It’s clear in my mind what the Green Bay Packers need in Mike McCarthy’s successor: an offensive coach with a high intellect who commands full respect and buy-in from Aaron Rodgers.
We don’t know if team president/CEO Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst agree. At their joint news conference Monday, they declined to go into attributes they’re looking for in their next coach. They didn’t want to box themselves in, and there’s no blaming them for that.
But the NFL is a quarterback game, and the Packers have a quarterback who has played sustained exceptional football for much of his career. The fact that he has been several levels lower than that this season is the main reason the Packers are 4-7-1 and McCarthy no longer has a job.
And the main reason Rodgers has underperformed is he stopped buying what the coach was selling. You didn’t have to be an insider to see that. The team’s dreadful offensive performance all season, Rodgers’ on-field demeanor and what he said and didn’t say in news conferences were in full view.
I don’t doubt Rodgers had legitimate beefs. I don’t doubt that McCarthy has a healthy ego and a stubborn streak. Maybe after his long tenure with the Packers, McCarthy had lost his edge.
I also don’t doubt Rodgers can be hard to work with. He’s very smart and knows it. After 14 years in the league he knows offensive football as well any coach, and has strong opinions on how the game should be played. That’s a lot for a coach to handle.
But this game is all about getting the quarterback to play well – McCarthy always said his offense was built around that goal. The Packers need a coach who can command instant respect from Rodgers, which means they need a sharp, ambitious, confident guy who can convince Rodgers he knows what he’s doing. That won’t be easy.
Murphy shot down any notion that Rodgers will be part of the search process, though the CEO also said he’ll welcome Rodgers’ input. Not quite sure what that means.
But either way, Rodgers says he wants to be coached.
“I think any great player holds himself to a very high standard, so first you have to be critical of your own performance,” Rodgers said Monday. “But it's always nice to have a voice in there who's going to hold you accountable. And I think any player, especially an older player, they want that. We want that feedback and somebody holding you accountable and somebody coaching you up.”
The perfect guy would be Mike Holmgren, who has brain power and commanding presence in spades. The problem is, he’s retired, 70 years old and hasn’t coached since 2008.
The list of candidates getting media play is thin for well-known names. There aren’t the hot assistant-coach names of past years, like Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan and Matt Nagy.
But that only means so much. A lot times those big-name assistants fail. Just like with drafting players, you never know who’s going to pan out. Sometimes the dark horses shine.
So it’s kind of pointless to say the Packers should hire this guy or that. But outside looking in, the guy who jumps out as worth a really hard look is Josh McDaniels, New England’s offensive coordinator.
That’s obviously not a novel idea. Bovada.lv came out Monday with odds on the Packers’ next coach, and McDaniels has the best at 7-to-4. (Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley were next at 11-to-4).
McDaniels, 42, already has been a head coach, at the uncommonly young age of 33, in 2009 and ‘10. The Denver Broncos fired him three-quarters of the way through his second season.
The Packers need to delve into what happened there. It could be that McDaniels was just too young. He also had final say on personnel, and that’s just too big a job for almost anybody not named Bill Belichick. McDaniels should just stick to coaching.
Jim Owczarski and Olivia Reiner analyze Mark Murphy, Brian Gutekunst and Aaron Rodgers' discussions with the media following Mike McCarthy's firing. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews
The bigger red flag is McDaniels’ decision last year to accept and then back out of the Indianapolis Colts’ job. That was stunning – his former agent, Bob LaMonte, reportedly told him he was “committing professional suicide“ – and left a team and a staff of new assistant coaches in the lurch. It requires a good explanation before considering him a serious candidate.
The theories for why McDaniels changed his mind include a meeting with Belichick and owner Robert Kraft as he was packing up his belongings in New England, but it’s still unclear just what was said there. There were also reports he had new concerns about Colts quarterback Andrew Luck’s recovery from a bad injury to his throwing shoulder.
Still, McDaniels is considered one of the brightest young offensive minds in the game. His offenses have ranked in the top three in scoring in the NFL five times in the last six years, including four at No. 1. Granted, he has Tom Brady as his quarterback. But still.
Also, Rodgers is friends with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. You can’t help but wonder what Brady has told him about McDaniels.
According to ESPN’s Ian O’Connor, who recently wrote a book about Belichick, Brady told another NFL coach sometime in the last few years that if Rodgers played in the Patriots’ offense, “He'd throw for 7,000 yards every year. He's so much more talented than me.”
Now, Brady wasn’t talking about McDaniels in particular. But McDaniels has been the Patriots’ offensive coordinator since 2012, so that is an attention grabber.
Riley is the hottest college name because of his 24-3 record and huge numbers his spread passing game has put up in his two seasons at Oklahoma, including in 2017 with Baker Mayfield at quarterback. Riley’s age (35) shouldn’t be a concern, but he’s never coached in the NFL, which should be.
You can be sure both those men will be on Murphy’s radar, as will many others.
You have to think some defensive coaches will make the list, too. But I would take a lot of convincing to go that route if I’m Murphy, because then your coach has to find an offensive coordinator to make it work with Rodgers, and you’ll quickly have to replace him if he succeeds.
No, the priority is getting Rodgers to play great again, and the best chance of doing that is finding a coach who has the wherewithal to do it himself.