McCarthy setting bar high for Packers
Green Bay – Mike McCarthy was beat.
The Green Bay Packers head coach had just wrapped up a mandatory minicamp in mid-June. That also marked the conclusion of a long and grueling off-season.
McCarthy looked like a man ready for a vacation, some R&R and some extended family time.
Before McCarthy escaped for much of July, he plopped into a chair and answered questions from Packer Plus’ Rob Reischel. Among the topics were the upcoming season, last year’s playoff loss and McCarthy’s long-term goals.
Q. You recently called this your most experienced and talented team. For a guy that’s won a Super Bowl, that’s a pretty big statement.
A. I just feel with all returning players, our fourth year in the system defensively, fifth year in the system with Shawn (Slocum) . . . we have a lot of experience with the players in this system. I just feel as a whole, it was a very athletic off-season program and I’ve been impressed with the quality of depth and the competition we’re going to have.
Q. So when you make a statement like that, where does that mean the bar gets set for 2012?
A. I think we’re probably putting too much into the statement because we’ve been fortunate enough to have quality depth and competitive training camps. But this one, on paper, looks like it’s going to live up to those standards.
Q. Having won a Super Bowl, though, and going 15-1 last year, where do you set the bar?
A. I think I said it the first day I was here. It’s always about winning the world championship in Green Bay. I don’t think you ever settle for less than that. Just take a look at last year, 15-1 doesn’t cut it.
Q. So to you, 15-2 last year doesn’t cut it?
A. That’s not what I’m looking for, and it’s not what our players want and that’s really all that matters. If we can stay focused on what the group’s trying to accomplish and continue to do the things that are necessary. We have a blueprint of success for the way we train, but it’s a challenge every year. The team takes on a new face every year. There’s a path out there for us to get to New Orleans and win the championship. It’s our responsibility, and with a little touch of grace from the good Lord, we’ll be able to stay on that path.
Q. Does some of your greatest optimism come from the influx of talent brought in to help rescue your 32nd-ranked defense?
A. I’ve always had this optimism. I’ve never lined up in a football game or coached in a football game or a sporting event that I didn’t think I was going to win. I think that’s part of how my parents raised me. I would like to think our team plays that way. This influx of talent? We have an influx of talent every year. It’s what you’re able to do with it. My job is to create opportunities for these players to come together and form a team, and it’s maybe not always the most talented team, but it’s the best football team. The most-talented player doesn’t always stay; it’s the best football player that stays. It’s just important to stay in tune with that, and this is a very good group to pick from.
Q. Many of your veterans were raving through organized team activities and minicamps about the young defensive players that were drafted. That came when you practiced in shorts, not pads. What have you seen out of the young draft picks on defense?
A. They’re definitely talented, brought juice and there’s competition throughout the team. And it’s really heightened in some areas, especially on defense.
Q. Was there anything you saw last summer or leading into the 2011 season that could have helped you forecast how much the defense was about to slide?
A. Well, not really in the summer. I don’t recall there were any indications in the summer because, you know, training camp was so different last year. The whole training, no off-season program and we didn’t have the scrimmage on Family Night because we didn’t think we were ready for that. We were kind of working up to get ready for the season, where in prior years you try to get there as fast you can. I just remember being in training camp last year saying, ‘just be patient.’ I just remember last year going through the first couple weeks of camp just thinking, ‘ . . . this wasn’t right.’ But I would think everybody probably felt that because you didn’t have the off-season. And I can remember the first day we got back together, (then-quarterbacks coach) Tom (Clements) and the quarterbacks and I sat in there and Tom said, ‘OK, we have 47 points of changes in our offense.’ And we’re doing that in July. That conversation usually happens in March and April. So it was really different. I don’t think I really had any indication to think we were going to struggle on defense.
Q. Was there a point in the season where you felt like, ‘We’re in trouble and we’re probably going to stay in trouble?’
A. No, because I thought all our mistakes were still correctable. The thing that bothers me . . . is we didn’t tackle very well. We weren’t a good tackling defense. We were exceptional taking the ball away, which is hard to do. There were definitely positives about it, but we didn’t correct repeated mistakes. And when that happens players lose a little confidence, maybe coaches lose confidence in the player. So if that thing snowballs, you can lose a little confidence and I think at points in the season we lost some confidence. I don’t think the (second) Detroit game helped any of our guys.
Q. At the 2011 NFL combine, you said one of your goals was to become the No. 1 offense in the NFL and then you went and scored 560 points, the second most in NFL history. What’s your level of pride in achieving that, and can this offense get better?
A. We felt we clearly left a lot of offense on the table (in 2010). There was actually a lot of offense we didn’t even use because of the injuries. That year was clearly the highest of all the years here where things we did in training camp we never even used during the season. So with that being said, I was very confident and I thought the offense was ready for Aaron (Rodgers). Aaron’s been ready for more responsibility, but it’s more is everybody else around him ready, too? And we felt Aaron was ready for more responsibility at the line, and I think it’s been very beneficial to our team. To me, last year was the standard. We set the standard on offense, and that’s what we’d like to hold ourselves to.
Q. So 35 points per game is now the standard?
A. Yep. I like that.
Q. Do you worry at all about complacency on that side of the ball?
A. No, we made it too hard on them. We’ve changed a lot of things and they were definitely challenged in the spring. They’ll be challenged again during training camp. I feel like coaches did a good job being creative, and I think it’s going to help offensive guys.
Q. Aaron is arguably one of the best players in the NFL today. How can he still get better? How can you get better than 45 touchdowns and six interceptions?
A. You have to. You have to. You have to go about it that way. If you just watch him in practice, he still does the fundamental drills. He’s always working to get better. But to me, when players reach that pinnacle they have to really work and prepare against themselves more than they do their opponent. Because his biggest challenge is maintaining his discipline and trying not to do too much. He does such a great job of running the offense, distributing the football, playing fast. He just needs to continue to do that.
Q. Have you been around anyone, anytime, anywhere that’s improved as much as Rodgers?
A. He’s always been talented. I had a chance to evaluate the guy every game in college when he came out. I’ve never questioned that man’s talent. He’s put it all together. He’s the most accomplished player I’ve ever coached.
Q. Rodgers often mentions the 2005 draft and how you and the San Francisco 49ers bypassed him. Do you ever think, ‘Give it a rest?’ Or if that’s something that drives him, are you OK being a source of motivation?
A. I think there’s a lot more in life that drives him than that. That’s part of his history. It’s always going to be there. It’s not going to go away. So I’m very happy the way it worked out. Things happen for a reason. Life’s about opportunities and it’s about what you do with them. I never really worried too much about the opportunities I wasn’t given. I always focused on the ones I have been given, and he’s a great example of that. I think he has fun with it more than anything. It’s definitely an experience he can use, but also it’s an experience to be a great role model with. It’s a great story. If you want to look at an illustration of a successful person that’s had hurdles in his life to overcome, what a great example.
Q. Rodgers is at almost the identical point in his career as Brett Favre was when you were his position coach here in 1999. Can you compare how it is to coach the two at this particular juncture of their careers?
A. I’m in a different job today, and frankly, I miss coaching quarterbacks. I just have too many responsibilities. The most important thing that I’ve done as far as the quarterback room is make sure the structure and the emphasis was put into place, and I did that my first year here. Tom (Clements) did a fantastic job of carrying that through and now he’s doing that with (new quarterbacks coach) Ben (McAdoo). The only thing is when I look at the quarterback room, I just want to walk over and be sure it’s continuing to be done the right way, because everybody has a certain way they’d like to see a quarterback trained. As far as coaching Brett, he was a lot more accomplished in the offense, so it was a transition. I’d say it’s a lot different. I look at Ben walking in the room now. Ben’s been here. Aaron knew Ben. I was the new guy coming in. I didn’t coach Brett until the first minicamp. To me, it’s a whole different off-season layout. Brett was a great player. He went through a bunch of injuries that year and did a remarkable job playing all 16 games that year.
Q. Have you ever had anybody quite like Jermichael Finley – on and off the field?
A. Oh yeah. He’s not that hard. I’ve had a lot more challenging situations. I think with Jermichael, people are on Jermichael a little bit too hard because he’s the only one that carries himself that way. The guy has a big heart and he means well. He’s extremely competitive and very talented. Everybody expresses themselves differently and obviously his style is very resourceful to the media, and that kind of takes on a different life. But I like him. I enjoy working with Jermichael. And if people didn’t enjoy working with Jermichael Finley, then he wouldn’t be here, and that’s not the case. We think he’s a young man that still has so much in front of him. The only thing I concern myself with Jermichael is I just want to see him stay healthy. But I’ve been around a lot more challenging people than Jermichael.
Q. Jermichael told me last year he spent a lot of time in your office, and that you even invited him to come up every day during training camp. What are those times together like?
A. I enjoy him as a person. I have young children, he has young children, so there are different things to talk about. He’s from Texas and I spend time in Austin, Texas, so we have a lot of common conversation. And I spend more time with the offensive players than the defensive players. That’s just the way we do things here. But yeah, there’s not a day or two that goes by that he and I don’t have a short conversation. He’s fun to work with. I enjoy him.
Q. Are there three or four guys you’re expecting ‘breakout’ type seasons from?
A. I want to see guys with pads on before answering that. But I think for the most part our second- and third-year players that didn’t have the off-season program (in 2011) have done a very good job spending time here. Being here the whole time and just really learning the system. We’re just so much more functional now in doing the things that we’re doing and the volume of it through the course of practice.
Q. James Starks is 218 pounds, 7% body fat and says he’s faster than he’s ever been. He obviously looks the part. But is your running game in good hands with him as your lead back?
A. He looks great. Looks great. He had a breakout playoff run (in 2010). Some guys just hit that injury phase in their careers and just have to work themselves out of it. Starks has some of that. He’s had some tough challenges just getting hurt.
Q. What’s your relationship like with Ted Thompson now vs. 2006?
A. It’s the same. I mean, I’d say we’ve gotten closer. That’s only natural because we know each other. I grow to respect him more and more every day. I just think he’s very gifted at what he does.
Q. Do you ever want his job, here or somewhere else?
A. No. If I did that job I wouldn’t coach. I don’t think you can do two. I think it’s too much. I think you’d be robbing Peter to pay Paul. You can’t be in two places at one time. I’m a football coach, and I don’t see anything in the near future that’s going to change that. But I’ll also say this: I feel like I have something bigger in my life than being the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. I think there’s something out there for me to do after my time is up. I hope it’s not up for a long time because I enjoy it. But those questions are always answered by someone a lot bigger than you and I. But when that time comes, I do feel like there’s one more big challenge out there for myself professionally.
Q. Most people in this state don’t think there’s very much that’s bigger than where you’re sitting.
A. Well, it’s the best job I’ll ever have. I’ll never have a better one.
Q. You hint about that next challenge. Any idea what that is?
A. No I don’t. I’ll let the good Lord tell me what that is.
Q. Do you feel you have to grind as hard as you did when you first started in 2006?
A. That’s a great question. It’s a lot smarter than it used to be. I think technology has really made it more manageable. I say manageable, but to the normal person, (the hours) are still not realistic. People say, ‘How do you work so much?’ but our family wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for my wife. A coach has to have a great wife, a great partner. She just does so much for us as a family, and that enables me to still work the hours that I do.
Q. Once July 26 arrives, will you have any type of home / work balance over the ensuing seven or eight months?
A. How do you define balance?
Q. Let’s say seeing your family an hour, maybe two a day.
A. I like to think we have balance here as far as the coaching profession goes. We’re not going to have coaches sleeping here in the office. I can promise you that. I won’t allow that. I’ve done that. I know why it’s happened, but I’m very conscientious of the time management of our staff. I’ve done the sleep in the office thing, or two or three hours of sleep, but you’re not the same guy on the field. The thing I’ve noticed from the old way and the way we do it is I want the coaches fresh. I want them getting home, getting a good night sleep. The most important time you spend is with your players, in your meeting room, on the field and you need proper sleep to get that done.
Q. Which Giants loss bothers you more, 2007 or 2011?
A. Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think you ever get over those. They’ll always be there.
Q. Did January’s loss to the Giants bug you throughout the off-season?
A. Yeah, it bothers me. When I’m planning for this season, I’m planning lessons that I felt we didn’t learn from that experience.
Q. You obviously learned something from the loss in 2007. What did you learn from last year’s loss?
A. Really, it takes you right back to the emphasis of the fundamentals. That’s something I feel we do every day, but maybe we had to take a look. Maybe I wasn’t doing it enough. We adjusted some practice things because of it.
Q. That was also one of the most unique weeks leading up to a football game that I’m sure you ever had. In retrospect, how much did that hurt you?
A. Unique is a kind word. I don’t know how you explain that week. It was like getting run over by a truck. That’s a better description.
Q. When’s the last time you and Brett Favre talked?
A. Oh, I don’t want to talk about that.
Q. Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs, Bill Walsh, Tom Flores, Jimmy Johnson, George Seifert, Mike Shanahan, Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin. Those are the 12 coaches who have won two Super Bowls or more. What would it mean to you to join that group?
A. Oh shoot, I’d love it. I’d be all for it. I appreciate you bringing these stats, but that’s not something I give a whole lot of time and thought to. When my wife and I are sitting on the porch, hopefully I’ll say, ‘That was a great career.’
Q. What do you want your legacy to be here?
A. That he was a better person than a coach.
Q. In 2010, you went with the ‘Super Bowl or Bust’ theme. Will you do that again?
A. I just don’t believe in the crash and burn theory. I believe in winning and learning. I don’t believe in that other word. I don’t even like to say it. I believe you keep building and keep working at it, keep winning. And as long as they keep giving you opportunities, make the best of it. I’m not satisfied with coming close. I’m going to do everything I can to win the championship and that will never change. And when that does change, I probably need to step out and let someone else take a swing at it.
Full Q &A here