Changes by McCarthy does Packers good
For two straight offseasons, Mike McCarthy had made significant adjustments to his program, despite a track record of success. For the Packers coach, change is constant.
By Jason Wilde ESPN Wisconsin http://www.espnwisconsin.com/common/page.php?feed=2&id=19881&is_corp=1
“Anytime you have an opportunity at the combine or the owners meeting, you have a chance to sit down and visit,” McCarthy said of his friendship with Lewis at the NFC coaches breakfast during the NFL Meetings. “I think the world of Marvin. He’s tough, he’s demanding, he’s intelligent, he’s innovative, he’s always on the forefront of what’s going on in our league, he’s always interesting to talk to. He’s one of the few people in this league that I share information with.”
And so, it was no surprise that Lewis was one of several coaches who praised McCarthy’s willingness to make major changes at this point in his tenure – entering his 10th season as the Packers coach, only New England’s Bill Belichick (16th season), Lewis (13th) and the New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin (12th) have coached their teams longer than McCarthy has coached in Green Bay – rather than merely sticking with the approach that led to the team’s Super Bowl XLV title after the 2010 season.
A year ago, after too many injury-ravaged seasons, McCarthy completely overhauled the team’s approach to preparation, altering the practice structure in training camp, revamping the weekly in-season schedule, instituting mandatory recovery days, hiring an expert nutritionist and applying science to compile data on everything from hydration to sleep to exertion. The result? The Packers’ healthiest season on his watch.
Now this year, McCarthy is again making wholesale changes – this time with his offense. Coming off a season in which the Packers led the NFL in scoring, McCarthy has given up play-calling duties – something he has done for every team he’s worked for since 2000, his first year as the New Orleans Saints’ offensive coordinator – and rejiggered his offensive coaching staff, turning play-calling over to newly-named associate head coach Tom Clements, promoting Edgar Bennett to offensive coordinator and putting Alex Van Pelt in charge of both quarterbacks and wide receivers.
“I think each and every year you have to be realistic about how we can improve, how I can improve. I’ve felt that’s something that we’ve always done in our program,” McCarthy explained. “I think you have to look at each and every year – and we do. This year, I hope we’re sitting here next year at the coaches breakfast and maybe laughing about it a little bit. Saying, ‘Boy that was a heck of a change you made last year.’ You have to change or adjust if you really think you’re going to grow. I don’t think you ever really just stay the same.”
According to McCarthy’s fellow long-tenured coaches, the challenge is walking the fine line between staying committed to the core principles of your coaching philosophy while knowing when changes – and which ones – need to be made.
“I think principles are written in stone. Methods are not,” said Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, who’s entering his eighth season as the Ravens coach and led them to the Super Bowl XLVII title. “You’re always learning, you’re always growing. One method that applies one year doesn’t apply the next year.
“A great coach is going to know what is a fundamental part of what he’s doing – what’s non-negotiable, and what’s a tactic that is negotiable. So Mike McCarthy would know what those issues are, and that’s why he’s so successful.”
Added Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who’s entering his ninth season as the Steelers’ coach: “I think each year stands on its own. Some years I say similar things that I said the year before. I try to give our team what I deem appropriate, what I think they need for preparation and to ultimately play. One thing I’ve realized over the years is, you’ll probably get tired of saying it before they get tired of hearing it. So I don’t worry too much about keeping it fresh from that perspective. If it’s good, it works.
“I’m not resistant to change, by any stretch. But when I change, I like to change with a purpose. I try to have a hard-core plan but remain light on my feet in order to do appropriate things.”
Former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin hasn’t been a head coach as long – he’s entering his fourth year in Miami – and he admitted this week that he would have never expected McCarthy to give up play-calling. But after a bullying scandal involving ex-guard Ritchie Incognito two years ago, Philbin has gotten a crash course in how to adjust.
“I think Mike’s always going to do whatever he thinks is best for the team. If he feels it’s the best thing for the football team, he’ll do it,” Philbin said. “I don’t know any of the reasons why [he gave up play-calling]. I haven’t asked, and it’s not important. But he came to the conclusion that that’s what’s best.
“I think you always have to be ready to adjust. You may have to adjust in the middle of a game. There are certain core things about the game of football that probably aren’t ever going to change. But other things, a lot of other stuff is open for debate, I think.”
What is not open for debate is McCarthy’s success. The Packers are one of only two teams to have made the playoffs each of the past six seasons – Belichick’s Patriots are the other – and McCarthy carries a career record of 101-55-1 (including 7-6 in the postseason) into 2015.
When asked about McCarthy’s openness to change, Belichick instead launched into a lengthy reply praising McCarthy, whose team beat the eventual Super Bowl champions, 26-21, on Nov. 30.
“I mean, first of all, I’d say Mike’s one of the best coaches in the league, one of the best coaches I’ve ever gone up against. I’m sure whatever he’s doing is the right thing,” Belichick said. “I have a lot of respect for him. I’m sure whatever decisions he’s making for the Green Bay Packers are good ones and ones that he thinks are right. I personally wouldn’t question anything he does.
“And I’d say since I’ve been with the Patriots, even going back to Cleveland, there’s been times where I’ve met daily with the offense, times where I’ve met daily with the defense, times that I meet with the quarterbacks, times that I meet with the special teams. It’s not the same every year, it’s not the same every week. So, I do what I feel like is best for our football team. And I’m sure that’s what Mike’s doing – whatever that is. I don’t even know.”
Lewis knows. He knows all about last year’s changes – he said he’s talked not only with McCarthy about them but team president Mark Murphy and ex-Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk, who joined the Bengals earlier this month – and he knows about his friend’s decision to stop calling plays. They talked about the decision in Indianapolis during the scouting combine and again at the Arizona Biltmore hotel during the NFL Meetings this week.
And knowing McCarthy as he does, Lewis is certain that McCarthy’s willingness to change will keep his team in contention in 2015 – and beyond.
“I think you have to keep changing, I think you have to keep revamping, trying to do things differently. Keeping it fresh,” Lewis said. “There are certain principles you feel good about, but you have to keep pushing to do things better.
“They went through a transition last year in Green Bay that was very positive. That’s something we’re all looking for – a way to coach the football team, handle the football team differently, train the team differently. How you practice, how you meet – we’ve been through some transitions that way at our place. So it’s been helpful. And that’s been our charge this whole offseason, not to stay status-quo.
“Now, he’s making another transition. Which he said, thus far, just in the offseason, what a difference that’s made for him. He’s looking forward to it. To have his hands maybe involved or just maybe know a little bit more about what’s going on throughout the football team.”
Original story from ESPN Wisconsin here