GREEN BAY ? Facing what quite possibly is the most uncertain offseason in NFL history, Mike McCarthy took solace in the simple things Wednesday. The Green Bay Packers coach may have led his team to the Super Bowl XLV title, but he seemed dedicated to remaining the same guy, regardless of what happens over the next few months.
?I don?t want to be naïve. I?m a family man, and I?m a football coach. I live in a town, the town of Green Bay I feel respects that, and I hope it doesn?t change. I?m very comfortable here,? McCarthy said during his annual end-of-the-season press conference Wednesday, three days after his team?s 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium.
?I still go to Starbucks every morning. Got a cup with ?Congratulations!? on it today ? that was nice. But other than that, they still charged me. So everything?s staying the same.?
Whether the NFL stays the same is another question entirely. With the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the NFL Players Association set to expire on March 4, no one really knows what will happen in labor negotiations and what the offseason will look like if and when an accord is reached. If an agreement doesn?t get done before March 4, free agency will be delayed, offseason programs will be thrown into question, and the set-up of organized team activity practices, mandatory minicamp and training camp could change dramatically, especially if a new CBA includes the 18-game regular season the owners are seeking.
?Typically in the staff meeting after the season concludes, I pretty much a have the whole season laid out for our coaching staff,? McCarthy said. ?That?s not the case this year.?
As a result, McCarthy said he and the staff have taken what he called a ?prepare for the known? approach to the offseason. Since the annual NFL Scouting Combine is being held as scheduled in Indianapolis in two weeks, and the 2011 NFL Draft is set for April 23-25, the staff is focusing on those set-in-stone events. McCarthy said the assistant coaches are off until Feb. 21, then will have some more time off after the scouting combine. They?ll then return to work to do their scheme evaluation work the first two weeks of March, another annual offseason ritual.
If there is a CBA in place by March 4, McCarthy said the Packers would have pushed back the start of their offseason strength and conditioning program and quarterback school anyway because the season went a month longer than normal. This past year?s offseason program kicked off March 16; the next offseason program wouldn?t start until sometime in April, McCarthy said.
?We?re fortunate where we played another month, so we would be starting later in the spring even if it was a normal year,? McCarthy said. ?So I don?t feel like we have to make a bunch of scheduling decisions immediately. But there?s work to be done, just like there is every year, just like every team is going through right now. We?re going to probably go about it the same way ? just the priorities are going to move around.?
Meanwhile, McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson were right back at work Wednesday. While the personnel staff was prepping for the Combine, McCarthy was doing evaluations with his coordinators ? defensive coordinator Dom Capers on Wednesday morning, special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum on Wednesday afternoon and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin on Thursday ? before taking a few days off himself.
?The new season has begun,? McCarthy said. ?Ted is already into the second day of his pre-Indy draft meetings, and we?re getting back to business.
?Just trying to transition into the new season, but it?s been a special week.?
As is customary, McCarthy addressed a myriad of subjects during his 31-minute Q&A with reporters. Among the topics he discussed:
On injuries to wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver and cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Sam Shields: McCarthy said Nelson was on crutches at Tuesday?s ?Return to Titletown? celebration because of a bursa sac injury to his knee. The bursa sac is a fluid-filled sac in the knee that provides cushioning in the joint. The inflammation caused swelling in Nelson?s knee but McCarthy said the injury was not serious.
?Obviously it looked bad,? McCarthy said. ?It was a pretty significant injury that he fought through the fourth quarter and played with. Played very well, but played injured. A lot of credit should go to Jordy Nelson for fighting through that.?
McCarthy said Woodson, who fractured his collarbone, will not require surgery. Neither he nor Driver, who suffered a high ankle sprain, would have been able to play if the Packers had another game this week, McCarthy said. McCarthy said cornerback Sam Shields? sprained shoulder was undergoing more tests.
In addition, McCarthy said inside linebacker A.J. Hawk will need arthroscopic surgery on a chronic wrist injury, while left tackle Chad Clifton?s troublesome knees will not need offseason surgery.
On any potential staff changes: McCarthy wouldn?t address whether any teams had asked for or received permission to talk to his assistant coaches for other jobs. An NFL source confirmed an Arizona Republic report that the Arizona Cardinals had asked for permission to interview inside linebackers coach/assistant head coach Winston Moss for their defensive coordinator job, but it wasn?t clear whether McCarthy granted the Cardinals permission before they hired Ray Horton on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Nashville ABC affiliate WKRN-TV reported that new Tennessee Titans Mike Munchak wants to interview Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements for the team?s vacant offensive coordinator position. Clements spent two years as the Buffalo Bills? offensive coordinator before being hired by the Packers. McCarthy blocked Clements from interviewing for the same position with the Chicago Bears last offseason.
?If we have anything to report from our end, we?ll do that. But I have nothing to report about any of our coaches today,? McCarthy said. Asked if he was ruling out any staff changes from his end, McCarthy replied, ?I?ll go through all of the evaluations just like we normally do, but I am just starting that. We?ll see how that goes.?
McCarthy intimated that he will look to sign Capers to a contract extension and may do so with the other coordinators as well.
?The CBA factors into everything. You can?t deny that it?s there,? McCarthy said. ?I?ll visit with (vice presidents) Russ Ball (and) Jason Wied and Ted Thompson. There will be an evaluation process that goes on through there. ? Definitely, we feel we have an excellent staff. Continuity is important, but change happens in this business throughout. Time will answer those questions.?
Asked if he has talked with Thompson about a contract extension of his own, McCarthy replied, ?Time will answer those questions. That?s something possibly in the future we?ll have some answers for you, but I don?t have anything for you today.?
On the possibility of an 18-game season next year: While he acknowledged that owners are pushing for the extended regular season, McCarthy did a good job of expressing his concerns about the idea, especially since it would likely come with diminished offseason work.
?Am I in favor? I know what the company line is, but you are talking to a guy that just barely made it through 16. You can figure that one out for yourself,? McCarthy said. ?I had a new training camp schedule that I was going to implement last year, but I didn?t do it because of the timing. But it?s something that I may look to do this year. But the offseason will play into that. I am always looking for ways to try to lessen the risk of injury, but also I have to make sure that the team is ready to compete and win football games. That is something I wrestle with a lot.
?I spend a lot of time on scheduling, I spend a lot of time crunching numbers, padded practice, non-padded practices, situational offense and defense. We?re looking at it all of the time. Our training camp schedule may be totally different this year, and we have a great training camp schedule. Our players love our training camp schedule and we have always come out of training camp I have always felt very prepared. But we need to look at things, especially if it goes to 18 (games), there is no doubt about it. If we go to 18 games, my training camp schedule definitely will change.?
On the message of motivational speaker Kevin Elko, who addressed the team on Saturday night in their 9 o?clock team meeting:McCarthy said the message, which Elko titled ?Outlive Your Life,? hit home. Elko had addressed the team twice before ? the night before the Packers? December 2009 loss at Pittsburgh and the night before their Dec. 19 loss at New England.
?It was something that I think guys really took to heart,? McCarthy said. ?I told the football team yesterday that we?ll all be connected together for the rest of our lives. We?ll all be connected as champions. Hopefully our children will also be connected through this championship. Like I said, Lord knows we broke the record for babies around here the last two years with our players and coaching staff. Super Bowl XLV will always be special and it will definitely outlive all of our lives.?
On reports that the city of Green Bay is considering Ashland Avenue and Ridge Road as candidates to be renamed McCarthy?s Way: While a handful of reporters derided Mayor Jim Schmitt?s idea that the street name be possessive ? it?s not Lombardi?s Avenue or Holmgren?s Way ? McCarthy said he wouldn?t be picky.
?I don?t think I should be real concerned about which street,? the coach said. ?It?s an honor that they would consider doing that.?
On his conversation with President Barack Obama, who called McCarthy on Monday to offer his congratulations: McCarthy said he had ?a neat conversation? with the President, a former Chicagoan and avid Bears fan.
?He started with, ?This is a tough phone call for a Bears fan to make,? but then once he got past that, he was fine. He knew a lot about our football team, and it sounded like he obviously watched the game,? McCarthy said. ?He was very complimentary of our football team and what we endured as a football team. Very complimentary of Aaron Rodgers, notable of Charles Woodson. But that?s one of many (calls). It?s amazing the people you hear from when you experience something like this. It?s been great.?
On the amount of competition there will be on the roster with 15 players returning from injured reserve, joined by draft picks and other additions: McCarthy acknowledged that the Packers could be even more talented a team than they were in 2010, but he also pointed out that more talent won?t necessarily translate to more success.
?Talent. That?s such a dynamic word,? McCarthy said. ?The most important thing is we need to be the best football team again next year. We can be maybe the most talented and best football team. But sometimes the most talented team doesn?t win. We were the best football team in the National Football League this year and lost a lot of talent due to injuries. It?s a great experience for us to learn from.
?I felt that coming out of training camp that we were a very talented team on paper. Because really at that point you can say whatever you want. I know the compliments are nice, but you don?t win championships in Week 1, 2 and 3 based on how you play, and there?s a reason why you play the full season, go into the playoffs and so forth. But yes, we have an opportunity to start the (2011) season as a very talented football team. But we have to make sure we?re the best football team, that everybody?s doing their role, doing what they?re supposed to be doing at the level they?re supposed to be doing it.?
On the improvement of Super Bowl MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers: McCarthy praised the three-year resume Rodgers has compiled but also pointed out that teams will have new game plans for him in 2011 because of his success.
?He is at the point in his game that the game has slowed down for him. But now people are going to study him even more that have three years of information on him,? McCarthy said. ?There is going to be a plan to play Aaron Rodgers, just like everybody feels they have a plan to play the top quarterbacks. So he is going to have to answer that call every week.?
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Steelers blitzed Rodgers (five or more pass rushers) on 59.5 percent of his dropbacks in the Super Bowl, the highest percentage against Rodgers all season and in line with the way they attacked him in Week 15 of 2009, when Pittsburgh rushed five or more 58.8 percent of the time. Rodgers completed 10 of 16 passes and threw all three of his touchdowns on four-man rushes in the Super Bowl.
?We clearly felt that Pittsburgh was going to set their plan around Aaron, which was the case. They tried to roll the pressure at him consistently throughout the game,? McCarthy said. ?So we need to do a very good job as a staff so that the game is not on his shoulders 24/7, and we will do that just with the other assets that we have on offense. But Aaron?s challenge is going to be like everybody else?s. He is going to have to handle the success and his life has already changed. He has been to Disney World and David Letterman in one day. He?s going to have a lot on his plate. He?s going to be doing a lot here in the next month. He needs to enjoy it ?. But I have all the confidence in the world that he?ll manage that. He?s just a very consistent young man.?
On the team?s crop of free agents, led by defensive end Cullen Jenkins: McCarthy was non-committal when asked about Jenkins? future with the team. Jenkins approached the Packers before the season looking for an extension and was rebuffed, and he said Tuesday that he had not heard a peep from the Packers since.
?Cullen Jenkins has been an excellent player for us in my whole time here. Really those types of decisions are something that we?ll be working on here in the coming weeks,? McCarthy said. ?But Cullen is a very good fit for our defense. It?s a part of the landscape of the NFL. I don?t have an answer for you today. I have really enjoyed coaching Cullen. He has been an extremely productive and premier player, especially when he is healthy. I have enjoyed coaching him and hopefully we?ll see what happens.?
Jenkins is one of 12 players who will be unrestricted free agents if the new CBA has the same rules for free agency as the previous one. Also set to hit the market are starting left guard Daryn Colledge; safeties Charlie Peprah, Atari Bigby and Anthony Smith; fullbacks John Kuhn and Korey Hall; No. 3 receiver James Jones; kicker Mason Crosby; third-down back Brandon Jackson; special teams linebacker Matt Wilhelm; and backup guard/center Jason Spitz.
On the team?s leadership: McCarthy said he went out on something of a limb by handing over to the playoff captains the responsibility of speaking to the team before and after games, but he did so because he was concerned about the leadership among players in the past.
?The playoff captains speaking to the team before the game, that is something that just popped in my head. I was thinking about it driving home one night and prayed on it,? McCarthy said. ?I didn?t know if that was the right thing to do. I was never comfortable with the level of leadership on the prior teams that I have coached here, and I thought that would be a great opportunity to try to develop leadership. ? There was a positive response that came from that. It was risky for the head coach to give up the final message to his team before he goes out onto the field. You?ve just got to trust your instincts. I am not perfect, but the one thing I think the players truly know that they get from me, they get the truth and it comes from the heart.
?No one is comfortable delegating leadership, especially when you are the leader. Let?s be honest, everybody has an ego. What I have learned about egos is the ability to have discipline with your ego. It?s fun to drive the car, don?t get me wrong. It?s a lot of fun to have the big chair and the big office, but you have to do what is best for the team.?
On evaluating the season and being critical despite the Super Bowl success: McCarthy joked Wednesday with reporters about their probing questions throughout the season but vowed not to let success go to his head.
?I have walked in here many days and I didn?t think I ever did anything right,? McCarthy cracked. ?There is plenty to improve on. We?re not perfect as a football team by no means just because we won the world championship. There are things that go on during the course of the year that you write down that are already on the board for discussion for next offseason. We have done that every year since I have been here. We?ll just stay true to our mantra on offense and defense and special teams and that?s ?Less volume, more creativity.? We?ll go through and go back through the grades and make sure that our plan is set for next season. But we can definitely improve.?