The Packers made the playoffs eight times in the nine seasons between 2009 and 2017, so head coach Mike McCarthy wasn’t sure how to respond when asked how he would lead a team that was all but eliminated from the playoffs by Week 13.
“I mean, I’ve never been in this spot,” McCarthy said in his postgame press conference. “I’m not going to act like I know what the hell I’m going to do tomorrow when [players] get in here. So we’re going to do what we always do, we’re going to represent the Packers the right way, I know that. Other than that, we’ll focus on what’s in front of us.”
McCarthy won’t be representing the Packers anymore after the team fired him just hours after Sunday’s loss 20-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. McCarthy, who had led the team since 2006 and was the third-longest-tenured head coach in the NFL, is the first Packers coach not to finish a season since Gene Ronzani in 1953. He will be replaced on an interim basis by offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who is in his second stint with Green Bay and served as Miami Dolphins head coach from 2012 to 2015. Team president Mark Murphy released a statement on Sunday explaining the decision and thanking McCarthy for his tenure with the team.
Here’s a statement from #Packers President Mark Murphy who, it should be noted, “made the difficult decision to relieve Mike McCarthy of his role as head coach.” It was not GM Brian Gutekunst‘s call. pic.twitter.com/fj0K9vBd32— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) December 3, 2018
McCarthy went 125-77-2 in his 12-plus seasons in Green Bay, and his .621 winning percentage with Green Bay was the fourth highest among active head coaches. Along with Aaron Rodgers, McCarthy led the Packers to lofty highs: a Super Bowl win in the 2010, a 15-1 campaign the following year, and nine playoff appearances in 13 seasons. (A street near Lambeau Field is named Mike McCarthy Way.) But McCarthy was fired for the lows. After winning the NFC North in five of six seasons from 2011 to 2016, the Packers came in third in their division in 2017. They currently sit at 4-7-1—on pace to finish third again this year. The team’s struggles in 2017 were largely explained by Rodgers’s collarbone injury. But despite being hobbled by a knee injury earlier in 2018, the two-time MVP has suited up every week this season. Months after giving Rodgers the biggest contract in NFL history, the Packers have as many wins as the Bills, Browns, and Giants.
The timing may be a surprise, but the result is not. McCarthy’s tenure with the team beyond this season has been in jeopardy for more than a month, and the team has gotten worse each of the past three weeks. In their past three games, the Packers scored 13 points combined in the second half and lost those three games by a combined 13 points, falling to the Seahawks, the division-rival Vikings, and the Cardinals, who were in contention for the no. 1 overall pick heading into Sunday. Questions about McCarthy’s ability to work with Rodgers have persisted for years, but they have never been louder than in the past few weeks.
The Packers are all but out of the playoff race, but there is still reason for fans to enjoy Green Bay’s remaining games. The team has enough young talent on offense (including rookie wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown and running back Aaron Jones) and defense (cornerbacks Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, and Kevin King) for core players to blossom down the stretch. Combine that young group with the team’s draft capital (two first-round picks in 2019) and Rodgers, who may no longer be at his apex but is still capable of a ceiling no other quarterback in football can reach, and Green Bay may be the most sought-after coaching job since the Broncos fired John Fox in 2015.