We are in full swing of awards season and we’re hoping Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is paying attention because I feel he should be at least nominated, if not selected to be the NFL’s Coach of the Year.
Most have pointed toward Andy Reid over at Kansas City as the prime candidate for that award, but I tend to disagree on that point. Others point to Bill Belichick, Bruce Arians, Sean Payton or even Chip Kelly for the honor.
But if it can’t be McCarthy, then I would point more to a guy like Ron Rivera at Carolina as the next best nominee, along with McCarthy for all the reasons below.
Like the Most Valuable Player, if we take the designation literally the coach of the year should be one who has kept his team afloat through thick and thin, producing a winning record despite having climbed the mountain, having rolled down a couple of times, and gotten back up to climb once more.
McCarthy’s journey in 2013 was one highlighted by great successes and utter failures. Long before this past season started, McCarthy made the decision to flip his offensive line, moving then-starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga and right guard Josh Sitton to the left side to protect the franchise, Aaron Rodgers’ blind side, and improve the run game. Even without a single practice McCarthy had raised the coaching bar not only for himself, but for his staff.
That idea seemed to fall to pieces even before the team’s first exhibition game when Bulaga was lost for the season during the team’s Family Night scrimmage. Did McCarthy panic? No, he inserted a rookie – David Bakhtiari – into the left tackle position – a spot the young man held throughout the entire campaign.
McCarthy, notable for his handling of quarterbacks, struggled with the hand he was dealt by his general manager, Ted Thompson. McCarthy tried to develop backup quarterback Graham Harrell into a reliable option, but realized that Harrell was far from the answer. He tried B.J. Coleman at the position, but he, too, was a failure. Then Thompson brought in Vince Young and eventually cut him before finally settling on NFL journeyman Seneca Wallace as the team’s backup just hours before the start of the regular season.
That conundrum was to come back and bite the Packers, and bite them hard.
McCarthy, with his star pupil Rodgers leading the team over the course of the first seven games, started 5-2. Many were seeing the Packers as just beginning to pick up steam and considered “Team 93″ a viable Super Bowl contender.
Then all hell broke loose.
Rodgers went down with a fractured clavicle on the team’s first drive against the Chicago Bears Nov. 4 and in came Wallace. The Packers would lose that game by a touchdown and would go all of November without winning a game. Compound that with the fact that the Packers lost Wallace on the first drive in their next game, went two games with practice squad QB Scott Tolzien as their starter and then finally settled on Matt Flynn as their QB after reacquiring him.
Flynn led the team to a tie at home against Minnesota and then won two miraculous games against Atlanta and Dallas to help keep the ship afloat until Rodgers came back in the final week of the season at Chicago.
Incredibly, the Packers were still in the NFC North Division title race and had only to win at Chicago in Week 17 to gain a playoff berth – we all know about the fourth and eight.
Mixed into all that transpired for this team were the injuries – especially on defense. In addition to losing Rodgers on offense, the Packers defense was also without their other leader – Clay Matthews. His broken thumb kept him out nearly half the season. In addition, there were injuries across the linebacking corps and defensive backfield that resulted in the need to reach down into the third and fourth strings for players.
And despite the fact that the Packers dropped from a top-10 team against the rush to a bottom one-third ranking not only in stopping the run, but in defending the pass and overall yards given up, McCarthy was still able to keep the ship from sinking completely.
No, he didn’t quite have the answer to beat a very good San Francisco 49ers team in the Playoffs, but we still have to consider that they won a third straight NFC North Division title and hosted a home playoff game. Yes, you can say that the Bears and Lions imploded as they have been known to do over the past decade, but it was McCarthy who kept calm and carried on.
It was his perseverance and belief in his coaching staff and personnel that kept this team from completely falling apart.
That’s what good coaches do.
And that’s why McCarthy should be considered as coach of the year.