Should McCarthy And Thompson Be Fired?

This has been a bad week for NFL coaches. Firings from the obvious (Detroit’s Rod Marinelli, Cleveland’s Romeo Crenell) to the surprising (Eric Mangini of the Jets) to the shocking (two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shananan of the Broncos) have come down since the regular season ended Sunday.

In addition to those four teams, at least as many as four more will or likely will be making changes at the head coaching position, including the Chiefs, Rams, Raiders, and Seahawks.  

Many Green Bay Packers fans, more than a little disappointed and angered by the team’s 6-10 season, are looking for their team to join this expanding coaching carousel by axing Mike McCarthy. Or to make an even bigger splash by jettisoning General Manager Ted Thompson.

After all, these fans would argue, the Packers were a bigger disappointment than Crenell’s Browns, who suffered “only” a six-game slide from 2007 (when they finished 10-6) to 2008 (when they finished 4-12), whereas the Packers lost seven more games in 2008 (6-10) than in 2007 (13-3). And both the Broncos (8-8) and Jets (9-7) had more successful seasons than Green Bay with arguably less talent.

So why not make changes at the top?

Well, both Shanahan’s and Mangini’s firings had more to do with late-season collapses than overall wins and losses, and Shanahan (24-24), Mangini (23-25), and Crenell (18-30) have been mediocre or worse over the last three years. In contrast, McCarthy has posted a winning 27-21 record over the last three seasons and is only one year removed from guiding his team to the NFC Championship Game, a year in which he was also named the 2007 Motorola NFL Coach of the Year. For his part, Thompson was credited for the success of last year’s Packers team by The Sporting News, who named him their NFL Executive of the Year for 2007.

OK, the bloodthirsty might say, but Brett Favre deserved the accolades for the Packers success in 2007, not McCarthy and Thompson. And since McCarthy and Thompson were instrumental in Favre landing in New York this season, McCarthy and Thompson should suffer for their bone-headed decision not to welcome Favre back.

This line of thinking has more holes in it then, well, the Packers’ defense. First of all, the person most responsible for Favre not being with the Packers in 2008 is Favre himself. Second of all, statistically speaking — and that is the only objective way to compare the two — first-year starter Aaron Rodgers had a much better year than octogenarian Favre. Rodgers threw for 4,038 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions for an overall quarterback rating of 93.8. In his first (and only?) year with the New York Jets, Favre threw for 3,472 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions for an overall quarterback rating of 81.0.  More importantly, he stunk as the Jets went from 8-3 darlings of the NFL to 9-7 also-rans.

Perhaps Favre, given Green Bay’s clearly superior receiving corps, would have had more success than Rodgers if he had stayed in Green Bay. But that is pure speculation and misses the main reason why the Packers aren’t playing in January: Their defense was abysmal. The unit ranked 20th in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed. More importantly, they simply could not stop anybody when it mattered, which led to a shocking 0-7 record in games decided by four points or fewer. In contrast, the Rodgers-led offense scored only 16 points fewer than last year and racked up the fourth-most points (419) scored by a team with a losing record in NFL history.

So if the replacement of Favre with Rodgers is not grounds for firing Thompson or McCarthy, then is the performance of the defense enough to send one or both of them packing? Well, no, but it should be enough to send defensive coordinator Bob Sanders out the door, a move that as of this writing seemed imminent. Granted, injuries to defensive starters Nick Barnett, Atari Bigby, and Cullen Jenkins played a significant role in the Packers’ lack of defense, but injuries are simply part of every team’s season and Sanders’s unit did not, as McCarthy said in his year-end press conference, overcome the personnel losses to the degree that they should have.

Mike Stock’s job as special teams coordinator also seems in jeopardy; the firing of Stock should be a given after the lousy year the Packers had in both kickoff returns and coverage. However, I don’t know how you blame Stock for Mason Crosby’s inconsistency (27th in field goal accuracy in 2008), or for the lousy punters that the Packers continue to have a remarkable knack for finding (they’ve used ten in the last ten years).

But clearly Sanders and Stock do not get all of the blame for the Packers’ woes. Ted Thompson in particular needs to become more active in the free-agent market to acquire more veteran leadership. Consistently being under the salary cap and consistently being the youngest team in the NFL are not as impressive as winning seasons and playoff runs. Fortunately for Packers fans, after their last losing season in 2005, Thompson signed free agents Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett, so perhaps (based obviously on who will be available) there is some hope for this offseason. A veteran quarterback to back up Rodgers remains a priority.

Thompson and McCarthy also have to have a better draft this year than they’ve had the last two years, which have been puzzling at best. While division rivals have added impact players like Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, and Calvin Johnson through the last two drafts, the Packers have used their most recent first picks on bust Justin Harrell and Jordy Nelson, a nice receiver (33 receptions for 366 yards in 2008), but hardly who the Packers needed heading into 2008. The upside to a bad season is that the Packers will draft ninth and should be able to add someone, presumably in the secondary or defensive line, that can help them immediately.

In 2007, the Packers by all accounts overachieved. In 2008, the Packers by all accounts underachieved. Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson deserve a large part of the credit for the 2007 season and a large part of the blame for the 2008 season. And while there are disturbing trends in Green Bay – particularly in the lack of off-season free-agent acquisitions and in the lack of landing impact players in the draft – one bad season should not send an organization into panic mode. Thompson and McCarthy will and should keep their jobs.

Quickly, here are my playoff picks as we head into Wild Card weekend. It’s very simple. I like all four road teams. If I had to pick a home team, I would take Minnesota. As well as Philadelphia has been playing the last month, it was only in Week 16 that they laid a massive egg at Washington. And although Arizona’s playing terrible as of late, I don’t completely discount Kurt Warner’s ability to carry his team to what would have to be a high-scoring victory. And Indianapolis shouldn’t take San Diego too lightly. I doubt they will.

I know, it sounds like I’m trying to pick all the teams (except Miami, who I just don’t see winning). Hey, I’m just looking to cover myself in case I go 0-4. Which I realize is entirely possible.

Agree or disagree with me on the fate that Thompson and McCarthy deserve? Let me know at jrobbins@wisctv.com. Enjoy the playoffs . . .

 

 

 

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