Football coaches rarely deviate from their own established strategies. This is often the reason why successful former coaches struggle to win years later. For example, Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli were once the brightest defensive brains in the NFL. Their defense of Tampa 2 had almost single-handedly won the Buccaneers a super bowl. But when the Cowboys brought in the duo almost a decade later, it quickly became apparent that the game had overtaken them. Ultimately, a lack of evolution and adaptation is what sealed Kiffin and Marinelli’s destinies in Dallas.
It’s also a part of what sealed Mike McCarthy’s fate in Green Bay. Like Kiffin and Marinelli, McCarthy had tangible proof that his approach worked. He had won a Super Bowl in his fifth year as Packers head coach and has won more career games than any other Green Bay coach not named Curly Lambeau. His teams have made the playoffs eight straight seasons, including four straight division titles, and McCarthy even had a street named after him outside the stadium.
The great Bob Sturm joined RJ Ochoa on this week’s episode of The Ocho to discuss the Mike McCarthy idea and credit. You can listen to the episode just above, but be sure to subscribe to the Blogging The Boys podcast network so you don’t miss any of our shows. Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
But as the years went on and the trends in the league changed, McCarthy remained more or less the same. While much of his demise can be attributed to the toxic relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers – a more in-depth summary of which can be found here – McCarthy also allowed his scheme and overall approach to the game to become stale and stale.
So when Green Bay decided to fire him with four games remaining on the schedule – making him the very first Packers coach to be fired during the season – it was a welcome time for a change. That is to say, after the initial shock has worn off.
A month later, when the hiring cycles opened, McCarthy was only interested in the Jets. However, the one in New York reluctance to let McCarthy build his own staff led the Super Bowl-winning head coach to take a year off. That’s when McCarthy did a real self-assessment, caught up on league trends by watching films from other teams up close than he ever had the chance. to do so as a head coach, and even visited the Pro Football Focus headquarters in Cincinnati.
It was an important moment for McCarthy. Not only because he was the first NFL head coach to visit PFF HQ, but because he repeatedly made fun of analyzes and other advanced statistics – the exact sort of thing that PFF produced – while in Green Bay. McCarthy was an old-fashioned football coach who scoffed at the idea that numbers and spreadsheets could give insight into a physical and inherently violent sport. This version of McCarthy, who once said that “the stats are for the losers”, would likely have felt a close kinship with his current division rivals. Joe judge and Ron rivera.
However, this version of McCarthy also recorded an 11-16-1 record in his last two seasons and didn’t even reach year-end until he was fired. Things had to change for McCarthy to be successful whatever his next job. So he traveled to Cincinnati to try to find out more about how the analysis could help him become a better coach.
âI was surprised that he was here to start,â said George Chahrouri, executive director of research and development and content at PFF, in a telephone interview. âHe’s obviously super accomplished. It was cool to see someone like that going out of their way to try to learn and ask questions. They were particularly interested in ways to make their study and process more efficient. And then when we started talking about WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and how to empower players, they found it very interesting as well as the decision making in the game.
“Everything since: ‘How much should I rethink my fourth try strategy? “But also:” What is the right second and long strategy? What is the right third-court strategy? It was a really good conversation around the call versus the decision making and how those things sort of vary. “
McCarthy came out of the meeting as a believer and introduced a 14-person tech branch to all of the NFL teams he interviewed with as a method of integrating analytics into the game. Some have expressed doubts about McCarthy’s seriousness. about that, given the magnitude of a reversal for him. But not only did McCarthy support this in Dallas, his decision making in fourth position has proven that he, in fact, uses analytics more than he ever has:
However, analysis was not all that McCarthy evolved into. When he was at Green Bay, McCarthy was always the one to call offensive games, except for one season in which he handed those tasks over to his coordinator Tom Clements. It didn’t go well, McCarthy resumed his play call duties, and sworn never to do it again.
Obviously, he broke that vow, as Kellen Moore now calls the offense under McCarthy. It was a big decision for McCarthy, but one he made because he understood how good Moore was as a caller and how good his chemistry with Dak Prescott was. Once again, this moment drew a clear line between the old McCarthy – the one who was stuck in his ways and preferred to be the one in control at all times – and the new McCarthy, the one who sees the value in delegating certain tasks. to people who are better than him.
Is this new version of McCarthy perfect? No. Does he receive all calls correctly? Certainly not. And McCarthy is probably nothing compared to Kevin Stefanski, Brandon Staley, and John Harbaugh when it comes to using analysis as much as possible. But it’s easy to see that McCarthy is a much better coach than he was at Green Bay, at least towards the end, and that’s because he did something coaches rarely do: evolve.