?
Winston Moss, the Packers' longtime assistant coach, suggested in a tweet Tuesday that Rodgers hasn’t been held accountable. He was the first member inside the organization to publicly express the possibility. Moss was fired hours later not for the tweet, interim head coach Joe Philbin said Wednesday, but because it “just didn’t feel like the fit right now was where it needs to be.”
Still, Moss’ tweet fueled a public perception that Mike McCarthy lost his ability to keep Rodgers in check, leading to his eventual termination. Team president/CEO Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst denied Monday that was a factor in the decision to fire McCarthy.
On Wednesday, Rodgers tried to quash any idea there’s a lack of accountability, and in the process defended his former head coach.
“There’s always been a great deal of accountability under Mike’s program for the last 13 years,” Rodgers said. “There’s consequences for actions that are outside of what’s in the best interest of the team, and there’s never been – I used to always tell him, I said, ‘Hey, if you need to call on somebody in the meeting to let everybody know we’re all on equal playing field, call on me first. Call me out.’ Just so everybody knows nobody is off limits, we’re holding everybody to the same standard. And I feel that’s the way it always was.”
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Moss’ tweet easily could have been disregarded; his past volatility doesn’t make for the most credible witness. So awkwardly combative were his interviews at the podium the past couple years, Moss was the only assistant coach not made available to the media this season.
Moss’ tweet also could have been viewed as an endorsement for himself to receive the interim head-coaching job, not Philbin. It’s possible Moss, a member of McCarthy’s original coaching staff and the associate head coach the past four years, felt spurned after being overlooked.
But the perception regarding Rodgers wasn’t born from nothing. Rodgers openly questioned McCarthy in the past. Those public challenges only grew in frequency once it became clear another record-breaking contract extension was in Rodgers’ future.
At the Super Bowl last season, Rodgers voiced his disapproval with the Packers moving on from longtime quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, both with the decision and his lack of consultation. He had a back-and-forth with McCarthy through the media in camp, saying someone needed to hold young receivers accountable for lack of focus in practice. Then after a Week 4 win against the Buffalo Bills, Rodgers criticized McCarthy’s offensive game plan.
Rodgers has defended his relationship with McCarthy this week, referring to it as a friendship Monday. He became agitated Wednesday when asked if there’s any validity to the belief Rodgers played a part in McCarthy being fired.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve got to stand here and tell you,” Rodgers said, “I don’t feel like I need to convince anybody about Mike and I’s relationship. It’s a close-knit relationship. We would finish every time that we talked, whether it’s Monday afternoon up in his office or the Thursdays we used to spend in the team room or Friday upstairs or Saturday in the QB room, and we’d hug each other and tell each other we love each other. I mean, we had a close-knit bond.”
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Rodgers acknowledged Monday he would occasionally “butt heads” with McCarthy, who almost always declined to directly question Rodgers publicly. It’s clear, though, the immense power he holds within the organization as a quarterback with almost $100 million guaranteed in his contract, even if Murphy and Gutekunst said Rodgers won’t be part of the process to hire a new head coach.
That authority is most visible on the field. Even with a new play caller in Philbin, Rodgers said he anticipates their relationship will be much in line with the collaborative nature he had under McCarthy. He expects to keep the same pre-snap latitude McCarthy afforded him.
“That’s always been part of the offense,” Rodgers said. “There’s check with me’s, there’s audibles within plays. And then the stuff outside those when there’s a look that we talked about this play into this play, but those are always stuff that we talk about during the week, and you’re really never going to make stuff up out there. It’s conversations that you’ve had, so the guys are expecting those checks when they come up.”
It’s not uncommon, of course, for a quarterback of Rodgers’ stature to secure more control of the offense. With Rodgers’ intellect, it would be failing to maximize his skill set not to seize on his ability to identify weak areas in a defense and manipulate matchups.
When asked Wednesday if there was any truth in Moss’ tweet, Philbin declined to comment.
“We're moving forward,” he said.