by Walter Rhein
Special to PTU
Linda is an elderly woman who lives in my building. She has two Packer banners on her door, wears Packer Jerseys and Packer earrings incessantly. On occasion I’ve helped her carry her groceries to her refrigerator and walked past her collection of Packer bobble head dolls including all Packer quarterbacks from Starr to Rodgers (yes, she has a Mike Tomczak Packer bobble head doll).
Based on all that, you’d think she was a Packer fan. But oddly, I’ve never heard her say one nice thing about the Packers.
“Hey Linda, did you watch the game last night?”
“Oh my gosh did they play terrible! They need to do something about that McCarthy, and that Thompson, he never drafts anyone good, and don’t get me started on Capers!”
“Doesn’t draft anyone good? What about Aaron Rodgers, or Clay Matthews, or Greg Jennings, or Jordy Nelson, or Eddy Lacy, or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix…”
The argument falls on deaf ears.
“They need to put Thomspon in a different room on draft day,” she says, then she starts to laugh which turns into a cough.
When she recovers, she continues her tirade. “The guy I really can’t stand is McCarthy! They need to fire him and move on.”
“You realize he’s second only to Bill Belichick in win percentage over the last ten years?”
Linda doesn’t even hear this, she just starts shaking her head.
“If only we could get rid of McCarthy, with a QB like Aaron Rodgers, we should have had four or five Super Bowl wins by now!”
“They have one, and if it hadn’t been for a series of fluke plays in Seattle…”
“They keep getting blown out in the playoffs!”
“Their last three playoff losses have come on the last play of the game…”
“The league has got that guy figured out,” Linda says, turning her back on me and shuffling off into her house.
Her attitude is indicative of bar talk throughout the state. When the Packers are on a winning streak, the muttering drops to a whisper, but when the Pack puts together a loss or two, watch out!
Fantasy football hasn’t helped things as anyone who has owned Eddy Lacy on a fantasy team over the last few years is sure to hate McCarthy. You hear the same repeated chant at every local bar:
“We’re on the 1-yard line, just pound it in four straight times. C’mon McCarthy! Don’t you dare hand it of to John Kuhn. Do you hear me McCarthy? Don’t hand it to Kuhn. If you hand it to Kuhn I swear…Just…don’t…hand…it…to…KUHN!”
The announcer crackles to life: John Kuhn takes the carry for a one yard loss.
“Nooooo! Curse you McCarthy! Curse you!!!”
Hey, the guy has been our coach since 2006. We know him, we know his tendencies. Human nature is a funny thing. McCarthy can make ten great calls in a row, but if that’s followed by a questionable call… Boom, that’s the one Packer nation remembers.
Even the calls that work out are sometimes met with disgust.
Announcer: John Kuhn in for the touchdown!
“Why are you upset, we just scored a TD?”
“Because now McCarthy will think that stupid trick hand-off to Kuhn is a good idea and he’ll never call Lacy’s number again!”
These days Kuhn is playing for New Orleans (much to the chagrin of Mark Ingram fantasy owners), and Eddy Lacy is on IR. But that hasn’t silenced the hoard of McCarthy detractors.
“We need a new coach!”
“Get rid of him!”
“Belichick would have manufactured a win somehow!”
Sure, change is exciting and it offers the opportunity for something better. But what people sometimes fail to realize is that change also offers the opportunity for something much, much worse.
“McCarthy plays not to lose,” is another common bar room complaint, “he needs to play to win!”
The people who say such things seem to confuse play calling with execution. When McCarthy calls a pass and the receiver drops the ball, you can’t blame the play call. McCarthy is the kind of coach that has called an onside kick on the opening kickoff, and will routinely go for it on fourth down rather than attempt a long field goal. In terms of aggressiveness, the only difference between McCarthy and Belichick is that McCarthy seems to have enough integrity that he’s not associated with a cheating scandal every year.
Every year, the Packers meet a stretch of adversity. Sometimes it’s injuries like in 2013 when Rodgers was out for an extended period. Sometimes it’s inexplicable like in 2015 when a 6-0 start was followed up by a 1-4 stretch. The only season I can remember where the Packers didn’t seem to face adversity was in 2011, where they charged along to a 15-1 record only to have a head-on collision with adversity in the playoffs.
Somehow, I think there would still be calls for the coach’s head, even if he guided the team to four straight undefeated seasons.
“We should have won that game by thirty points, not a measly twenty-five!”
One of the tendencies under Mike McCarthy is that every season, the Packers face a stretch of adversity where they simply don’t look like a championship team. I don’t watch the Patriots enough to know if they have a game or two where they look vulnerable. I’d guess that Packer fans who dislike McCarthy think they don’t, and Patriots fans who actually watch every game would say they do. The more important point, to my perspective, is that McCarthy, without fail, uses the adversity to forge his team’s identity and make a legitimate championship push.
Sure, it is infuriating that under McCarthy the packers are 1-8-1 in overtime (the win came in 2007 against Denver with Favre at QB). They lost two games in a row in overtime in 2010 before catching fire and going on to win the Super Bowl. I think that if McCarthy had won even half of his overtime games, there would be significantly less grumbling. But even an overtime loss means the guy put the team in a position where it had a very strong chance of winning at the end. Remember under Mike Sherman when the Pack lost to the Rams in 2001 by a final score of 45-17, or when we lost to the Vikings in 2004 by a score of 31-17? An astounding 4 of McCarthy’s playoff losses have come in overtime, and the loss to the 49ers in 2013 came on the heels of a walk-off-the-field final FG.
That’s the million dollar question. Are these overtime losses an indication of a fundamental flaw, or are they just chance? Will the packers go on to be 8-1 in their next 9 overtime games? Imagine if the Packers released McCarthy and the statistical anomaly leveled out while he was coaching against us.
Oh, and make no mistake, if the Packers released McCarthy, he’d have thirty new job offers before the phone hit the cradle. Actually, make that 31 because if McCarthy somehow managed to not want a head coaching gig, Belichick would offer him his OC job. Remember, too, that Belichick had a ten year gap between his super bowl wins of 2004 and 2014.
So yeah, at this point McCarthy has been around long enough that the honeymoon is over. We know what to expect from a McCarthy season. We fear overtime. He’s going to make some calls we disagree with (like not going for 2 for the win).
But you know what?
History tells us that come the end of the season Mike McCarthy is going to have his team in the playoffs ready to perform. So get over your fatigue. Mike McCarthy is a fantastic coach.