Aaron Rodgers is now on the clock.
It took an embarrassing and stunning home loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals, who went to Green Bay on Sunday as a two-touchdown underdog, to push Packers management to fire longtime head coach Mike McCarthy — the first time in the rich and dignified history of the franchise that it has fired a coach before a season ended.
With the 4-7-1 Packers en route to missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season, this was a change that was coming sooner rather than later despite McCarthy’s 125-77-2 record in 13 seasons with nine playoff berths, three NFC Championship game losses and a Super Bowl victory.
So, it seems Rodgers — Green Bay’s talented quarterback who runs the Packers much the way LeBron James runs every team he’s a part of — has gotten his way with McCarthy a goner. It just came about a month earlier than expected.
If you think that’s an unfair statement — Rodgers wanting to part ways with McCarthy — then ask yourself how many times you’ve seen him publicly praise and/or defend his head coach of 13 years.
Trust me, even a thorough Google search won’t help you much on that one.
The outside impression of the relationship with Rodgers and McCarthy over the years always has indicated that Rodgers was never completely happy with his head coach, but he simply tolerated him. Whether that’s truly the case, only Rodgers, knocking back a shot glass full of truth serum, can answer that.
But there clearly have been signs of a growing disconnect between the two, with Rodgers passive-aggressively dropping hints of displeasure.
So now what?
The 35-year-old Rodgers, who signed a four-year, $134 million contract extension this offseason, isn’t going anywhere. Nor should he. He’s one of the most talented quarterbacks in the game.
There, however, always has been a perception about Rodgers that he’s a little too selfish for his own good. He sometimes gives off a “this isn’t my fault’’ vibe when things aren’t going well.
While Tom Brady has restructured his contracts over the years and taken less money in an effort to allow the Patriots to sign more quality players around him for better team success, Rodgers has reached for as much as he can. And more power to him; we should all get the best deal we can. But that tact has left more than a few Green Bay fans wondering how much money he needs.
So now offensive coordinator Joe Philbin takes over as the interim coach for the final four games. Based on his pedestrian 24-27 record as the Dolphins head coach, it doesn’t seem likely he would be high up on the candidate list to replace McCarthy.
But herein lies the rub: Who should be the next Packers coach?
Surely candidates will stand in a line longer than the one at the original Starbucks in Seattle for the job with the quarterback position so set and some young talent on the team that belies the losing record this season.
In fairness to McCarthy — though as we all know, this business is not fair — the Packers were hurt badly this season with injuries on the offensive line and at receiver.
The first thing Packers management must do is find a coach who will be a good fit with Rodgers, who doesn’t seem like a guy who’s very easy to coach. Rodgers’ incredible ability to extend plays with his mobility has been both a weapon and a curse for the Packers, as he has become too much like an offensive coordinator on the field, trying to do it all himself.
Rodgers had dropped hints that McCarthy’s offensive system was not creative enough, and he tried to supplement it by being Superman.
If he’s going to be successful going forward, Rodgers must realize there has to be a middle ground with whoever comes in as the next coach — someone who certainly will be an offensive mind.
As for McCarthy, who after the résumé he built in Green Bay should never have been fired in the midst of a season, the Packers actually did him a favor.
Once the initial shock of his sudden dismissal fades, McCarthy will realize that he has a head start on his next job, because he’s the first viable candidate available.
Who knows, maybe Jets CEO Christopher Johnson already has sent him a nice gift basket for the holidays.
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