Silverstein: Packers' next coach? With strong finish, many factors could favor Joe Philbin
GREEN BAY – If the Green Bay Packers beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday and win out in their final two games against the New York Jets and Detroit Lions, interim coach Joe Philbin’s chances of being Mike McCarthy’s successor can’t be overlooked.
A lot of it will depend on how Philbin sells himself to president/CEO Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst, but there are other reasons why Philbin might end up getting a second crack at being a head coach.
Murphy and Gutekunst didn’t fire McCarthy four weeks before the season ended without believing they had a good list of candidates to replace him. Philbin undoubtedly made an impression on them and they will use him as a baseline for what they are looking for in a new coach.
The Packers believe they have the most attractive job in the NFL, but there are already signs that the structure of the front office and the influence quarterback Aaron Rodgers has within the organization is going to worry some potential candidates.
It’s not a particularly deep coaching class this year and competition will be fierce among the half dozen or so teams who may have openings. If the Packers are eyeing New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, for instance, they’re going to have to spell out his authority under the structure Murphy has created.
Murphy would be McDaniels’ boss, but Gutekunst is in charge of personnel and Russ Ball is in charge of the salary cap and football operations. It’s hard to imagine someone who turned down a job in Indianapolis, where there was a strong general manager in place, taking one in Green Bay where the only authority he would have is between the white lines.
McDaniels has been working in a place where the head coach has total authority over everything and might not settle for less when he gets his next crack at being a head coach. His experience in the Patriots system wouldn’t mesh with the structure the Packers have in place.
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And what about Rodgers? How much authority does he wield? It appears like it’s a lot given his clash with McCarthy on how the offense should be run. It might not be true, but the perception is that Rodgers can influence the front office.
“What I’ve been hearing are things like, ‘Does the head coach report to Mark and the quarterback?” one prominent agent who represents players and coaches said. “Philosophically, I think the organization has to figure out exactly who is in charge and how the head coach fits in.
“It looks like the general manager isn’t in charge of football. That’s different than the Ron Wolf model. Does the head coach report to the president? Does the GM report to the president? Is the quarterback on the organizational chart?”
Said another agent, “Murphy is the de facto GM.”
The day after McCarthy was fired, Murphy and Gutekunst painted a rosy picture about the prospects of finding the best available coach. They made it seem like they’ll have the pick of the crop.
“This is going to be an attractive job,” Gutekunst said. “This is the Green Bay Packers, this is one of the cornerstones of the National Football League with a Hall of Fame quarterback. Going forward, I don't think there's anything here that should hesitate any coach from considering this job.”
Added Murphy: “We have history and tradition. The resources we have available for coaches, it's an attractive job.”
But it’s not the most attractive. That’s the opinion of the two agents, both of whom represent or have represented head coaches as well as two other sources who have hired NFL coaches in the past.
When a head coach is hired, typically the team he joins isn’t very good and there’s an understanding it’s going to take a few years to build up the roster. Most would like to start out with a young quarterback or at least one who is in his prime because the pressure isn’t on to win it all in his first year.
"I don’t know if Green Bay is in the top two or three,” one of the agents said. “Cleveland and the Jets are probably better jobs. Green Bay is still a good job, but the quarterback is going to be 36 (next year) and his numbers haven’t been that good this year.”
The Browns have No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield at quarterback and the Jets have No. 3 pick Sam Darnold, which is why they would be considered better jobs.
Other openings could exist in Carolina, Jacksonville, Baltimore, Arizona and Tampa Bay. Two of those places have young, promising quarterbacks (Lamar Jackson with the Ravens and Josh Rosen with the Cardinals) and the Panthers have Cam Newton, who is 29 and one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL.
Hiring Philbin would not excite the fan base. They want a complete change from McCarthy. In the final four weeks, Philbin must show Gutekunst and Murphy -- and the fans -- he’s his own man capable of managing the quarterback and overseeing the performance of his assistants.
He made one authoritative move in firing assistant head coach/linebackers Winston Moss two days into his tenure, but is he willing to fire assistants and bring in others who can spice up the offense?
Philbin will be judged on what kind of job he does in December and whether, in his interview, he’s willing to commit to updating the McCarthy offense with some of the college passing schemes teams like the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles are using.
Who can he get to come to Green Bay and coach quarterback Aaron Rodgers? Who can he hire as an offensive coordinator and potential play caller other than another McCarthy disciple steeped in his match-up scheme?
One of the hottest names with strong ties to the current offensive revolution taking place in the NFL is Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor. The 35-year-old assistant will be seeking a head-coaching job and could be in competition with Philbin for the Packers position.
Given his age and experience, he might need to be a play-calling offensive coordinator first.
Taylor’s first job in the NFL was in Miami under Philbin. He is married to former Packers coach Mike Sherman’s daughter, Sarah, and came with Sherman from Texas A & M to the Dolphins when Philbin was hired. In 2015, Philbin's Interim replacement, Dan Campbell, fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and promoted Taylor to offensive coordinator and play-caller for the final five games.
In 2016, Taylor was offensive coordinator and play caller for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Rams coach Sean McVay brought him on as assistant wide receivers coach last year and promoted him to quarterbacks coach after Greg Olson left for Oakland.
Someone might take a chance on Taylor as a head coach or it’s possible the Rams could block his move, so Philbin would have to have a fallback option with as much promise as Taylor. His brother, Press Taylor, is quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and could be another option.
With a young offensive mind destined to be a head coach on Philbin’s staff, Murphy and Gutekunst would have the best of both worlds: someone with the right temperament and experience to oversee the entire team and a young, creative offensive coordinator in charge of Rodgers, who would be available if Philbin doesn't pan out.
Another advantage Murphy and Gutekunst might see to hiring Philbin is that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his entire staff would probably return. Instead of starting over with a new defensive leader and a new scheme, Pettine would be able to finish the impressive rebuild he has launched in Green Bay.
It’s possible a new coach would keep Pettine, but there are no guarantees.
Gutekunst showed last spring that he was committed to building a better defense, using his top three picks on cornerbacks Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson and linebacker Oren Burks. Alexander and Jackson are starters while Burks has all the physical talent and intelligence but needs time to transition from a hybrid safety/linebacker position at Vanderbilt to a true 3-4 inside linebacker.
In his second draft, Gutekunst will be searching for outside rushers, safeties and defensive linemen to complement the group he has assembled for Pettine. Rookies such as Alexander, Jackson, Burks, Tyler Lancaster, Raven Green and Tony Brown, all of whom have gotten a taste of playing in the system, would be able to continue on the same path.
It’s going to be a process, especially after Gutekunst rids the roster of high-priced talent that is no longer producing. He can only fill so many spots through free agency and the draft this offseason and so the Packers might be a year away from being Super Bowl contenders.
Murphy needs to put the Packers in position to win as quickly as possible and his choice to succeed McCarthy will determine his legacy. The timing isn’t great for him to make a change, so he’s going to have to figure out a way to make the Packers' opening seem more attractive than the others.
If Murphy can’t attract a Josh Daniels or a John Harbaugh, Philbin might wind up being the best qualified candidate.