When the Packers fell to the Cardinals 20-17 on December 2nd, I, along with most of Packer Nation, was aghast.
These weren't the Cardinals of Bruce Arians' heyday, or even of the storied Kurt Warner era. No, these Cardinals were led by a rookie quarterback who had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and had a completion percentage of 54%. Their head coach was equally a rookie, and had prior to arriving in Green Bay, two wins to his name.
He left Titletown with his third.
In my mind, that was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Green Bay had seen a great deal of adversity throughout the 2018 season, and some heartbreakingly close defeats. It's not unfair to ask if the Packers could have a virtually reversed record, something like 8-4, if a few more penalties and turnovers broke their way. After all, even before dropping against the Cardinals, the Packers had lost to or tied the Seahawks, Rams, and Vikings, all playoff contenders, by a combined 5 points.
But losing to an Arizona team that has nothing to play for but draft position and its own pride seemed too much to me, and apparently too much to CEO Mark Murphy too.
Within hours, Head Coach Mike McCarthy was out of a job.
And while many rejoiced, I think they fail to see that the situation is much larger than just one man.
Was McCarthy's play calling stale and his tolerance of complacency backbreaking? Yes. But he was also a good coach, finishing with an overall winning record of 0.618. That's fourth best in a franchise history that spans 100 years. And while winning percentage isn't a perfect statistic, you'd be hard-pressed to totally discount it, especially factoring in the adversity the Packers faced from other quarters.
Just as former Packers safety Damarious Randall said: "They traded away all their good players." Certainly, that argument is there to be made, and it's one that I have made. Under General Manager Ted Thompson the Packers were lax to resign guys in the secondary that had a proven track record, such as Casey Hayward or Micah Hyde. That theory of dispensability has continued to some degree under Thompson's successor, Brian Gutekunst, with the Packers trading both Randall and Pro Bowler Ha Ha Clinton-Dix this season.
What's more, schematically there were things that weren't directly McCarthy's fault, namely in the retention of defensive coordinator Dom Capers far past his prime, but ultimately came down on his head as the leader of the organization. The ironic thing is that the Packers have actually improved defensively this year under new coordinator Mike Pettine, despite the sour win-loss record. They currently rank 12th defensively overall.
All of this to say, now that Mike McCarthy is gone, and Joe Philbin is (temporarily) leading the Packers offense, things won't necessarily be all sunshine and roses. Football is a team sport and just as getting rid of Thompson wasn't going to be a silver bullet, neither will be this move with McCarthy.
Someone has to fill his shoes. Someone has to take up the mantle, and what will be most important is hiring someone who can work creatively with Aaron Rodgers and Co. to put up the points that have been sorely lacking. After all, an offense that features such talent as Rodgers, Davantae Adams, and Aaron Jones, not to mention standout tackles like David Bakhiatri and Bryan Bulaga should regularly be putting up 30 points per game, not struggling to eke out 17.
Even more to that point, the defense needs to continue to come together. Mike Pettine has the Packers' young secondary working well, but given the amount of draft capital that's been invested into that area of the team in recent years, they need to be playing at top-notch quality. It's going to take a special kind of head coach to get them there.
I don't know exactly who will be McCarthy's successor. I'm doubtful Philbin will retain the role, given his mediocre experience at the helm of the Miami Dolphins and given that he's already been tenured in Green Bay for so long. Many have spread whispers that Josh McDaniels would leave his cushy gig in New England for the Packers, though given his past failures leading the Denver Broncos and his spurning of the Indianapolis Colts not 10 months ago, I'm somewhat doubtful that he's the right choice either.
The closing of McCarthy's chapter in Green Bay, storied and classy as it was, means a whole lot of uncertainty in the months ahead. The Packers had never fired a coach midseason before. Let's hope that Murphy's doing so is an indicator that the franchise is ready to make serious, quantitative change, not backslide into a bygone time.