GREEN BAY - Before Monday, Mike McCarthy hadn’t woken up on a December weekday without having to coach football in his entire NFL career.
The last time the former Green Bay Packers head coach was out of a job was in 1999. That season, he was the quarterbacks coach for the Packers. After the team’s 8-8 finish, their worst record since Brett Favre took over as the starting quarterback, the front office cleared out the coaching staff. McCarthy moved on to assistant coaching jobs in New Orleans and San Francisco before becoming Packers head coach in 2006.
Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst made the decision to release McCarthy after the 4-7-1 loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals. McCarthy’s release marked the first time the Packers had dismissed a head coach during the season since 1953.
“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.”
In the short term, ESPN.com reported that McCarthy is going to “lay low and try to finish this professional chapter on the high road.”
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What will happen after the conclusion of the 2018 season is uncertain. McCarthy, a Super Bowl champion who coached Aaron Rodgers for 10 seasons, has an attractive resume prepared for his job hunt if he decides to pursue one. However, McCarthy will be receiving a paycheck through the 2019 season regardless; he signed a one-year contract extension last season. He may take the year to decompress and calculate his next move.
McCarthy’s 26-year NFL career was moving at the speed of Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling running the 40-yard dash. Now, it has slammed to a halt.
“You’re going 120 miles an hour and all of a sudden (you stop),” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said. “You don’t go 40 and it takes about six months to come down slowly. That’s just the way it is.”
Although the situation is unfamiliar to McCarthy, his former coordinators have been in similar positions. Like McCarthy, Zook was fired in-season. He was let go from his head-coaching job at Florida in 2004. Although Zook had been released, he finished out the season before moving on to his next head-coaching position at Illinois.
“I know the first year I was out, I didn’t realize I needed to be out, but I did need to be out,” Zook said. “I know (former NFL head coach) Marty Schottenheimer told me one time – and Mike knows Marty Schottenheimer very, very well; worked for him – every head coach should go five years and then take a sabbatical because it’s 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was fired by the Cleveland Browns in 2016 after his second season as head coach. In 2017, he worked as a consultant for the Seattle Seahawks. He didn’t return to coaching until January 2018 when he joined the Packers in his current role.
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“It took me a while,” Pettine said. “I wasn’t ready to get right back in. It took me until about spring of that year until I went to visit the Chiefs. And just standing on the practice field, and it just clicked to me. ‘Hey, this is what I do.’ And I’m sure everybody’s different, and I know some guys have jumped right back in and the fact that Mike has this month, you never know”
Although McCarthy’s future remains cloudy, his day-to-day in the short term seems much clearer, according to Pettine.
“What it really helps you do, though, is it puts things in perspective,” Pettine said. “It gives you time to spend quality time – not just time, quality time – with your family, friends, people you love that have supported you along the way, and that was one of the best things for me, was to be able to spend that time and kind of, I don’t want to say rebuild, but strengthen those relationships.
“And just knowing how important family is to Mike, I know that’ll be a big part of what he’s doing.”
The Packers apparently will be without right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is doubtful with a knee injury and an illness, for Sunday’s game against Atlanta. That would mean backup tackle Jason Spriggs is in line to start.
Right guard Byron Bell hasn’t practiced all week with a knee injury but is questionable, along with long snapper Hunter Bradley (ankle), safety Kentrell Brice (ankle/concussion), left guard Lane Taylor (foot) and cornerback Bashaud Breeland (groin).
The Packers ruled out safety Raven Greene (ankle).
Kenny Clark honored
Defensive lineman Kenny Clark has emerged as one of the Packers' better players in his third season out of UCLA, but the 23-year-old has taken his game to another level off the field as the club’s 2018 nominee for the league’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
One of the more coveted end-of-season awards in the NFL, it recognizes one player for his community work as well as excellence on the field.
“I’m just honored to be a part of that and be a nominee for it,” Clark said. “I was really happy. It’s good. I always try to help people out and I’m always trying to give back and stuff and then for the Packers and everybody to recognize it and make me the nominee, it’s great.”
Rodgers was a finalist for the award in 2014.
Should Clark win the award, $250,000 will be donated in his name to the NFL and United Way’s Character Playbook and $250,000 to the charity of his choice. By just being nominated, Clark will have $100,000 split in the same fashion.
The fullback is back
Danny Vitale left Northwestern as one of the program’s top pass catchers with 135 career catches, but since entering the NFL as a sixth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016 he has been used primarily as an “old school” fullback and special teams player. He appeared in 24 games in 2016 and '17 with the Cleveland Browns, catching seven passes on 10 targets.
“It just kind of goes along with the position – you’ve got to have the willingness and mentality to go out there and get after somebody,” Vitale said. “If you don’t got it, you’re not going to be in the league very long.”
Injured this offseason and released, Vitale signed with the Packers on Oct. 22. He was promoted to the Packers’ 53-man roster Dec. 1 and played Sunday against Arizona.
Prior to his activation, the Packers had gone without a fullback all season. This year marked the first time since 2014 that the team didn’t carry at least one fullback for a game, and it has happened only three times since 2010.
“There’s only so many of us out there,” the 6-foot, 239-pound fullback said. “I think there’s probably 19 or 20 teams that even roster one right now and they usually only roster one, so it’s a very, very small group. I think it’s a very elite group because there not a lot of people who want to be able to do it, and the people who can might not have the mentality for it as well. I take a lot of pride in that.”