GREEN BAY - Former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, speaking publicly in an ESPN interview for the first time since he was fired in December, criticized the manner in which he was dismissed by team President/CEO Mark Murphy, saying "It couldn't have been handled any worse."
McCarthy was let go Dec. 2 after the Packers were upset 20-17 by the lowly Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field, a loss that dropped Green Bay's record to 4-7-1 and virtually extinguished any remaining playoff hopes. Rather than wait until the end of the season or even the next day, Murphy summoned McCarthy to his office not long after the game and fired him.
In a statement announcing the firing, Murphy said, "The 2018 season has not lived up to the expectations and standards of the Green Bay Packers. As a result, I made the difficult decision to relieve Mike McCarthy of his role as head coach, effective immediately."
McCarthy told ESPN's Rob Demovsky in an interview posted Wednesday that he knew his job might be in jeopardy if the Packers failed to reach the postseason for a second straight year, but was caught off guard at the suddenness of the move.
"If we missed the playoffs, I expected change might happen," McCarthy said. "But the timing surprised me. Actually it stunned me. It couldn't have been handled any worse. But time provides the opportunity for reflection and clarity and that's where I'm at now. And it's clear to me now that both sides needed a change."
McCarthy credited his wife Jessica for helping him understand that.
"She said, 'Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm relieved for you.' I kinda gave her a look," McCarthy said. "And she said, 'The last two or three years, you haven't been here physically or mentally. Every family loses their husband, father during the season, but you've been gone the last two offseasons. I know you're not happy with the way things were going there, and it's beat the hell out of you. It's beat the hell out of you the last couple of years. It's been hard to watch it.' That was a couple hours after I got home, and that was the reality, that was the reality that I had to identify with, and that was real."
McCarthy coached the Packers for 13 years and led them to victory in Super XLV during the 2010 season. McCarthy had a career record of 125-77-2 and guided the Packers to eight straight playoff berths, but the team also lost three times in the NFC championship game.
McCarthy became the first Packers coach to be fired in midseason since Gene Ronzani was let go with two games left in the 1953 season. The Packers in January named Matt LaFleur to succeed McCarthy.
McCarthy also took issue with Murphy's claims that the Packers had become complacent and lacked accountability under his direction.
"When you throw out words like complacency and accountability, that bothered me," McCarthy told ESPN. "That's not accurate. I'll be first to say that coaches are in the business of being criticized. We deal with it on a daily basis. But when you throw out a statement like that, you better have it right.
"A big part of the success I've had in this league is due to a tireless work ethic. All coaches work hard, but the accountability comment was totally inaccurate. I held my coaches and players accountable every year. Our internal fine process would support that. All I know is I did my job every day and was accountable to winning in line with the standards and the values of the Green Bay Packers that were established by the likes of Ted Thompson and clearly Bob Harlan a long time ago."
McCarthy also addressed speculation that his relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers had deteriorated and was a factor in his firing. The veteran quarterback had made his displeasure with the Packers' offense clear earlier in the season, complaining after a 22-0 victory over Buffalo in Week 4 that the offense was "not acceptable."
"As far as our relationship, you have to put it through the proper lens like you always have to do with reflection and change," McCarthy told ESPN. "Where there's change, let's be real, especially the way the change happened, there's things that come out after the fact. Things get said. He-said, he-said this and things like that. When I think about my relationship with Aaron, you're talking about 13 years. That's a very long time. It's been a privilege to watch him grow in so many different ways and see him do so many great things on the field and off. To think you can be in a relationship that long and not have any frustrations, that's unrealistic."
Regarding his future, McCarthy said he hopes to be back coaching again soon.
"I'm focused on improving as a coach," he said. "I have a plan to be the best prepared I can be when, God willing, I get another opportunity next year."