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One of the most sacred relationships in professional football is the marriage between quarterback and head coach.
In all great NFL dynasties, there is that single connection. From Graham and Paul Brown, to Starr and Lombardi, to Bradshaw and Knoll, Brees and Payton, Montana and Walsh, Brady and Belichick, Staubach and Landry, Elway and Shanahan; even the teams that never won a championship together had that relationship- Marino and Shula, Kelly and Levy, and Tarkenton and Bud Grant.
You get the point- you could not have one without the other. It is the heartbeat of an NFL franchise.
Then there is the Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy connection, which will eventually go down in NFL history as one of the great quarterback-head coaching duos, however things have gotten really ugly since McCarthy’s firing in early December 2018.
At the time, it was a real shocker. How does a head coach with McCarthy’s resume, which included a winning 62% of his regular season games and 56% of his postseason games including a Super Bowl win, get fired with four games to go in the regular season?
Then the beans spilled.
First it started out with football talk, “McCarthy wasted Rodgers in his prime”, and now it’s gotten personal.
I won’t go into all the articles written on it, especially with clickbait hit pieces, I want to strictly talk football.
McCarthy took over the Packers head coaching job in 2006, leaving the 49ers after one season as the offensive coordinator. In Green Bay, he had Brett Favre for his first two seasons, the second which ended in an overtime loss at home in the NFC Championship game. In his third year, Rodgers took over.
Two years later, the Packers were hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Over the course of the next six seasons, the Packers made the playoffs, twice falling a game shy of the Super Bowl.
In 2017, the Packers missed the playoffs after Aaron Rodgers missed a good portion of the season with a shoulder injury. In 2018, after a disastrous 4-7-1 record and following a loss at home to the Arizona Cardinals, McCarthy was fired.
Strictly speaking from a football standpoint, the firing of McCarthy made a TON of sense, however, the timing was terrible.
The late season firing with four games to go, signaled something deeper in the organization. You tend to see that in teams when they are letting their head coaches go with several games to play.
The 49ers did that in 2008, when they let go of McCarthy’s boss in San Francisco, Mike Nolan. Turns out, that in the Bay Area, Nolan and quarterback Alex Smith, had their own issues, both football and personal.
And in Green Bay, we got much of the same.
After their Super Bowl win, the Packers never returned to another title game, and their losses left some deep scars. In 2011, they were caught off guard by a NY Giants team that went into Lambeau and absolutely destroyed the Packers. In 2012 and 2013, they ran into Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers defense. And then there is the 2014 Conference Title game against Seattle, which to this day, still eats up Packer fans, and in many ways, might have been the beginning of the end.
The conservative play-calling when the Packers were inside the 10 yard line early in the game, just seemed so McCarthy-like. You’ve got Aaron Rodgers, and you run three straight times from the inside the 10? Then a couple of drives later, Green Bay decides to throw twice inside the 10, and not one of them is an actual pass in the end zone.
The Packers held a 13-0 lead after one, and a 19-7 lead with four minutes to play. They would eventually lose in overtime.
That loss stung, it still stings.
In 2015, the Packers lost in overtime again, this time to the Cardinals. In 2016, the Packers were embarrassed in the title game by the Atlanta Falcons. Injuries cost them 2017, and in 2018, the Packers were a mess.
From a football standpoint, Green Bay never really righted the ship after the loss to the Seahawks. McCarthy’s playcalling, the lack of a consistent running game, a defense with more holes in it than Swiss cheese, all that buildup, lead to his firing with four games left.
Starting in 2017, the Packers really missed out on some home runs in the draft. In the last two years, the Packers have drafted four defensive backs, six wide receivers, and four running backs. In 2017, the Packers picked Safety Josh Jones in the second round. One pick later, the Steelers got JuJu Smith-Schuster and four picks after that, the Saints got Alvin Kamara. In 2018, the Packers went DB with their first pick, passing on running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
All of this adds up. All these misses, along with the frustration from fans, ownership, and of course, franchise quarterback.
Whatever new reports come out, don’t matter. Let it go. It’s over, done with. Whereas McCarthy was too conservative in his playcalling, Saints head coach Sean Payton might be too aggressive. His “keep throwing the ball” instead of playing the clock, should have had Saints fans in an uproar, but it didn’t. The missed PI call bought him some goodwill in New Orleans.
In Green Bay, the non-aggressive playcalling by McCarthy however, the squandered prime of Aaron Rodgers, the inability to successfully address needs like the running game, finding a receiver to complement Devante Adams, and address the front seven of the defense- ended his Packers career.
It’s that simple. Nothing more, nothing less.