More Thoughts on the Purge of Packers’ Coaches
In my last post, I expressed my views on the Packers’ firing of defensive coordinator Dom Capers. The purge has continued, with the additional removals of offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, and assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley.
Offensive Coordinator Edgar Bennett
We’ve previously reported that Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame running back Bennett had steadily moved up the coaching ladder in Green Bay since 2001. He went from director of player development to running backs coach, then to receivers coach, and finally Mike McCarthy promoted him to offensive coordinator in 2015. It appeared Bennett was on a path to becoming a head coach for some NFL team.
So, given McCarthy’s hands-on approach to running the offense, he had 14 years to closely assess Bennett’s abilities prior to choosing him as his offensive coordinator, and then he had three more years working hand-in-hand with him in running the offense. How is it that Bennett now gets blamed for the team’s lack of offensive output in 2017, while McCarthy does not?
Quarterbacks Coach Alex Van Pelt
Van Pelt got his coaching start in 2006 with the Buffalo Bills. After two quick promotions up to offensive coordinator, the entire Bills coaching staff was let go after a disappointing season in 2009. He joined Tampa Bay’s coaching staff as quarterbacks coach, but again was part of a purge of that entire coaching staff two years later.
Big Mike quickly picked him up and made him Green Bay’s running backs coach in 2012, then moved him to quarterbacks coach two years later. As with Bennett, McCarthy abruptly fired him – for the third time he’s a victim of multiple firings. I’m unaware of Big Mike making any criticisms of Van Pelt’s performance prior to his firing.
It’s safe to assume that when the crisis of Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone occurred, Big Mike didn’t simply delegate the game preparation of Brett Hundley to Van Pelt. No, McCarthy was surely front-and-center at Hundley’s practice sessions, he headed up the game-planning meetings, and he selected the play calls – not Van Pelt.
Instead of accepting blame for the backup quarterbacking debacle, Big Mike took it out on his underling – a pattern seen often during his head coaching tenure.
Defensive Line Coach Mike Trgovac
As has been a common practice, Big Mike chose a veteran coach to be his defensive line coach back in 2009. From 1984 to 1994, Trgovac had been a coach at five colleges, the last being defensive line coach at Notre Dame. From 1995 through 2018, serving mostly as a defensive line coach with the Packers, Redskins, and Panthers, Trgovac’s defensive units had a knack for being ranked among the league’s best.
I have to wonder what Big Mike didn’t like about the job Trgovac was doing. Kenny Clark had a breakout second season, including recording 4.5 sacks after getting none his rookie season. Mike Daniels had another steady campaign. Other than those two, Trgovac was left to work with another second-year man, Dean Lowry, who improved greatly, and castoff Quinton Dial, who performed better than his $775,000 salary would have suggested. Rookie Montravius Adams was largely lost to injury.
The Packers ranked eighth in rushing yards allowed per carry (3.9), compared to 12th in 2016 and 26th in 2015. In what way was Trgovac failing at his job?
Assistant Linebackers Coach Scott McCurley
Unlike the others let go, McCurley at age 37 was one of the Packers’ youngest coaches. His entire 12-year coaching career has been spent with the Packers. He’s assisted Winston Moss in coaching linebackers for the past four years. It’s a little curious that the assistant, McCurley, would go while Moss remains.
Actually, inside linebacker was perhaps the brightest position on the team in 2017. Second-year man Blake Martinez went from a part-time player to being tied for the league lead in tackles – something no Packers player has accomplished in decades. Steady third-year teammate Jake Ryan had his second consecutive year of 80-plus tackles.
The outside linebackers didn’t fare as well, though injuries (and age) slowed down Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Vince Biegel. New acquisition Ahmad Brooks met expectations and Reggie Gilbert showed unexpected promise – maybe he should have been put to use earlier, but that wasn’t the assistant’s call.
It’s not McCurley’s fault that the team let Julius Peppers, who recorded 11 sacks on the year, go back to Carolina.
If McCarthy was basing his firings on player performance, you’d think that offensive line, tight ends, and receivers coaches would have been the first to go. Receivers coach Luke Getsy got out just before the purge, returning to college coaching at Mississippi State. On the defensive side, the cornerbacks and safeties coaches would seem to have been the obvious targets for dismissal.
McCarthy has a reputation for firing a coach or two as a way of scapegoating following disappointing seasons. As this is the team’s most disappointing season in nine years, five firings seems to be par for the course.
If all these guys weren’t ultimately deemed by Big Mike to have the qualities needed to become outstanding coaches, then wasn’t he badly mistaken in promoting or hiring them to begin with?
One thing for sure: as McCarthy’s reputation grows for canning his coaches when things go bad, it’s going to become harder and harder to get promising people to come to Green Bay to work for him.