Mark Murphy did what he had to do.
The Green Bay Packers president/CEO parted ways with coach Mike McCarthy now rather than wait until the season was finished.
I know many Packers observers didn’t think Murphy would make this kind of hard decision with games still to play. For more than 20 years this franchise has been the picture of stability, and firing a coach with games still to play certainly runs counter to that.
Also, McCarthy has been the coach for 13 years, won a lot of games and a Super Bowl. He’s represented the Packers well. And it’s not like changing coaches now might turn around the Packers’ season. The playoffs are all but out of reach with four games to go.
But there was a vibe in the air after the Packers’ stunning 20-17 loss Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals. With the season’s shaky playoff hopes on the line and just about everything in its favor — playing at home on a true winter’s day against a 2-9 team from the Southwest — McCarthy’s team bombed.
With that, there was no good reason to wait no matter how much Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst might like or respect McCarthy.
Even going into this game, it was a given this was going to be McCarthy’s final season with the Packers, barring a minor miracle, anyway. The team’s brutal offensive performance all season and the dysfunction between McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers had pretty much made that a done deal.
With the Packers still at least in the playoff hunt, there at least was reason to stick with McCarthy to see if he could pull off a late-season run. But Sunday’s loss to Arizona was the coup de grace, the sign that he’d lost not just the quarterback but the team.
So rather than allow McCarthy’s job status to hang over the locker room, Murphy cut the cord. If he hadn’t, the players would have been working in a hopeless, dysfunctional environment for a month. Now that vibe and tension is gone.
And, of course, the move gives Murphy and Gutekunst a jump on hiring McCarthy's successor.
This was the best thing for the team.
For McCarthy, it’s no doubt a terrible personal blow to get let go now, even though he surely knew he wasn’t going to be back next year.
But he’s a good football coach, no matter what his detractors say, and now he gets a head start on finding a job for next season. I don’t know how many head-coaching positions will be open in January, but McCarthy would have to be high on any team’s list of candidates. His agent now can talk with clubs that appear ripe for a change, if he hasn’t already.
The Packers’ recent history led many observers to assume they wouldn’t make the move until after the season. You can bet former general manager Ted Thompson would never have done it during the season and might never have let McCarthy go.
But the truth is we didn’t know enough about Murphy and Gutekunst to make too many assumptions on that front.
Until this year, the head coach was Thompson’s call, not Murphy’s. And while Murphy appeared ready to stick with Thompson as GM forever, he in fact changed course and pushed Thompson out last January.
As for Gutekunst, he’s in his first year as GM and has no history on this at all. He doesn’t have final say over the head coach — he should, but he doesn’t — but you have to think Murphy leaned heavily on his young GM’s advice. Just because Gutekunst worked for Thompson doesn’t mean he’s the same as Thompson. He’d already taken a different approach to free agency. The guess here is he argued it’s better to make the move now rather wait.
The time was right because Sunday’s loss showed all hope was lost. The Packers have not played good football all season. A team that should have been top five in offense came into this game ranked No. 17 in points, No. 10 in yards, and put up only 17 points against a Cardinals team whose only two wins before Sunday were over the two-win San Francisco 49ers.
In his first 12 seasons as Packers coach, McCarthy always found a way to hold his team together during tough times. As long as he had his starting quarterback, he always figured out a way to get to the playoffs regardless of circumstances.
But not this season. His offense had no identity and Rodgers hasn’t played well at all. The disconnect between McCarthy’s offensive vision and Rodgers’ had poisoned everything. The chronic failures on third down (3-for-14 Sunday) were a symptom, not a cause.
So the time was right for the Packers to move on. Good coaches get fired in this league all the time. But with the playoffs out and McCarthy’s collaboration with the quarterback long gone, it was time to get a head start on 2019.