Send­ing Mike Pack­ing right call for Green Bay

Fired coach won more games than Lom­bardi at Lam­beau, but had to go

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On the face of it, Green Bay have got rid of a man who has led the team to the sec­ond most wins in Pack­ers’ his­tory – Mike McCarthy has more wins in Wis­con­sin than even the late, great Vince Lom­bardi.

But, in the cold light of day, the Pack­ers are star­ing at the very real prospect of a sec­ond-straight year with­out fea­tur­ing in the post­sea­son, while for all those wins, one of the most tal­ented teams in the NFL over the last decade has only lifted one Lom­bardi Tro­phy dur­ing McCarthy’s 13-year reign.

When you fac­tor in he’s had who many con­sider the great­est quar­ter­back in the league over that pe­riod, Pack­ers’ CEO Mark Mur­phy’s de­ci­sion seems more sen­si­ble than sav­age. And, ul­ti­mately, he has prob­a­bly made it with the fu­ture of Aaron Rodgers in mind.

In sport­ing terms the stud gun­slinger is in his twi­light, hav­ing turned 35 on Sun­day. But in NFL terms the Cal­i­for­nia na­tive is a rel­a­tive babe – six of his con­tem­po­raries are older.

And with Tom Brady still lead­ing the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots to Su­per Bowls at 41 and Drew Brees, 39, still break­ing records at break­neck speed with the New Or­leans Saints, you have to be­lieve there’s plenty of time for Rodgers to earn him­self that sec­ond Su­per Bowl ring.

No12 has been vo­cally crit­i­cal of his team’s play-call­ing this sea­son and is de­scribed by some as be­ing so smart that he’s dif­fi­cult to coach.

But why shouldn’t the coach­ing be crit­i­cised? It’s hard to de­fend their 4-7-1 record. It is the joint ninth worst in the league – with two of those vic­to­ries com­ing against the wretched 2-9 San Fran­cisco 49ers and the peren­ni­ally medi­ocre Buf­falo Bills (4-8). The last straw was Sun­day’s 20-17 de­feat to the aw­ful Ari­zona Car­di­nals (3-9).

When as­sess­ing the big­ger pic­ture, that record is likely to see them miss out on the post­sea­son for a sec­ond year in suc­ces­sion, which has never hap­pened pre­vi­ously un­der McCarthy – who prior to 2017 led his side into the play­offs eight sea­sons in a row. They never reached the Su­per Bowl af­ter that ex­hil­a­rat­ing 31-25 2010 tri­umph over the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers, but were al­ways at the fore­front. A year later they posted their best reg­u­lar sea­son record un­der McCarthy of 15-1, but lost in the open­ing round of the play­offs to the even­tual cham­pi­ons the New York Gi­ants.

In 2014 and 2016 they were thwarted in the NFC Cham­pi­onship game by the Seat­tle Sea­hawks and At­lanta Fal­cons re­spec­tively – both of whom found Father Time too much to han­dle in the fi­nale as Brady led the Pa­tri­ots to his and their fourth and fifth ti­tles.

An­other fac­tor that points to a part­ing of ways be­ing the cor­rect de­ci­sion is how strong the NFC is.

The Philadel­phia Ea­gles last year broke a three-year stran­gle­hold AFC teams held on the Lom­bardi – four of the last six win­ners have come from there. But the AFC’s dom­i­nance has been built largely on New Eng­land and the age­less Brady – who has led his team into four of the last seven Su­per Bowls.

The NFC, mean­while, is hy­per com­pet­i­tive this year, with the 11-1 LA Rams the best team in the league and both they and the Saints among the top three scor­ing teams. The Chicago Bears, Min­nesota Vikings, Dal­las Cow­boys and Sea­hawks are all jostling for play­off po­si­tion too and boast pow­er­ful line-ups.

Mean­while, in a loaded con­fer­ence, the once-lead­ing Pack are falling be­hind into the chas­ing pack – which is sim­ply un­ac­cept­able when you have a QB as good as Rodgers.

Of course McCarthy’s feats at Lam­beau Field shouldn’t be for­got­ten. Re­gard­less of the sole Su­per Bowl tri­umph, he will go down as one of the most suc­cess­ful coaches in fran­chise his­tory. Only Green Bay founder Earl ‘Curly’ Lam­beau won more games (231) than McCarthy. The Pack­ers won six NFL Cham­pi­onships un­der Lam­beau from 1929-44 be­fore the in­flu­en­tial Lom­bardi kick-started the Su­per Bowl era with two more and three Su­per Bowls – in­clud­ing the first two in ’66 and ’67.

It would be 30 years be­fore the Pack­ers would win a fourth ti­tle in 1997 thanks to the arm of Hall of Famer Brett Favre. They are now joint third for most Su­per Bowl wins along­side the Gi­ants, cour­tesy of McCarthy and Rodgers’ 2010 ex­ploits. But ul­ti­mately, at the top level of sport there is rarely any room for sen­ti­ment. The NFL is par­tic­u­larly cruel en­vi­ron­ment, you ei­ther sink or swim.

The ‘Lam­beau Leap’ is a wellused phrase coined by fans and com­men­ta­tors – touch­downs in Green Bay are of­ten cel­e­brated by the scorer jump­ing up into the arms of the vo­cif­er­ous Wis­con­sin crowd. Mur­phy has taken a leap by let­ting go of McCarthy. Now he must find the right re­place­ment and hope he and Rodgers can launch the Pack­ers back into the arms of the NFL’s elite.

Pack your bags: Mike McCarthy’s 13-year reign in Green Bay is over and his re­place­ment must get the best out of star quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers.

Matthew Jones b @Mat­tJones360 ✉ mat­[email protected]

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