By TOM SILVERSTEIN
Posted: Jan. 11, 2006
Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson faces the possibility the public might not be behind his decision to hire as his next head coach San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, a virtual unknown to those outside the National Football League's tight coaching circle.
But the public didn't understand what the Philadelphia Eagles were doing when they hired little-known Packers tight ends coach Andy Reid to be their head coach in 1999. And the public questioned the Oakland Raiders' decision to hire 34-year-old Jon Gruden to be their head coach in 1998.
So with those two hires in mind and the belief that McCarthy, 42, possessed some of the same qualities of those two successful head coaches, Thompson placed a phone call Wednesday evening to inform McCarthy that he was his choice to be the next head coach of the Packers.
McCarthy's agent, Gary O'Hagan, said in a phone interview Wednesday night that he was in the process of working out a deal with the Packers, but could not say when an agreement would be reached.
"We're working on it," O'Hagan said, declining further comment.
Still, it is with almost absolute certainty that McCarthy, who served as the Packers' quarterbacks coach under Ray Rhodes in 1999, will become the 14th head coach in franchise history, succeeding Mike Sherman, who was fired by Thompson Jan. 2. An official announcement is expected today, and McCarthy should be introduced to the public.
Neither Thompson nor McCarthy was available for comment. Other Packers officials did not return phone messages.
McCarthy arrived in Green Bay on Saturday while Thompson was in Chicago interviewing Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and spent part of the evening with Packers president Bob Harlan. After dining with Thompson, McCarthy began an intense interview process the next morning that covered virtually every facet of his vision for running a team.
After the interview, McCarthy commented that it was one of the most intense experiences he had endured and that he felt he was dealing with someone who left nothing to chance. He left not knowing whether he had impressed Thompson or bored him to death.
As it turned out, McCarthy said all the right things. More than that, he brought with him a track record and coaching résumé that Thompson thought best fit a team coming off a 4-12 season, its first losing campaign since 1991.
Based on interviews with various NFL sources close to McCarthy and the Packers, the quality that seemed to impress people more than any other was his no-nonsense approach. McCarthy's upbringing in the heart of the Steel Belt - he was raised in Pittsburgh - is evident in his edgy personality and willingness to tell it like it is.
West Coast offense
From a football standpoint, McCarthy grew up in the West Coast offense, starting as a quality control assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993, where he was able to work for one season with Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. In Kansas City he learned the West Coast offense from Paul Hackett, a disciple of legendary San Francisco coach Bill Walsh, and soon graduated to quarterbacks coach.
During his time in Kansas City, McCarthy served under Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer, whose devotion to the running game also influenced the young coach.
During his coaching tenure, McCarthy has not been on a team that has made it to the Super Bowl or advanced deep in the playoffs, something both Reid and Gruden could both say heading into their first head-coaching jobs. As a result, there are going to be doubts about whether McCarthy knows how to get a team to the Super Bowl.
"I never thought of him as a head coach," said a former member of the Packers organization who worked with McCarthy. "I thought they had a good coach. They let him go. There weren't many good guys out there."
Still, Thompson liked the idea that McCarthy, who came to Green Bay after Schottenheimer and the Chiefs parted ways after the '98 season, had worked with Brett Favre. During his stay with the Packers, McCarthy had a huge influence on then backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who went on to play in Seattle, where Thompson served as director of player personnel.
Hasselbeck has spoken many times about McCarthy's off-season "quarterback schools" that stress fundamentals and credited the coach with helping him develop into an NFL quarterback. Though it is believed McCarthy was not hired entirely to appease Favre, his former pupil, there's no question that Thompson viewed his choice for the job as someone who wouldn't be afraid to coach the future Hall of Famer if he comes back.
Favre had one of his worst seasons under McCarthy in '99, but the team was in transition after the departure of coach Mike Holmgren and Favre suffered a debilitating thumb injury that affected his play most of the year.
"I think that's going to be big in getting Brett to come back," running back Tony Fisher said of McCarthy's prior relationship with Favre. "We need him. I'd hate to see Brett go out on a year like we just had. That could be really, really big."
McCarthy also served as offensive coordinator in New Orleans, where he took on the task of trying to make Aaron Brooks into a successful quarterback. McCarthy had mixed results, but those familiar with the situation said he was the one person who was willing to go toe-to-toe with the sensitive Brooks and tell him what he was doing wrong.
McCarthy left New Orleans because he felt he was no longer getting the support he needed to coach Brooks and needed a change of scenery. This past season, he was offensive coordinator for the talentless San Francisco 49ers and their No. 1 pick, quarterback Alex Smith.
Building through the draft
One of the things that impressed the Packers was that McCarthy wanted to get Smith ready to play as soon as possible rather than win a few meaningless games with veteran Tim Rattay. Thompson badly wants someone who will develop young players and embrace his policy of building through the draft. McCarthy is expected to recruit a staff that specializes in teaching, similar to the philosophy defensive coordinator Jim Bates follows.
During his search for Sherman's replacement, Thompson interviewed three offensive coaches and four defensive coaches. They were Dallas assistant head coach/passing game coordinator Sean Payton, Cleveland offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, Rivera, McCarthy, San Diego defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, New York Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis and Bates.
Thompson's ideal scenario was to hire an offensive coach and retain Bates to be his defensive coordinator. It's unclear, however, whether Bates will want to stick around after being passed over for the head job.
Earlier in the day, Bates said he thought he had a very good chance of landing the head job and wasn't even considering his options if he didn't. But he did not guarantee that he would be back. Though Bates is under contract next year, it's possible he will ask for his release.
One of McCarthy's first pieces of business will be to convince Bates to stay.
Correspondent Rob Reischel contributed to this story.