Can Pack­ers find a coach who com­mands Rodgers’ re­spect?

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - Pete Dougherty

It’s clear in my mind what the Green Bay Pack­ers need in head coach Mike McCarthy’s suc­ces­sor: an offen­sive coach with a high in­tel­lect who com­mands full re­spect and buy-in from Aaron Rodgers.

We don’t know if team pres­i­dent/CEO Mark Mur­phy and gen­eral man­ager Brian Gutekunst agree. McCarthy was fired Dec. 2 af­ter the team lost to the the Ari­zona Car­di­nals. Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Joe Philbin takes over as in­terim coach.

At their joint news con­fer­ence the next day, Mur­phy and Gutekunst de­clined to go into at­tributes they’re look­ing for in their next coach. They didn’t want to box them­selves in, and there’s no blam­ing them for that.

But the NFL is a quar­ter­back game, and the Pack­ers have a quar­ter­back who has played sus­tained ex­cep­tional foot­ball for much of his ca­reer. The fact that he has been sev­eral lev­els lower than that this sea­son is the main rea­son the Pack­ers are 4-7-1 and McCarthy no longer has a job.

And the main rea­son Rodgers has un­der­per­formed is he stopped buy­ing what the coach was sell­ing. You didn’t have to be an in­sider to see that. The team’s dread­ful offen­sive per­for­mance all sea­son, Rodgers’ on-field de­meanor and what he said and didn’t say in news con­fer­ences were in full view.

I don’t doubt Rodgers had le­git­i­mate beefs. I don’t doubt that McCarthy has a healthy ego and a stub­born streak. Maybe af­ter his long ten­ure with the Pack­ers, McCarthy had lost his edge.

I also don’t doubt Rodgers can be hard to work with. He is very smart and knows it. Af­ter 14 years in the league he knows offen­sive foot­ball as well any coach and has strong opin­ions on how the game should be played. That’s a lot for a coach to han­dle.

But this game is all about get­ting the quar­ter­back to play well; McCarthy al­ways said his offense was built around that goal. The Pack­ers need a coach who can com­mand in­stant re­spect from Rodgers, which means they need a sharp, am­bi­tious, confident guy who can con­vince Rodgers he knows what he’s do­ing. That won’t be easy.

Mur­phy shot down any no­tion that Rodgers will be part of the search process, though the CEO also said he’ll wel­come Rodgers’ in­put. Not quite sure what that means.

But ei­ther way, Rodgers says he wants to be coached.

“I think any great player holds him­self to a very high stan­dard, so first you have to be crit­i­cal of your own per­for­mance,” Rodgers said. “But it’s al­ways nice to have a voice in there who’s go­ing to hold you ac­count­able. And I think any player, es­pe­cially an older player, they want that. We want that feed­back and some­body hold­ing you ac­count­able and some­body coach­ing you up.”

The per­fect guy would be Mike Holm­gren, who has brain power and com­mand­ing pres­ence in spades.

The prob­lem is, he is re­tired, is 70 years old and hasn’t coached since 2008.

The list of can­di­dates get­ting me­dia play is thin for well­known names. There aren’t the hot as­sis­tant coach names of past years, such as Sean McVay, Kyle Shana­han and Matt Nagy.

But that only means so much. A lot of times those big­name as­sis­tants fail. Just like with draft­ing play­ers, you never know who’s go­ing to pan out. Some­times the dark horses shine.

So it’s kind of point­less to say the Pack­ers should hire this guy or that. But out­side look­ing in, the guy who jumps out as worth a re­ally hard look is Josh McDaniels, New Eng­land’s offen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

That’s ob­vi­ously not a novel idea. Bo­vada.lv came out Dec. 3 with odds on the Pack­ers’ next coach, and McDaniels has the best at 7-to-4. (Min­nesota Vik­ings offen­sive co­or­di­na­tor John DeFilippo and Ok­la­homa coach Lin­coln Ri­ley were next at 11to-4.)

McDaniels, 42, al­ready has been a head coach, at the un­com­monly young age of 33, in 2009 and ’10. The Den­ver Bron­cos fired him three-quar­ters of the way through his sec­ond sea­son.

The Pack­ers need to delve into what hap­pened there. It could be that McDaniels was just too young. He also had final say on per­son­nel, and that’s just too big a job for al­most any­body not named Bill Belichick. McDaniels should just stick to coach­ing.

The big­ger red flag is McDaniels’ de­ci­sion last year to ac­cept and then back out of the In­di­anapo­lis Colts’ job. That was stun­ning — his for­mer agent, Bob LaMonte, re­port­edly told him he was “com­mit­ting pro­fes­sional sui­cide” — and left a team and a staff of new as­sis­tant coaches in the lurch. It re­quires a good ex­pla­na­tion be­fore con­sid­er­ing him a se­ri­ous can­di­date.

The the­o­ries for why McDaniels changed his mind in­clude a meet­ing with Belichick and owner Robert Kraft as he was pack­ing up his be­long­ings in New Eng­land, but it’s still un­clear just what was said there. There were also re­ports he had new con­cerns about Colts quar­ter­back An­drew Luck’s re­cov­ery from a bad in­jury to his throw­ing shoul­der.

Still, McDaniels is con­sid­ered one of the bright­est young offen­sive minds in the game. His offenses have ranked in the top three in scor­ing in the NFL five times in the last six years, in­clud­ing four at No. 1. Granted, he has Tom Brady as his quar­ter­back. But still.

Also, Rodgers is friends with Brady. You can’t help but won­der what Brady has told him about McDaniels.

Ac­cord­ing to ESPN’s Ian O’Con­nor, who re­cently wrote a book about Belichick, Brady told an­other NFL coach some­time in the last few years that if Rodgers played in the Patriots’ offense, “He’d throw for 7,000 yards ev­ery year. He’s so much more tal­ented than me.”

Now, Brady wasn’t talk­ing about McDaniels in par­tic­u­lar. But McDaniels has been the Patriots’ offen­sive co­or­di­na­tor since 2012, so that is an at­ten­tion grab­ber.

Ri­ley is the hottest col­lege name be­cause of his 24-3 record and huge num­bers his spread pass­ing game has put up in his two sea­sons at Ok­la­homa, in­clud­ing in 2017 with Baker Mayfield at quar­ter­back. Ri­ley’s age (35) shouldn’t be a con­cern, but he’s never coached in the NFL, which should be.

You can be sure both those men will be on Mur­phy’s radar, as will many oth­ers.

The pri­or­ity is get­ting Rodgers to play great again, and the best chance of do­ing that is find­ing a coach who has the where­withal to do it him­self.

JEFF HANISCH/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Aaron Rodgers was 98-55-1 as the Pack­ers quar­ter­back un­der head coach Mike McCarthy.

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