Dougherty: News and views on Mike McCarthy opening up about his dismissal

Pete Dougherty
Packers News
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Mike McCarthy has spoken.

In his first interview since Packers CEO Mark Murphy fired him on Dec. 2 after a bad loss at Lambeau Field to the Arizona Cardinals, McCarthy opened up to about, among other things, his firing, its aftermath and coaching Aaron Rodgers.

In the spirit of former Packers vice president Andrew Brandt, who in his column for occasionally reads between the lines of public statements by people in the NFL, below are excerpts from McCarthy’s 3,500-word interview, followed by my take:

» McCarthy on being fired three hours after the loss to Arizona, with four games left on the schedule: “If we missed the playoffs, I expected change might happen. But the timing surprised me. Actually, it stunned me. 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.”

Green Bay Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy (left) and head coach Mike McCarthy talk during practice at minicamp on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, in Green Bay, Wis. 
Adam Wesley/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

» My take: McCarthy thinks Murphy did him wrong after 13 seasons (that included a Super Bowl win and eight straight playoff appearances) by firing him in-season. McCarthy knew he was getting sacked but thought he would finish out the year and exit gracefully. He could have called it a mutual parting because the Packers wouldn’t extend his contract and he refused to be a lame-duck coach.

Maybe Murphy should have waited until Monday morning to deliver the news rather than doing it Sunday evening. But I’m not among those who think Murphy did McCarthy wrong by firing him during the season, as painful as it was for a coach who won a lot of games.

Look, getting fired is a huge blow no matter your position or salary, and during the season had to hurt even more. No getting around that. But by that point, the Packers would have gained nothing by having McCarthy finish out the season. Everyone knew he’d lost the quarterback and was going to be fired. The vibe in the locker room was bad and only getting worse.

You could feel it the next week when the locker room was open to reporters. The mood was lighter and freer. The pall was gone. The players could get back to just playing football. It wouldn’t have done anyone, including McCarthy, any good to finish out the season under those circumstances. This is the big leagues, and fair or unfair don’t count for much.

» McCarthy on the way Murphy fired him: “It couldn't have been handled any worse. Anytime you lose a close game, it's a difficult time emotionally afterwards, but when you lose a home game at Lambeau Field in December, it's really hard. And that hasn't happened very often. I walked out of my press conference, and I'm thinking about the game, thinking about how our playoff shot was now minimal. That's where my head was at. And when I was told Mark Murphy wanted to see me -- and the messenger was cold and the energy was bad. Mark said it was an ugly loss, and it was time to make a change. He said something about the offense and the special teams, and he didn't think it was going to get any better. There was no emotion to it. That was hard.

“Every time I released an individual, you get your words right. There's a personal component to it. You know he has a family. He's family. There wasn't any of that.”

» My take: Not much reading between the lines here. McCarthy was even more bothered by the way he was fired than when. He doesn’t think Murphy was straight with him as to why, and he didn’t feel he was treated as well as the guys he cut at the end of training camp, let alone for a coach who’d run the team for 13 years and won a Super Bowl. Murphy was curt and impersonal after 11 years working together.

And he’s right, he deserved better. I’m sure firing him was hard, but Murphy needed to tell him the truth. After a long, fruitful relationship with Rodgers, McCarthy had lost the quarterback, and in this league that position is everything. Murphy went all-in with Rodgers in August by making him the highest-paid player in the league, so if someone had to go, it was the coach.

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There’s no such thing as a good firing, but Murphy could have also said he was forever grateful for everything McCarthy had done for the team. He won, he represented the organization well, and he stood front and center as spokesman in hard times when former GM Ted Thompson abdicated those duties. Murphy could have said that as hard as it is say goodbye, it’s something he had to do.

» McCarthy on Murphy’s post-firing comments about complacency setting in, and left tackle David Bakhtiari citing a decline in accountability last season: “When you throw out words like complacency and accountability, that bothered me. 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.”

» My take: This offseason, Bakhtiari said an unnamed player was late for a flight to a road game and wasn’t even fined. McCarthy is saying he in fact fined the player, even if the player didn’t cop to it to teammates.

As for complacency, even if McCarthy didn’t see it, I have to think some crept in. One member of the organization I’ve spoken with thinks it started after the Packers lost in the NFC Championship game in the 2014 season. The Pittsburgh Steelers are probably experiencing the same thing with coach Mike Tomlin, who’s entering his 13th season as their coach. There’s a reason Bill Walsh and Al Davis said a coach should stay with a team for only 10 years. Bill Belichick is the outlier, not the norm.

» McCarthy on whether Rodgers was difficult to coach: “Aaron has always been heavily involved in game-planning each week and scheme design each year. I entrusted him and empowered him more than any other quarterback I've ever been around, especially at the line of scrimmage. … 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.

“As far as coaching him, I'd use a lot of words. He's challenging, very rewarding and fun. We had a lot of fun.”

» My take: McCarthy is saying they got on well personally but that Rodgers became headstrong and difficult to coach. There surely are two sides to that story, but regardless, when things went south there McCarthy was doomed.


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