Packers President on Mike McCarthy firing: ‘We needed a new voice’
The Green Bay Packers sent out a press release Sunday evening shortly after Mike McCarthy became the franchise’s first-ever head coach to be fired in-season, stating that president and CEO Mark Murphy would meet the media Monday afternoon.
What was more surprising, then: that the Packers initially planned to have only Murphy explain the decision to fire McCarthy, or that GM Brian Gutekunst seemingly was a late addition to the docket?
When Gutekunst replaced longtime GM Ted Thompson in January, it was made clear that both he and the head coach would report separately to Murphy. Yet the meatiest part of Monday’s press conference focused on revisiting the new leadership structure of a franchise whose resurrection largely has been attributed to former President Bob Harlan turning over complete control of the football operations to former GM Ron Wolf.
“To me the most important thing are the people in the building and the relationships,” Murphy said. “Brian and I will work together. I’m not going to hire a coach that Brian isn’t comfortable with.”
Added Gutekunst: “This is about people, and I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with the structure without the people.”
Make no mistake, though, Murphy will make the final decision on the Packers’ first head-coaching hire since 2006. Murphy said he and Gutekunst met Sunday night and agreed that a change was needed.
Murphy called interim head coach Joe Philbin a “legitimate” candidate who has head-coaching experience and was with the organization for some of its best achievements.
“Another advantage to making the change now is to see Joe as our head coach for four games and see how the team responds,” said Murphy, who called the early start on their search a “competitive process” and “side benefit,” both for the Packers and McCarthy, who’s “going to be a strong candidate” for other openings.
Murphy also said on more than one occasion Monday that the Packers’ “unacceptable” loss Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals, who entered the game with a 2-9 record, crystallized his belief that McCarthy’s tenure had run its course. Murphy alluded to the 2016 campaign, when Green Bay started 4-6 prior to Aaron Rodgers’ famous “run the table” rallying cry spurred eight consecutive wins en route to the NFC title game, as the first time they’d considered replacing McCarthy.
“All of our efforts were in turning the season around,” Murphy recalled of that franchise flashpoint. “I really think if we got a key win here or there, things would have changed.”
It was just different this time. Rodgers hasn’t played nearly as well as he did during that 2016 MVP campaign. There weren’t any rallying cries from No. 12. Still, neither Murphy nor Gutekunst would validate the widespread rumblings of friction between McCarthy and Rodgers preceding Sunday, nor the narrative that Rodgers no longer is the player who elevated that 2016 team.
“This decision is not about one player. It’s what’s best for the Packers team and organization,” Murphy said.
But will the Packers’ $134 million player be involved in the decision of finding McCarthy’s successor?
“My door’s open, Brian’s is open,” Murphy said. “We have good relationships with Aaron, tremendous respect for him. He is not going to make the decision, but we welcome the input.”
Gutekunst said he thought the reports of disharmony between the head coach and quarterback were “overblown,” and that it “wouldn’t be fair” to ask Rodgers to play an active role in the search for the next head coach.
“Whatever we need from Aaron, we know he’s all in,” said Gutekunst, who took exception to the characterization that Rodgers hasn’t appeared like his old self this season. “Our team hasn’t responded and played to the level that we thought we would this year.”
Despite this year’s disappointment leading to the NFL’s third-longest-tenured coach’s dismissal, Murphy expressed optimism that a quick turnaround is possible. He pointed to the Philadelphia Eagles, who fired former Packers employee Andy Reid and the success it led to for two organizations. Murphy also pointed to the New Orleans Saints, coincidentally the team from whom Gutekunst acquired an extra first-round pick in 2019, as another example.
“I would say this about Brian — we’ve had one of his drafts, one offseason of changes he made to the roster, and I’m very optimistic. We can make a big change quickly. I look at New Orleans ... hit on a big draft and you can make a big change.”
But the big front-office change — not the head-coaching one — in Green Bay provided the most interesting fodder Monday.
“We’ll be going forward with this search process, and Brian will be actively involved,” Murphy said. “Our goal is to get the very best coach who can get the Packers playing championship football.”
As Gutekunst points out, the Packers are “one of the cornerstones of the National Football League” and have a “Hall of Fame quarterback” contributing to the attractiveness of the opening.
But it remains to be seen whether their new power structure, the kind that initially prevented the Packers from landing their top candidate in the past, might deter them from finding the very best coach who can get the organization pointed back in the right direction.