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Mike McCarthy: That Was Then, This Is Now

Mike McCarthy press conference 2017

McCarthy speaks to media after the game against the Atlanta Falcons in the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. Atlanta defeated Green Bay 44-21. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Another Packers Blog posted something by Peter Bukowski that caught my attention. The gist of it is that despite having less success than Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, Saints counterparts Sean Payton and Drew Brees get less criticism and better treatment. The writer thinks it’s because Green Bay fans have higher expectations. I’m okay with that contention.

He then goes on to say McCarthy has “presided over more winning seasons, more division titles, playoff appearances, conference championship games, and No. 1 offenses” than Sean Payton. Still okay. But it’s his conclusion that hits a sour note: “Yet one is employed, and the other isn’t.”

While most fans applauded Big Mike’s dismissal, and certainly the bulk of TP readers, McCarthy has his share of defenders, or at least sympathizers. So, being a sensitive guy, I’ve been meaning to touch on the subject anyway.

Coaches, Like Players, Decline Over Time

Back on October 19, 2016, I took a fairly in-depth look at the regular season winning percentages, over time, of many of the NFL’s most successful coaches. (See here) It revealed a bell-shaped curve in almost every case: “rising winning percentages peaking at the height of their careers and then descending precipitously over the final years of coaching.”

First, I noted the five exceptions I found: John Madden, Tony Dungy, Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, and St. Vince. Interestingly, we watched two of the five still at the peak of their powers just over a week ago.

I picked out eight great NFL coaches and gave their winning percentages in their glory years and the same for their final years. Here’s an abbreviated summary:

Don Shula (MIA) –1963-1985 – .727; 1986-1995 – .560

Tom Landry (DAL) – 1966-1983 – .741; 1984-1988 – .456

Bud Grant (MIN) – 1969-1978 – .743; 1979-1985 – .483

Chuck Noll (PIT) – 1972-1984 – .691; 1985-1991 – .459

George Seifert (SF-CAR) – 1989-1996 – .766; 1999-2001 – .333

Bill Cowher (PIT) – 1992-1997 – .667; 1998-2006 – .594

Mike Holmgren (GB-SEA) – 1995-1998 – .750; 1999-2008 – .537

Mike Shanahan (DEN) – 1996-2005 – .662; 2006-2013 – .429

These are some of the best modern-era NFL head coaches – and yet they all had drastic declines in their success as the years went by.

I noted even back in late 2016 that McCarthy “appears to have begun his coaching descent.”

Here’s an update to his career – on the first line, I included 2015 and 2016 in the glory years, and in the second I put them in the years of decline:

Mike McCarthy (GB) – 2009-2016 – 87-40 – .685; 2017-2018 – 11-16 – .407

Mike McCarthy (GB) – 2009-2014 – 67-28 –.705; 2015-2018 – 31-28 – .525

I can’t find any examples of a head coach who experienced several years of success, and then decline, followed by a reversal back to several years of success.

Even if someone out there can find such a guy, do you really believe McCarthy was going to be a guy who could do that?

Even the five coaches who avoided the bell curve descent are readily explainable. Belichick and Reid have yet to begin their descent. Lombardi died at his peak. Madden and Dungy retired early. Dungy was a head coach for only 13 years, retiring at age 53. Madden stayed a head coach for but 10 years, retiring at age 42.

The evidence is, dare I say, incontrovertible.

Summing Up

No logical, reasonable, and smart employer should make a 2019 employment decision based on what a person accomplished from five to ten years ago. Murphy shouldn’t, and didn’t make his decision based on Big Mike’s body of work. The primary question was: what were his abilities at that moment? A secondary question might be: what appeared to be his prospects heading into the near future. Talking about one’s body of work is only relevant to one’s legacy or historical context.

Only a handful of NFL coaches have been able to sustain excellence beyond a decade. It’s a high-demand high-stress and ever-changing job, and McCarthy, like most other head coaches, over time was not able to keep up with the changes and the pressures.

Here’s another simple way to look at things: there was McCarthy then and there’s McCarthy now. Two very different guys.

Tags:
Rob Born

Someone else said it first but I popularized it: “Athleticism is important in athletic pursuits.” It took three years, but the Packers finally listened. My new mantra: “Trading down is fine, but never trade up.”

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13 Comments

  1. Deepsky January 30, 2019

    Brees had a 115 QB rating and was ranked the #1 QB by PFF. He had the highest completion percentage in the league. No reason to be negative.

    Rodgers QB rating was nearly 20 points below Brees. He missed open receivers. He shattered the NFL record for throwaways in a single season with 58. He took the third most sacks in the league. His completion percentage was between Case Keenum and Andy Dalton.

    Packer fans need to come to grips with the fact that Rodgers isn’t Aaron Rodgers. Either his injuries have caught up with him, he is getting old or he wanted McCarthy fired.

    In only 3 of the 8 coaching changes you listed above did the team even have a winning record after the change. The Packers are in a major decline.

    1. PF4L January 30, 2019

      The Packers are in a decline?

      Seriously? When did this happen?

      Trade Rodgers.

  2. Larry January 30, 2019

    People get to caught up with stats and other BS. When it comes to evaluating anything football related, trust your eyes. The eyes never lie. Most of us saw McCarthy was done in the Seattle championship game. HUGE choke job. McCarthy sucked as a HC. I’m sick of the getting into playoffs crap cause all it did was expose how bad he got out coached in big games. I will always believe had dumb ass Teddy chose Payton, there would have been a few more SB appearances. Fuck Mike McCarthy and good riddance.

  3. Cheese January 30, 2019

    Interesting article.

    “I noted even back in late 2016 that McCarthy “appears to have begun his coaching descent.”

    I think that was evident in 2014 when McCarthy let his stupid run count piss away a shot at the SB. Not to mention the complete clusterfuck that was special teams that day. You can blame that on Slocum, but it happened on McCarthy’s watch. Something that had been rearing it’s head for quite some time, nothing was ever done about, and finally blew up in their faces.

    “No logical, reasonable, and smart employer should make a 2019 employment decision based on what a person accomplished from five to ten years ago.”

    Why yes Mr.Gruden, we would love to give you $100 million over the next 10 years. The job is yours. Enjoy!

  4. PF4L January 30, 2019

    Seriously?…i just wrote a 10 minute comment, and it didn’t accept? Really?

    1. PF4L January 30, 2019

      jfc….glad i could waste my f…..time

    2. Howard January 30, 2019

      That happened to me about a week ago. I tried twice, but the comment when posting would just go blank and say leave a reply. I did it twice to make sure everything was filled out correct and it was.

      I was not going to say anything. There must be something that causes the problem? It probably helps Jason to let him know.

      After that occurred I have copied my comment in case it happens again. So far everything has been O.K.

      I also noticed if you click on reply and then decide not to reply, (cancel reply) but still want to post the comment it will scrub the comment.

  5. Cheese January 30, 2019

    I’ve had a few comments disappear upon posting but that was under the former administration so it was probably a different issue. Still a shitty feeling nonetheless when all that time and mental energy goes down the tubes. It got to the point where I would write my replies in a word document and paste them in the comment box just incase something happened. I don’t do that anymore since I haven’t had much of an issue recently, but it looks like something to be aware of.

    1. Jason Parker January 30, 2019

      I am a comments section junkie since the 90s. I’ve learned to always copy long comments to clip board(control + C) before submitting. Just in case.

      1. PF4L January 31, 2019

        I am a comment section junkie, only on TP.com. Haven’t had this problem since 2011, until recently

  6. MJ January 30, 2019

    “Saints counterparts Sean Payton and Drew Brees get less criticism and better treatment”.
    That, and how Tomlin still keeps his job in PIT boggles me. They somehow manage to draft a star receiver every other year (Bryant, Smith-Schuster,) to go along with A. Brown. They had Bell. Very good OL, and at-least-decent defenses. They have fielded very talented teams in recent years, but got no trophies to show for.
    And yet the pressure does not seem to get to Tomlin as it (finally!) did to McCarthy.

  7. T.A. Winstrom February 2, 2019

    Bill Walsh – for some reason omitted in the article.
    NO sign of a late career decline.
    1979 .125
    1980 .375
    1981 .812
    1982 .333
    1983 .625
    1984 .938
    1985 .625
    1986 .656
    1987 .867
    1988 .625
    CAREER .609

  8. T.A. Winstrom February 2, 2019

    Bill Walsh….
    NO sign of a late career decline:
    1979 .125
    1980 .375
    1981 .812
    1982 .333
    1983 .625
    1984 .938
    1985 .625
    1986 .656
    1987 .867
    1988 .625
    CAREER .609