Ryan Wood and Pete Dougherty discuss the news of their first day at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. (Feb. 24, 2016)
Mike McCarthy has a ways to go to match up with Mike Holmgren’s incredible coaching tree with the Green Bay Packers.
Holmgren had seven assistants from his seven-year tenure as the Packers’ coach (1992-98) go on to become head coaches in the NFL: Dick Jauron, Steve Mariucci, Andy Reid, Ray Rhodes, Jon Gruden, Marty Mornhinweg and Mike Sherman.
McCarthy, entering his 11th season as the Packers' coach, now has two: Joe Philbin and Ben McAdoo. The latter was named the New York Giants’ successor to Tom Coughlin in January.
Sherman brought Philbin to the NFL, so McAdoo is McCarthy’s first true protégé to become a head coach in the league. When McCarthy was offensive coordinator in New Orleans, he hired McAdoo from the University of Pittsburgh as a quality control assistant in 2004, then brought him to San Francisco with both in the same roles the next season.
When the Packers hired McCarthy in ’06, McCarthy again hired McAdoo, this time as tight ends coach. It signaled that McAdoo was an up-and-comer, because he was only 28 at the time. That’s a year younger than wunderkind Gruden when Holmgren promoted him from quality control assistant to receivers coach in 1993.
McCarthy kept McAdoo on a fast track when he promoted him to quarterbacks coach in 2012 but was unable to move him along further the next season. So McAdoo coached out the last year of his contract, then went to the Giants as coordinator. And the Giants made it clear that McAdoo’s long tenure under McCarthy with the draft-and-develop Packers played a role in choosing him as Coughlin’s successor.
“One of the things that I liked about Ben was that he realizes free agency isn’t the be-all, end-all,” said John Mara, the Giants’ president and CEO, on the day McAdoo replaced Coughlin. “It’s still the draft, and you can fill some holes in free agency, but it’s still about drafting the right way.”
McAdoo, who on Wednesday met with a full national media contingent for the first time in his news conference at the NFL scouting combine, was vague when asked about McCarthy’s influence on him. But there already are signs in his plans for the Giants’ practice schedule that suggest it.
McCarthy has been near the forefront in the NFL in his approach to using GPS and other data to help determine his practice regimen in training camp and during the season. Chip Kelly, the new 49ers’ coach and formerly coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, has led that charge in the NFL, but McCarthy has been in the group of coaches just behind him.
McCarthy didn’t make the big change in his practice schedule until 2014, when he moved some of his walkthrough work from the beginning of practice to the end; turned in-season Fridays into a day of rest and recovery for the players; and changed in-season Saturdays from a walkthrough to a short but brisk practice meant to prime the players’ central nervous systems.
McAdoo went to the Giants in ’14, just before McCarthy made the changes, but had been on staff for the three years of McCarthy’s monitoring and researching players with GPS that preceded it. And McAdoo no doubt was aware of the changes McCarthy made in his practice schedule in ’14 and subsequent decline in injuries.
McAdoo isn’t duplicating McCarthy’s practice schedule but appears to be equally open to changes, based on data, that deviate from long-held norms in the NFL. Among the changes McAdoo already has announced is that the players’ day off will be Mondays rather than the traditional Tuesdays.
“What you see on Sundays is there are a variety of different start times (for games),” McAdoo said. “With all the traveling and the changes in the scheduling, (giving the players Mondays off) will have the chance for us to be more consistent with our scheduling. No. 1, it will help with recovery. No. 2, it will help with sleep, which is probably one of the most important things related to injuries and staying healthy. And it will give (the coaches) a chance to get a little bit of a jump start on the next opponent.”
McAdoo called plays as the Giants’ coordinator the last two years but would not say whether he will call them this season. Teams scout opposing play callers’ tendencies in the offseason, and he didn’t want to give his 2016 opponents the advantage of knowing whether he or new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan will be handling those duties.
And though he wouldn’t comment on McCarthy’s decisions to give up and then reclaim play calling last year, he did say what he thinks makes McCarthy a good play caller.
“He just has a natural talent for it,” McAdoo said. “He’s done it for a long time, something that comes easy for him. He has a good feel for the game, a good feel for the quarterback. It’s a people game, and play calling is no different. You have a chance to put the people you have in a position to be successful versus a defense, and he does a nice job with that.”
McAdoo retained nine coaches from Coughlin’s staff and hired eight of his own, including Mike Solari. Solari was the Packers’ assistant offensive line coach last season and the only former McCarthy assistant whom McAdoo hired.
As far as the next McCarthy assistant who could end up a head coach, there are several possibilities.
Assistant head coach Winston Moss’ name used to come up repeatedly but not the last couple years. Alex Van Pelt’s promotion from running backs coach to quarterbacks coach two years ago is an indication that he’s on the rise. Same for Edgar Bennett and his promotion to offensive coordinator last year.
But also keep an eye on Luke Getsy and David Raih, the two entry-level assistants McCarthy promoted last week. Both came to the NFL only two years ago and are young: Getsy is 32, Raih 36. Both are former college quarterbacks and could end up coaching that position with the Packers. They’ve impressed McCarthy early and like McAdoo, Van Pelt and all of Holmgren’s offensive assistants, have an advantage most assistants don’t: working with a top-tier quarterback.
“If you’re tied to Aaron Rodgers, your opportunities to move on to new opportunities will be in front of you,” McCarthy said last week.