Mike McCarthy’s No. 1 job this offseason is to get the Green Bay Packers’ offense back among the NFL’s elite, because that’s the way his team is built.
The Packers go how Aaron Rodgers goes, and last year that wasn’t as far as it should have been, even after Jordy Nelson’s season-ending injury.
“Offensively we took a huge step back, there’s no question about that,” McCarthy said Thursday at a news conference introducing two new offensive coaches and two others who were promoted this week.
The question is whether McCarthy’s shakeup among his offensive assistants will help bring life back to an offense that last season finished No. 15 in points a year after leading the NFL in scoring. Just as with his staff makeover a year ago, when he gave up play calling and combined quarterbacks and receivers under one assistant coach, we won’t know until well into the 2016 season whether the moves worked.
McCarthy on Thursday made clear that he fired tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot and running backs coach Sam Gash at season's end because of the performance of their players, but he also suggested that staleness was becoming an issue on his coaching staff.
“It brings new energy, it brings new ideas,” McCarthy said of the changes. “It brings a freshness aspect that we really haven’t had a whole lot of.”
Maybe the most telling moves of McCarthy’s long-term thinking weren’t the firing and hiring at running backs coach (from Gash to Ben Sirmans) and tight ends coach (from Fontenot to Brian Angelichio), but the promotions of two younger staff members, Luke Getsy (32) and David Raih (35).
McCarthy promoted Getsy from quality control coach to receivers coach when he could have shifted those duties to offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett. Bennett had coached receivers well enough from 2011-14 to earn the promotion to coordinator.
And McCarthy promoted Raih from coaching administrator to assistant offensive line coach to replace Mike Solari, who left last week to coach the New York Giants’ offensive line.
In word and deed it’s clear McCarthy sees Getsy and Raih as up-and-comers and potentially key members of his staff. It’s especially noteworthy that both are former college quarterbacks – Getsy at Akron and Raih at Iowa – and have coached that critical position on previous stops as college assistants.
“To me, you can’t have enough (offensive) line coaches in your building, you can’t have enough quarterback coaches in your building,” McCarthy said. “It’s just a philosophy of mine as far as building an offensive staff.”
For now, Getsy takes on the bigger job, because it’s his charge to get the Packers’ receivers back playing at a high level after a season in which they badly under-performed.
It was a given that McCarthy would hire a coach dedicated to coaching only receivers this offseason after having Alex Van Pelt coach receivers and quarterbacks last season. Bennett would have been the safer choice, and with Tom Clements still on staff, McCarthy had the manpower to handle any coordinator duties Bennett might have had to forego to add receivers to his title.
But McCarthy went with Getsy, whose resume includes only one season coaching receivers, in college at Western Michigan in 2013. This was no small decision, and one McCarthy needs to get right.
In his two years with the Packers as a quality control assistant, Getsy primarily worked with quarterbacks, including attending their meetings. He’s had some hands-on experience with the receivers, mainly last year in offseason practices and training camp, when he worked with them on the field in individual drills while Van Pelt coached the quarterbacks. But once the regular season started, that ended because of Getsy’s scout-team responsibilities.
Now Getsy's charge will include developing young receivers Davante Adams and Jeff Janis. Adams under-performed in what the Packers expected would be a breakout season last year. And Janis’ route running kept him from getting on the the field much, though his performance when injuries forced him into a key role in the playoffs against Arizona showed he should have been playing, warts and all.
“If there is one benefit of breaking the room up,” Getsy said of splitting the jobs again, “it’s to have someone to hold people accountable, to teach, to demand, and to get back to making sure the fundamentals are in the right place all the time.”
McCarthy also is restructuring his own job only a year after he gave up play calling so he could spend more time coaching the entire team. He had good reasons for the changes last year, including the team’s meltdown in the NFC championship game in the 2014 season.
But the slow-burning disaster on offense last season compelled him to take back the play calling in December and retain them this year. McCarthy said that on game weeks he’ll be working mainly on game planning on Mondays and Tuesdays, but that on Wednesdays he’s hoping to spend time in defensive and special teams meetings, as he did last season. Then at the end of the week his focus will return to calling plays.
“Obviously there’s a reason I went to those areas based on past performances,” McCarthy said. “So there definitely will be input into the defense and the special teams. … Defensively we did some good things but we’re not a championship defense, and that has to be the next step next year. That will be the focus of our defensive staff and our defensive players.”