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NFL Open Thread: Exhuming McCarthy

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Nov 17, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and head coach Mike McCarthy talk during a time out against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory credit: Jim Matthews-USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisonsin

As you know if you care about such things, last week the floundering Packers drove Mike McCarthy to Austin Straubel International Airport and left him on the tarmac after a team quarterbacked by an inner-circle Hall of Famer somehow lost to the worst team in the NFL at home. Barring a late season table-running McCarthy was DOA after the season after years of underachievement, but he couldn’t even survive the season after that. The nation’s two finest football writers — longtime critics of McCarthy’s increasingly stale game plans and poor in-game management — have fair-minded columns about his record and his future. McCarthy will almost certainly get hired again, and while in part that is (as Tanier puts it) because “NFL decision-makers are the types of men who sit down in trendy Italian bistros with Michelin-rated chefs and order veal parmesan over linguine,” there’s also…well, let’s just say Josh McDaniels might be the hottest coordinator on the offseason market and he’s likely to not even be on the market.

Let’s summarize some pros and cons:

  • He’s won a Super Bowl and is 125-77-2; that was built on the back of an extraordinary talent at QB, sure, but hiring McCarthy at least means you’re not getting a Hue Jackson-level disaster. To paraphrase Bill James, McCarthy is a stable company man, which if the company knows what it’s doing isn’t the worst thing.
  • If it’s fair to say that while he underachieved somewhat with the mature Rodgers, he deserves at least some credit for developing him. That’s probably the best case for a team like Cleveland or the Jets to consider him; if he can get Mayfield or Darnold to perform at their highest level, well, worrying about finding a coach who won’t fuck up too many of the resulting playoff games is a problem either organization would be thrilled to have.
  • You might prefer to take a shot with a gifted, innovative young college coach and so would I, but it’s worth remembering that this isn’t bulletproof. Leaving aside the complete flameouts like Petrino and Spurrier, let’s not forget that the best peonage ball coach now working not only went 15-17 in his two seasons, he passed over two of the best 10 QBs in NFL history in favor of a generic RB prospect and a plastic replica of Dante Caulpepper on blocks in the front yard of a house in Pensicola. (It’s easy to say now that McCarthy deserves no credit for seeing what he had in Rodgers, but the fact is a lot of people are out of professional football right now because they didn’t think he would be good.) And you don’t have worry about McCarthy demanding personnel control from the beginning or near-beginning (like Saban/McDaniels) or if he gets off to a good start (like Chip.)
  • As Tanier says, other coaches with some family ties to McCarthy (Holmgren and Reid) have built successful programs elsewhere after moving on.

So, if I had a good young QB and McCarthy could convince me in the interview process that he was willing to put more innovative concepts into his offense, I’d consider hiring him. Still, there are reasons to be wary:

  • The fact that his success is tied so closely to Rodgers is a genuine concern. This isn’t a situation like the late Pats, where a great QB is continuing to perform at a high level despite rapidly declining athleticism in part because of first-rate gameplanning and ruthlessly exploiting favorable matchups. Green Bay’s recent successes have used more of a “Rodgers bailed out the game by running six miles and then throwing a Hail Mary” formula.  And McCarthy doesn’t even have much a track record of success as an OC pre-Favre and Rodgers.
  • The Holmgren and Reid comparisons only go so far. With respect to the former, there’s a difference between building a winning program and continuing one, and while the latter is far from a negligible accomplishment, few people get the chance to continue a championship tradition with an even better QB than his predecessor had.  And with respect to Reid, McNabb is a fine player but not on Rodgers’s level, and Reid never fell as far behind the curve as McCarthy has the last few years.
  • As Barnwell details, McCarthy’s playoff record looks even worse on close inspection. He’s won against a disproportionate number of noncompetitive opposing QBs and lost a lot of very winnable games, and of course had an epic Thank You For Not Coaching day to cost his team a spot in the Super Bowl. As Reid has shown you can be a poor in-game coach and still be a major net value to a franchise, but it’s a negative factor.
  • We should also remember that Holmgren’s last year of power in an NFL franchise involved parlaying the 4th, 22nd, 118th, 139th, and 211th picks into Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. Sometimes when people fall behind the curve they snap out of it, but more often they go down with the ship while swearing they’ll be proved fucking right.

Given the alternatives I can’t say it would be a mistake to hire him in every case, but I’d be careful.

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