It's Time for the Packers to Key In on Mike McCarthy's Replacement, Mark Murphy Better Not Mess This


The Packers had a familiar set of foot shootings in their loss to the Patriots on Sunday night and at some time you have to accept this is who they are and what they’ll be until they make a coaching change. Mike McCarthy has done a better job in aggregate in his tenure as head coach than many people realize, but it’s time for him to go soon. The weirdly structured Packers’ front office of Mark Murphy and Brian Gutekunst should be working hard on identifying who and what comes next.

The Packers may well still finish 6-2 and eke into playoffs at 9-6-1, but once they get there they ain’t winning four games in a row against heavyweights. You can still say that they have a legit shot to win any one-off game that Aaron Rodgers plays — the last two weeks against the Rams and Pats proved that, even as the wheels fell off the wagon in the fourth quarter in Foxboro — but they aren’t gonna play four straight games where they don’t self-inflict the same old problems.

Running into the kicker or punter to negate a big stop. Benefitting from a questionable catch call on offense and not hustling to at least make the other coach decide whether or not to challenge before he gets a clean look at the replay. Dawdling in general, and playing at an urgency level of a 10-hour Caribbean beach day.

But wait there’s more.

Letting the play clock bleed down towards zero so that the options become a delay of game, squandered timeout, or a hastily disorganized snap that gives the pass rush easy timing. A stubborn refusal to try ANYTHING creative or gadgety.

Who can know how much of those pacing issues are attributable to McCarthy versus Aaron Rodgers, who must share some of the blame for them, but it’s clear that as long as they’re together that they are going to bang their head on the ceiling. Rodgers just signed an extension for several years and he’s far less replaceable regardless — we’ve all seen what happens when anyone else plays QB — so McCarthy has to go.

Clouding matters of what direction the Packers go in from here is their weird front office structure. Lacking a typical owner, a board of directors oversees President Mark Murphy, whom both general manager Brian Gutekunst and McCarthy report to. So you can say whatever you want about Murphy and Gutekunst being on the same wavelength but ultimately it’s Murphy who really has final say over whether to fire McCarthy and then who they hire next.

Given how the Packers have dilapidated to this stage of disrepair while Rodgers’ hourglass is seeping away, you can argue there shouldn’t be confidence in Murphy to pick the right guy. He hasn’t ever made this type of decision before and he was at least a year too slow on the trigger finger of both Thompson and McCarthy.

That being said, Gutekunst seems to be doing a pretty good job as GM so far. His first round pick Jaire Alexander appears to be a stud cornerback, and he picked up an extra first round draft pick from the Saints; unfortunately, that pick doesn’t look right now like it’ll be as great as we thought when the deal was made.

And then dilemma becomes how much power the new coach has over Rodgers. Should he be like Peyton Manning where he is the de facto offensive coordinator? Should he be like LeBron where he essentially has personnel input? To the extent that he’s not empowered with play-calling it’s presumable he’s going to clash with whomever is the coach.

Nevertheless, the allure of Rodgers should be enough to vault the Packers to the top of the ladder of the NFL’s most coveted head coaching openings this offseason. It’s very rare that a job is available with a QB of his caliber, even accounting for his injury risk, control-seeking, and the inexplicable stretches where the offense is as herky-jerky as a Drivers Ed car. There’s a level that Rodgers can and frequently does summon at his peak capacity where he’s better than everyone else on the planet. Just this year, we saw it late in wins over the Bears and 49ers. That potential remains intoxicating.

Anyways, who should that even be? The name at the top of my personal wishlist as a Packers fan is Lincoln Riley. He’s a young, offensive innovator. If he worked with Rodgers on offense and they kept Mike Pettine running the defense — I know they weren’t flawless but the D played as well as you could *possibly* hope for in the Rams and Pats losses — that would be ideal. There will be several suitors for his services.

After that, there aren’t any obvious ideas. Josh McDaniels has flirted with leaving New England for years but he hasn’t. He brutally failed in Denver, the Belichick coaching tree in the NFL is basically a telephone pole, and he probably has an arrangement to be Bill Belichick’s successor with the Pats. Dabo Swinney appeals to me more than others seem to believe, but I get that he would need to make a lot of adjustment in his leadership style dealing with pros versus college players. I know Sean Payton really runs the offense but why doesn’t his coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr., who has held that job since 2009, ever get mentioned for head coaching jobs?

In any event, the Packers need to really be scouring the college head coach and NFL assistant ranks now to identify their primary target. Maybe a bona fide NFL head coach becomes available — for example: if the Seahawks finish disappointingly, maybe Pete Carroll? — but that isn’t something that can be planned. Murphy and Gutekunst need to get their ducks in a row. They’ve got a couple months where they must know they have to make this move and they can’t afford to mess it up.