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Q&A with Packers coach Mike McCarthy

Discussion in 'Packer Fan Forum' started by pack4life, Sep 6, 2008.

  1. pack4life

    pack4life Cheesehead

    Aug 13, 2005

    Q&A with Packers coach Mike McCarthy
    Of readying Rodgers, replacing Favre and going for it all
    Posted: Sept. 5, 2008
    Green Bay - Mike McCarthy is about as secure as a coach can be in the National Football League.

    McCarthy is six months into a five-year contract with the Green Bay Packers that averages about $4 million per year. His winning percentage of .647, albeit in just two seasons, ranks second behind only Indianapolis' Tony Dungy's .648 among active coaches.

    Three years ago, McCarthy was stuck on Mike Nolan's staff in San Francisco, coordinating the worst offense in the NFL. Seven coaches became rookie head coaches in 2006. Among the other six, Sean Payton of New Orleans is the only one with a winning record (18-16) and a playoff berth.

    In an interview Wednesday with Journal Sentinel beat writer Bob McGinn, McCarthy discussed his third team, the change from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers and the season ahead.

    Q. Is this an improved team compared to 2007? If so, where is the improvement evident and in which position groups?

    A. I think the overall experience of our team has improved except the quarterback position. That's a product of our players taking full advantage of our off-season program. It is the fourth year for some players in our defensive scheme, the third year for our offensive scheme. I definitely like the work that's been done to this point.

    Q. If the Packers are improved, and you were an overtime away from the Super Bowl last year, it stands to reason that the Packers rank as a prime contender to make the Super Bowl in 2008, doesn't it?

    A. That's a question of convenience. Every year is a new year. It really is. I've been on a football team that was 13-3 (in Kansas City) and we brought everybody back and said, 'We're going to be a year improved and go win the Super Bowl.' And it didn't happen. It's a great example of how you need to prepare your team for the challenges ahead. Right now we're focused on beating the Minnesota Vikings. To sit here and talk about how many games we're going to win is not part of our mind-set. But our long-term goal is to win the Super Bowl.

    Q. Green Bay won the division by a margin of five games last season. In your mind, are the Packers still the best team in the NFC North or have the Minnesota Vikings, on paper at least, made up the difference?

    A. That will be determined. You have to be impressed with what the Vikings have done on paper. More important, you have to be impressed with what they've done on film. They went out and tried to improve their pass rush, and they've accomplished that. The pressure they're getting off the edges is improved from last year. How you compete against it is a whole other story. There's been paper champions before. At the end of the day that's why you play the games.

    Q. Has this team come together the way you hoped that it would?

    A. It's probably a better question for the end or middle of the year. We're not as healthy as I'd like to be. Usually when you start the season you feel like you were able to protect certain players. We've been a little disjointed there. The schedule was different, we had to navigate through it and we didn't have the rhythm that we liked. Short weeks, three in a row, is a challenge. And the injury issue just kind of got us the last two weeks of camp.

    Q. There has been so much hypothetical talk about Brett Favre this and Brett Favre that, but now it's time to play games that count. Let's say time is running out and your team is trailing by three points. Isn't it likely that the Packers will sorely miss having an all-time competitor who always gave his team a chance to win and was so damn hard to beat?

    A. Isn't that a hypothetical? Two-minute offense is a key situation. Actually, we've worked more this year than the last two years because of that. . . . Brett's career is well-documented here. But he's playing in New York right now. That's the facts. For as hard as it is, that's where we are.

    Q. You and Ted Thompson often have talked about the onus falling back on the team this season. But let's be real. How in the world, in just one season, can you replace a once-in-a-lifetime player like that, even if he will soon turn 39?

    A. I don't think your question is realistic. To sit there and say you're going to replace him in one season, I mean, he played 16 years here. This time was going to come at some point. Did we think it was going to happen this year? No. But did we think it could happen after my first year? Yes. When I first got the job that spring I wasn't sure he was going to come back and play that year. Starting with Ted in his first year and by drafting Aaron (Rodgers), we have been preparing for this moment. For as hard as it's been for the public, we feel like we've prepared for this and now the time is upon us.

    Q. No matter how you cut it, Aaron Rodgers has never started a game before. In terms of level of performance, just how much can be expected from him in 2008?

    A. He has to play the position at the highest level and let his ability to lead develop. I'm looking for Aaron to go out and run the offense. Be efficient. Do the things he's coached to do. Throw the football where it's supposed to go. Be smart with the football. Then I think everything else will start to fall in place. I tell him all the time, 'Play the quarterback position. You can't let all the other stuff factor into how you play and how you prepare.'

    Q. Just how much patience are you going to exhibit with Rodgers? How patient should fans be?

    A. I can't control the fans' patience and I'm not going to try to. I have to keep my eye on the pulse of the team and definitely on the pulse of the quarterback's productivity. I have the advantage of working with him every day. I'm in all the meetings. I think the young man has done a very good job preparing himself for this. But every quarterback that has moved on to greatness has been at this point in his career. It's time for him to show the durability week in and week out. To get up after he's been knocked down. Fight through the soreness Monday and Tuesday. This is a whole other phase of his development he now has to go through. You can't supply the training for this. He's following a guy that's been the greatest example in the history of the game. Let's hope he's learned from that.

    Q. You coached Matt Hasselbeck in Green Bay and Jake Delhomme in New Orleans, and both of them have led teams to the Super Bowl and been selected for a Pro Bowl. One was a sixth-round pick, the other was a free agent. Does Rodgers have the talent to forge a career like theirs?

    A. I think Aaron Rodgers definitely has the talent to play at that level. There are a lot of factors involved. That's illustrated by Matt's and Jake's careers. Jake and Matt went through some tough times. It's a tribute to both guys' character they were able to endure the lows. Aaron has all those characteristics. Hopefully, we'll be talking about him like that soon.

    Q. These days, Rodgers isn't carrying the ball as high in his dropback and pre-release point. He seems less mechanical. Have you encouraged that, and has it made him a better thrower?

    A. The first part of your question, the answer is yes. He had the ball by his ear. I've always felt the ball should be shoulder to shoulder. The first part is being able to get away from center. Then you want to protect the football. He still keeps it out a little bit too much because he's done it for so long. If you truly want to protect the football, you've got to keep it in the framework of your body. He is very fundamentally sound. Long arms. Loose elbow. High point of release. His pull from the left side. The one thing I didn't like was he had it way up here. He needed to be more natural in here (holding ball lower). He looks a lot more fluent with it, too. We changed that when I got here. (Quarterbacks coach) Tom Clements does a great job with the fundamentals.

    Q. Because Rodgers isn't shy about running and has a fairly long injury history, just how worried are you about his durability?

    A. I'm not worried about his durability because I've seen what he's done with his body. He's really changed his body in the three years we've been here. His body fat is way down. He's a lot stronger. He's really conditioned himself. You don't ever want to be noted as a running quarterback. You want to be able to scramble and be smart. Running quarterbacks get hurt. Scrambling quarterbacks get out of trouble. That's the thing we need to continue to work with Aaron on. He is a good athlete. He can get out of trouble with his feet. But you have to be smart out there.

    Q. If Rodgers can't start a game, would the Packers have much of a chance to win with Matt Flynn starting in his place?

    A. Any time you play a rookie quarterback there's two parts to it. No. 1, is the quarterback ready? No. 2, is your team ready? That's the part you have to factor in. If your team's not ready and your quarterback is not quite ready, then you got problems. Because now you're playing in a game, trust me, you don't want to call. I've called that game before. Trust me, Brian (Brohm) and Matt can both go out and run a portion of our offense. I have no qualms about that. But you need good defense and good special teams. If I didn't think our team could handle that I wouldn't put them in that position. But I think our team can handle playing a certain way on offense.

    Q. I'd imagine you and Tom Clements must feel proud about Flynn's development as a seventh-round draft choice. On the other hand, do you feel at least partly responsible why Brohm is off to such a slow start?

    A. I think that's a very unfair question on both ends. No. 1, I'm excited about Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm. They're prospects right now. They have a lot of work to do. To get them to the position Aaron is in, ready to take over, there's a gap between that. No doubt about that. Matt's slightly ahead of Brian. That's a credit to Matt and Tom. But also, Brian Brohm is right there also. Brian's going to be a good football player. Matt is, also. I'm real excited about both guys. I think our long-term situation at quarterback is good.

    Q. In some systems, Brohm probably doesn't have enough arm to succeed. Does he have enough in your system not only to improve but to go on and become an effective starter?

    A. When you watch Brian snap the ball off, he has the arm strength. He has to be more consistent doing it. That just comes from confidence. Thing about the NFL, you've got to throw the ball through windows. People don't just get wide-open. You've got to throw them open. It's normal for him not to be there. He's got a ton of experience. The guy sees the game.

    Q. Several months ago, the Packers could have traded a second-round draft choice to Houston for quarterback Sage Rosenfels. Back then, did you study Rosenfels, and did you think it would have been a wise trade to make?

    A. We talk about all those different guys. I'm familiar with Sage's career. I could answer 20 of those questions. Player acquisition is something I really don't get into. We trusted our evaluation and that's why we are where we are. We got two good young prospects.

    Q. Do you ever look back at the Giants game, with a hot, healthy team under your command and playing on a frigid night at Lambeau Field, and wonder if that was the closest you'll ever get to leading the Packers to the Super Bowl?

    A. It was an opportunity we need to fully learn from. Because you're right. We were healthy. We were coming off the victory against Seattle. Everything was in position for us to win that game. We played at a pretty high level. We go into overtime, both teams had seven explosive plays. Then the interception was the eighth. It's my responsibility to make sure it never happens again. We need to win those games. I'm working every day to get back there.

    Q. The team's first five draft choices this year were Jordy Nelson, Brian Brohm, Pat Lee, Jermichael Finley and Jeremy Thompson. Barring injury, it doesn't appear as if any of them will be a major contributor this year. When you're battling to reach the Super Bowl, is it disappointing to get so little rookie help?

    A. We've been the youngest team in the NFL the last two years and we'll be in the top group again this year. It's a hard group to crack. I'll say this. All of them will contribute at some point. I'm excited about them. That's a talented group of young players. They all have a bright future.

    Q. You take some jabs now and then from those who think you should run the ball more than 40% of the time, as the Packers did last year in 18 games. Is this criticism warranted? Do you plan to run it a lot more this season?

    A. I hope I don't run it 40%. We were involved in some games early that it was necessary to do what we did. You can spin it any way you want. Really, it's a positive about our pass protection. I think our pass protection probably was the best in the NFL last year. The scheme, the product of up front and the quarterback getting the ball out of his hand gave us the ability to throw the ball. If I'm throwing the ball 60% of the time and my quarterback's got 35, 40 sacks, you're going to be writing negative articles about my play-calling (Green Bay had 19 sacks). I felt we had to throw early in the season. Our run game was the last thing to come on. I'm very proud that we have improved both years from the beginning of the season to the end.

    Q. Is one reason why you're running it substantially less in Green Bay than you did as the coordinator in New Orleans (43.2% in five seasons) due to the fact that you just don't have much confidence in the zone scheme?

    A. Not at all. You are way out of bounds on this zone pattern scheme. The zone scheme is a starting point for us, no doubt. But within the zone scheme there are pattern variations. We really run four schemes, and two are pattern and two are zone. You're killing me on this zone scheme.

    Q. Even if you had wanted to, would the physical traits of your backs and linemen have made it impossible for you to take the Packers back to a power-gap scheme of running this off-season?

    A. We run the power play. We don't run it as much (as Mike Sherman's teams did). That was their first play. That's probably our third. I understand where you're coming from. There was more of that here before than there is now. But it's not pure, that we're just all zone and that was all pattern. You're not illustrating that properly. We're young. We're going to continue to get better. I'll just leave it at that.

    Q. The Packers' corps of wide receivers ranks at or near the top of the NFL. Does the path to a championship this season go through this group? How can you see to it that the impact of the wideouts is maximized?

    A. We've done a very good job of that the last two years. Our wide receivers do a great job with route discipline. They catch the ball very well. More important is what they do after the catch and how they block. We take a lot of pride in that. But really, our football team, it starts up front. No disrespect to the receivers. The offensive and defensive line will be the two key areas for this team.

    Q. How have you changed as an offensive tactician since your first season in Green Bay?

    A. The foundation is the same. I've always been a big believer in the system. It would be finding ways to utilize your personnel with your system. The first year, we were extremely young up front so there were a lot more seven-man protections. I guess you would call it more of a conservative approach. As we developed, we did more from a protection standpoint. We do a very good job in that area. It gave us the opportunity to open things up and try to take advantage of more matchups.

    Q. What are two or three small things around the office that you try to do at least every week, if not every day?

    A. I'm very conscientious on making sure I'm visible in every aspect of my job. Every department. The one negative about being on the third floor and everything else on the first floor is you're not in the weight room enough. I'm probably in the training room too much because of everything's that's going on lately. I've always felt it's the old neighborhood approach. You need to be down there amongst them. I don't like being in this office. I'd much rather be downstairs all the time. I tell (my aides) all the time, 'Your job is to keep me coaching.' If I'm up here too much then something's wrong. Also, I try to be brutally honest, maybe to a fault sometimes. I try not to let anything slide. I think comfort in an organization is negative. We're so blessed here with such a great environment and resources. You can get comfortable. I think comfort develops into lazy, and things pass you by. We have a lot of ambitious, creative guys on the staff.

    Q. The Packers have played a lot of average to good defense in the last two seasons but almost never have they been dominating. Why is that? Did you expect more, and do you expect more this season?

    A. I think our defense has been dominant in spurts. There will be games they will win for us. I look at the defense as the thermostat of our team. They need to keep things regulated. If they can keep the game regulated where it's always a 3- to 7-point game, then we're in every game. Then it's the responsibility for the rest of the team to win that game. We've come to that point in our program where the defense can keep us in every game. I think we're definitely that strong.

    Q. You'll turn 45 in November and you've got a pressure-cooker of a job. How much time do you take for exercise? Do you eat properly? Generally speaking, do you take care of yourself?

    A. Absolutely. I work out every morning. I have an elliptical (machine) and I got some dumbbells. At least five (workouts) a week. If I do the lift it's an hour and 15 minutes. If not, it's 50 minutes. I always try to do it before my 7 a.m. meeting.

    Q. Seven teams in the last 10 years went from 13-3 one season to 7-9, 6-10, 5-11 or 4-12 the next. You coached for one of them, Kansas City in 1998. How could something like that happen in Green Bay this season, and do you have fears that it might?

    A. I don't have fears because I don't think that way. I look at it as opportunities to build off what we accomplished last year. Last year is a reference point. You're not able to carry those wins with you. We have new challenges. Our opponents will be more familiar with what we do. We have to try and stay one step ahead of the game. I don't focus on our record. I focus on continuing to improve every single day. Our team did that the first two years. Youth helps you with that.

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