A lot to like about Mike: Despite NFC title collapse, Packers have strong foundation under McCarthy
The heartbreak in Packerland has never been greater entering the offseason. The postgame pain on Monday following the NFC Championship game hung in the air like the frigid exhaust of a morning traffic jam.
That Tuesday, faithful fans grudgingly began their annual withdrawal from Packers football.
On Wednesday, we heard the tragic news of the passing of head coach Mike McCarthy’s brother, Joseph. Suddenly the word ‘loss’ had real meaning.
Sorting through the wreckage of Green Bay’s historic NFC Championship meltdown, fans were determined to find a scapegoat. Perhaps only Mason Crosby escaped the list of villains. Brandon Bostick and Morgan Burnett were easy targets, but the man at the top, McCarthy, would surface as public enemy number one for many.
Second-guessing coaches is an artform fueled by the luxuries of slow motion, endless replays from every imaginable angle, and the comfort of the living room armchair. The benefit of hindsight, the foundation of fan unrest, is a luxury coaches do not get.
In Titletown there is an expectation to win the Super Bowl – every year. An improbable goal at best. By that standard, clearly McCarthy has not delivered the number of world championships that he or fans expect.
But in the face of the NFC title game defeat, McCarthy and his team provided us with more evidence that this man and the culture he has created is truly of championship quality.
When Brandon Bostick stood before the media, with death threats flooding social media, you saw McCarthy’s culture of accountability. There was no hiding from the press, no avoiding the issue with “next question.” Just a heartbroken young man displaying exceptional character.
When countless teammates consoled Bostick and regurgitated the message, “We win and lose as a team”, there was proof of McCarthy’s ability to unite a group of players. Aaron Rodgers has called it the “chemistry factor”, often the final and most difficult piece of the championship puzzle. Free agents clearing out their lockers the following Monday all expressed their desire to return to Green Bay. Said one of them, Jarrett Bush, “I bleed green and gold.”
McCarthy’s integrity is always on display. Humble in victory and gracious in defeat he stands tall, answers questions, accepts responsibility, and maintains his emotions. There are no profanity-laced tirades. And no excuses. He faces the music – regardless of what’s playing.
There is no panic in Mike McCarthy, no roller coaster rides of emotion, no hasty decisions. He oozes confidence, preparation, professionalism, and inspiration. He navigated the team through the dreadful Brett Favre departure. He dared to have his team sized for Super Bowl rings the night before the big game in 2011. He stood by Crosby during the kicker’s 2012 slump. He designed a game plan for a one-legged quarterback and won a playoff game.
McCarthy leads by example. His players are often pillars of the community, aware that as Packers they’re representing more than themselves.
His culture is one of opportunity. It is not dependent on your college pedigree but your effort and your commitment. When you draft near the end of rounds year after year, mining diamonds in the rough becomes a necessity. Few teams do it better.
None of this happened by accident. It is the McCarthy Way.
On the typical scale of measurables McCarthy has delivered a Super Bowl, five NFC North division titles, seven playoff appearances, a 15-1 regular season, and an offensive juggernaut that has been the envy of the league. Two seasons ago he led a team decimated by injuries to another NFC North title and implausible playoff berth. His win-loss record speaks for itself.
After a humbling defeat to the Seahawks in the season-opener, virtually every “expert” with a byline or blog predicted certain defeat in the NFC Championship rematch. Convincing a team that you can win when everyone is telling you that you cannot is no easy task. McCarthy delivered that miracle on Championship Sunday – even in defeat. Despite all the second-guessing and criticism afterwards, his Packers lined up to receive an onside kick. They were in position to win. This team was prepared. I believe McCarthy did his job.
Even in the black-and-white world of Super Bowl-or-bust, the real value of Mike McCarthy goes beyond wins and losses. It is the will to win, not the winning, that even Vince Lombardi knew was most important.
That will, that character, was on display in Green Bay’s final game.
Together Mike McCarthy, Ted Thompson, and Mark Murphy have maintained the model organization Ron Wolf began resurrecting in 1991. They will only get better with more experience.
As a Packers fan of over 50 years, I know things haven’t always been this good. Even in the face of a devastating defeat, savvy Packers fans should be wise enough to realize just how fortunate they are.
Dan Bauer is a freelance writer, teacher, and hockey coach in Wausau, Wis. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.