Packers fire Shawn Slocum
Shawn Slocum couldn't survive the failures of his special-team units.
Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy announced Friday afternoon the firing of Slocum, who recently completed his ninth season on the staff and sixth year as special-teams coordinator.
The decision to part ways with Slocum likely wasn't an easy one for McCarthy. Their relationship dates to 1990 when Slocum was a graduate assistant at the University of Pittsburgh at the same time McCarthy was coaching the team's quarterbacks.
He was one of five remaining assistant coaches from McCarthy's original coaching staff in 2006. Slocum served as a special-teams assistant for three seasons before being promoted to coordinator following Mike Stock's retirement in January 2009.
"I would like to thank Shawn for all of his contributions over the past nine years," McCarthy said in a statement. "He was a positive contributor to our success, including helping us win Super Bowl XLV. We wish Shawn, Michelle and their family the best moving forward."
Slocum's special-teams units struggled across the board this season, but hit bottom in the second half of the Packers' 28-22 loss to Seattle in the NFC championship game. Trailing 16-0 midway through the third quarter, the Seahawks first caught the Packers off-guard with a fake field goal that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown pass from holder Jon Ryan to lineman Garry Gilliam.
While disappointing, the mishap paled in comparison to the Packers' recovery team botching an onside kick with a little more than 2 minutes left in regulation when tight end Brandon Bostick decided to ignore his blocking assignment, leapt in front of receiver Jordy Nelson and mishandled the pop-up.
The Seahawks drove 50 yards after the muff and scored to take their first lead of the game 22-19.
"Special teams, definitely a tough performance for us," McCarthy said this week. "Any time you give up seven points and have a turnover, it's very difficult to overcome that, especially when it occurs in the second half like it did."
The most alarming stat was the seven blocked kicks the Packers allowed. Comparatively, five other NFL teams didn't allow one all season. It was one of several lapses that resulted in the Packers plummeting to 32nd in the Dallas Morning News' annual special-teams rankings.
The Packers improved in the rankings during Slocum's first four seasons — 31st, 29th, 13th and 12th in 2012 — before dropping to 19th last season.
In addition to the blocks — four of which came after Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang were removed from the field-goal protection units because of injury — Slocum wasn't able to rescue fifth-year punter Tim Masthay from his second-half slump or remedy the league's 31st-ranked kickoff-return team.
"I love the guy, not only as a coach but as an uncle because I've been around him so long," veteran Jarrett Bush said last week. "It's up to them. I love the guy. We've been through a lot together. We were to the NFC championship in '07, the Super Bowl, playoffs and now NFC championship again. So, we've been through a lot, learned a lot. It's up to them to make that decision."
The timing of the news was somewhat surprising after McCarthy said Wednesday the coaching staff was given the week off and would return next week to conduct exit interviews. It's the first time McCarthy has fired a coordinator since letting go of Bob Sanders after 2008.
McCarthy seemed to put Slocum on notice last offseason when he fired his assistant coach, Chad Morton, and brought in former Illinois and Florida coach Ron Zook, a former special-teams coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1996-98.
Slocum, 49, previously coached at Texas A&M for his father, R.C., for 10 seasons (nonconsecutive), along with stints at Southern California (special teams/linebackers) and Ole Miss (linebackers).
Changes on special teams started Monday when the Packers signed former Alabama punter Cody Mandell as camp competition for Masthay, who's ran unopposed for the job since he beat out Chris Bryan in 2010.
Zook, 60, could be a candidate to take over as coordinator, though the Packers haven't made an announcement on their intention for either him or special-teams assistant Jason Simmons.
Like Slocum, Zook has a history with McCarthy. Before being hired by Florida in 2002, he was the defensive coordinator in New Orleans for two seasons when McCarthy was the quarterbacks coach.
Outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott never played special teams before his rookie season with the Packers. He wound being a pleasant surprise with 15 special-team tackles, according to the coaches' statistics. Before the NFC title game, Elliott credited his development to Zook.
"I really didn't know what to expect on special teams because I never really did it, but Coach Zook stays on me all the time," Elliott said. "I know we're all grown men, but he's kind of like a father figure on the team. He makes sure I'm good on the field. He makes sure my head is in the right place every day. He teaches me how to be a pro besides the veterans on the team. He helps me get the mindset and how to go about things."
-firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.