Week 13 Musings: Mike McCarthy and the Case For In-Season Firings

Some firings are easy. Take Hue Jackson in Cleveland. He should have been fired after winning one game in two seasons. He should have been fired after his inept leadership and propensity for “preventative days off” was on full display during Hard Knocks and presumably even more so behind closed doors. Jackson was finally fired after the Browns lost to the Steelers in Week 8 and it was evident that he was a detriment to the franchise’s most prized possession, Baker Mayfield. Ousting Jackson was the obvious move to turn the tide of a very toxic situation.

Since Jackson’s departure, the Browns have coalesced and Mayfield has played top-notch football, at least until he hit a roadblock in the form of the now 9-3 Houston Texans Sunday. Still the shift in direction has been a clear boost and more permanent damage could have occurred had GM John Dorsey and ownership let Jackson wait out the season.

The situation in Green Bay was far more nuanced. Mike McCarthy had been the head coach for 13 seasons, making him one of the most tenured coaches in the league. His resume was stellar at 125-77-2; in fact, the Packers were in the playoffs every season between 2009-2016, including 2011 when they took how the Lombardi Trophy to the land of Lombardi. During the McCarthy Era there was almost no locker room drama or any scandal that need a -GATE attached to it. He was well liked by the front office and well respected by the football world at large.

But one Super Bowl in 13 years only gave McCarthy so much rope. As this season’s regression turned to disaster turned to utter embarrassment Sunday, losing to the 2-9 Cardinals at home, the Packers accelerated the inevitable. Even with the Pack at 4-7-1, CEO Mark Murphy easily could have waited a month for the season to be over. Many believe he should have.  “I just don’t think you fire a Super Bowl head coach in the middle of the season. Maybe they need to get some new players,” Tony Dungy said on Football Night in America.

The sentiment is understandable and McCarthy is a special case given his success, though he doesn’t get to be absolved from blame for this season because he won a Super Bowl seven years ago.  His inconsistency, lack of inventive play calling and poor game management have been obvious detriment  Even so,. You always want to see good people go out on their own terms.

But sometimes when you know you know. Reports had already swirled en masse that McCarthy would be gone at season’s end. An explosive piece just last week by Sports Illustrated detailed the fractured working relationship between McCarthy and Rodgers. Yet even the reporter on the story, Kalyn Kahler, was stunned at the in season firing.

Who really loses, though, by not delaying the inevitable?

McCarthy gets to avoid a month of adding to his loss record, dealing with players who may be partially checked out, and weekly rumors about whether this would be the week he’d be fired.  By being canned now, this season’s stain is diminished. Four weeks is an eternity in the NFL and come January, McCarthy will likely be viewed through a much different lens than had he worked through the season.

The front office gets a leg up on their coaching search, and the players get to exhale and view this as a refresh. In rare instances, this period can serve as a tryout for the interim. The Titans took the interim tag off of Mike Mularkey’s title when he replaced Ken Whisenhunt in 2015. The Browns have said that Gregg Williams is a legitimate head coaching candidate. The Packers are not in that boat as it seems inconceivable that Philbin will be anything ore than an interim given how many hot coaching candidates will want to come to the land of Rodgers. But it’s still a way to test out a different style and see how the players respond.

The main contrarian view is that a new in season coach will throw off the routine, and in the NFL routine is everything. Even if that’s true – and in Joe Philbin’s case I doubt things shift much – good, the Packers’ routine should be thrown off. They’ve won four games.

Quick Week 13 Musings

– Who’s going to beat the Texans defense in the AFC? Even the Chiefs may have trouble getting through a unit that is stacked across the board.

– I’m sure we say this every year, but this has to be the worst year for officiating. I’m not sure what was worse – the missed false start on Chargers RT Sam Tevi that resulted in a 46-yard TD for the Chargers or not calling the Colts receiver out of bounds and letting time expire in the Colts-Jags game. A plethora of head refs – Gene Steratore, Terry McAulay and Ed Hochuli among them – retired after last season. Wonder if the new leadership isn’t up to snuff.

– Bravo to ESPN’s Lisa Salters and Sam Ponder for their handling of the Kareem Hunt interview. Salters for her tough questions (She honed in on asking about kicking the girl) and Ponder for her strong voice in the aftermath, ““He said that’s not me…but it is you on the tape.”

– Not cool, Jalen Ramsey

– Can someone please explain why Matt Patricia went for an onside kick down just a score with 2:53 left and 3 timeouts (really four with the 2:00 warning?)

– Three wins in three tries for Lamar Jackson and I don’t see how there’s a QB debate. Baltimore traded up to get this guy in the first round, you want to maximize your time with any QB on a rookie deal, oh and did I mention 3-for-3? There seems to be skepticism over whether Jackson can win on the road in the playoffs. Why can’t he? He’s a nightmare for defensive coordinators, especially this year when they don’t know what’s in his magician’s hat. Yes, Joe Flacco has had some notable success on the road in the playoffs but this team hasn’t even played in the postseason in four years.

– Is any WR more underappreciated than Keenan Allen? His route running is a masterclass. The Chargers put together a tribute to Allen’s 148-yard day against the Steelers.

– The Bears really need Mitchell Trubisky to get healthy soon. Chase Daniel, while decent in the fourth quarter, isn’t taking this team anywhere.

– Congrats to undrafted safety Andrew Adams on a three-TD game for the Bucs? One of the best things about the NFL are monster performances that seemingly come out of nowhere.

– Love My Cause, My Cleats so much, which has expanded from Week 13-Week 15. Here’s an even better idea (in my unbiased opinion): Every week the NFL designates one primetime game as its My Cause, My Cleats game. Those players get to say their cause in the player introductions. Schedule would have to ensure every team gets on primetime. This would allow the players and their causes a MUCH greater platform than the cluttered initiative it is now.

– Quick note that there’s no Football Date Night this week. Unfortunately I’ve had some pretty severe vocal cord strain the past week so so and doing podcasts, not to mention other media appearances, is only making it worse. Trying to greatly minimize the vocals and looks forward to a new episode this week.