GREEN BAY - A month into their head-coaching search, Green Bay Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst have a very important question to ask themselves.
Will any of the 10 candidates they’ve interviewed – including seven over a three-day period beginning Friday – be better than Mike McCarthy, the second-winningest coach in franchise history, who was fired Dec. 2?
As Murphy and Gutekunst return home to evaluate their first round of interviews and decide which, if any, are worthy of a second, their objective is clear. If they don’t find someone at least as good as McCarthy, their decision to replace him could wind up costing them their jobs.
Of all those interviewed, eight of whom coach on the offensive side of the ball, five have at least the credentials McCarthy had when then-general manager Ted Thompson hired him to be the Packers’ 14th head coach in 2006:
» Interim coach Joe Philbin
» Former Colts/Lions head coach Jim Caldwell
» Former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano
» New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels
» Former Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase
Assuming the Packers don’t go with Philbin and hire an offensive coach, they could select someone with no or limited NFL play-calling experience such as offensive coordinators Matt LaFleur (Tennessee), Todd Monken (Tampa Bay) and Pete Carmichael Jr. (New Orleans) and tight ends coach Dan Campbell (New Orleans).
Or they could choose one of the three guys – Caldwell, McDaniels and Gase – who have accomplished records as play-callers and experience as head coaches.
When McCarthy accepted Thompson’s offer in ’06, he had five years’ experience as a play-calling offensive coordinator for defensive-minded head coaches. It meant he came to the Packers having had full control of the offense in New Orleans and San Francisco, not to mention a year in the Packers organization as Brett Favre’s quarterbacks coach.
LaFleur, Monken, Carmichael and Campbell don’t have that much experience running offenses and Murphy and Gutekunst would have no idea if they were getting the next Frank Reich or a Chip Kelly, Todd Haley, Scott Linehan or Marc Trestman. To hire someone with lesser credentials, the candidate would need to have knocked their socks off in the interview.
If they were going to go in that direction, Monken would probably be the least risky. He’s 52, turned around a left-for-dead program at Southern Mississippi before leaving to become Dirk Koetter’s offensive coordinator with the Buccaneers and called the plays in all but one game this past season.
Given his brief tenure in the NFL, the ability to hire a staff might be a weakness.
The safe – if that’s the word – call would be to give one of the two most creative offensive minds, McDaniels and Gase, a second opportunity as head coach. The best public relations move would be to hire McDaniels, whose resume while in New England is impeccable and history with veteran quarterback Tom Brady makes the fan base think he can make Aaron Rodgers great again.
According to a source close to the McDaniels camp, the 42-year-old coordinator is very much in play with the Packers. He does not have any other teams interested in him and apparently did not turn off Murphy and Gutekunst with a his-way-or-the-highway attitude in the interview.
Murphy and Gutekunst wouldn’t want someone unwilling to accept that Gutekunst has say over personnel and who was constantly working back channels to get his way. They don’t need a dictator like McDaniels’ mentor, Bill Belichick; they need a team player who can be the respected face of the organization.
Undoubtedly, McDaniels told the pair that he learned his lessons during a disastrous two seasons as head coach in Denver and that he could function in a more democratic system. It’s up to Murphy and Gutekunst to decide whether he was being honest.
If they weren’t certain, they could go with Gase, who by all accounts is an offensive wizard but lacks some of the diplomacy skills it takes to be a head coach. He was in way over his head in Miami because owner Stephen Ross gave him full control of personnel and he was in no way ready for that after having been a coordinator for just three seasons.
Gase, according to the Miami Herald, had several verbal disputes with Ross and was never on the same page with the owner on how the team should be built. According to one source who worked with him, he can be gruff and sarcastic and that doesn’t always play well with players or staff.
Still, with Gutekunst clearly in control of personnel and the possibility of having a calming influence like defensive coordinator Mike Pettine around, it could work. Like with McDaniels, the Packers' brain trust would have to believe he was sincere in saying he learned from his mistakes in Miami and was willing to be a team player.
He has experience in more offensive systems than McDaniels and could probably construct an offense that might be more like what Rodgers is used to running. The transition might not be as smooth from the system McDaniels has been married to for the past 15 years.
Gase was the last candidate to interview with the pair and would have had a chance to leave a memorable impression.
If Murphy and Gutekunst aren’t satisfied with the group of offensive coaches they’ve interviewed, they need to widen their search and consider some other options.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh seems committed to sticking around and coaching as a lame duck if necessary in 2019, but Murphy and Gutekunst need to find out through back channels whether there’s a way they can get their foot in the door with him.
It’s possible his demands for an extension will be so high that the Ravens will simply move on. It’s a long shot, but the Packers need to know whether it’s a possibility and if it could happen soon.
The year Harbaugh got a really good performance out of his quarterback, he won a Super Bowl. The former special teams coach will always be strong in that phase of the game and on defense. He has always had good coaching staffs that allow him to take a big-picture role.
It’s worth inquiring.
A very highly regarded option was Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak. The Packers reportedly asked for permission to interview him but it doesn’t appear they did and reports have linked him with the Denver Broncos.
Murphy and Gutekunst could turn their attention to defensive coaches and consider Patriots play caller Brian Flores or request an interview with Indianapolis’ Matt Eberflus or the Bears’ Vic Fangio. It’s still a mystery why they haven’t at least explored Fangio, who has been shutting down their offense for the better part of seven seasons.
The pair could also reach out to some college options just to make sure they’re not missing anything. Baylor’s Matt Ruhle and Georgia’s Kirby Smart are two options, and they might as well speak with Nevada’s Jay Norvell, a Wisconsin native with big college program and NFL experience, to see if there’s anything there.
Murphy and Gutekunst have put themselves in a position where they must do at least as good as McCarthy and that means turning over every stone and not settling for just good enough. They’re the only team that fired a coach with a plus-.600 winning percentage and a Super Bowl victory to his name and that has put them in a must-win situation.