Mark Murphy-Mike McCarthy photo

Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy and head coach Mike McCarthy before an NFL football training camp Thursday, July 27, 2017, in Green Bay, Wis.

GREEN BAY — Although the winds of change are blowing through all levels of the Green Bay Packers football operation, it’s possible we haven’t seen anything yet.

Depending on which direction the winds blow in team president Mark Murphy’s search to replace general manager Ted Thompson, they could be absolutely howling before long.

Meeting with the media Thursday to discuss the Packers’ first playoff-free season since 2008 and the many staff changes that have followed, coach Mike McCarthy for the first time suggested his time in Green Bay might be limited.

For 12 years, McCarthy never even hinted at such a possibility, saying repeatedly he considers the Packers to be his first and last head coaching job. But faced for the first time with the prospect of working for a boss who didn’t hire him and in a situation he may not like, McCarthy acknowledged he might not be Green Bay’s coach forever.

After saying he was “involved” in Murphy’s search for a new general manager, McCarthy was asked what type of background he would prefer his next boss to have.

“It has to fit,” McCarthy said. “I have the best job in pro football — no disrespect to the other 31 clubs. I love it here, I want to be here, but it has to fit for me, too. I’ve done this job long enough, I wouldn’t want the GM to hire me or partner with me if we don’t fit together because ... in the short term and long term, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to get to where you’re going to go. It has to be a partnership. I go back to Ted’s opening press conference when I was fortunate that he hired me and he talked about partnership, and those words have always rung true. We had a hell of a partnership for 12 years.”

Will McCarthy have that type of partnership with the new general manager? That largely depends on who is hired.

Russ Ball, the team’s vice president of football administration, seemed to be the leader in the clubhouse when Murphy began conducting interviews Thursday. Director of football operations Eliot Wolf and director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst also are strong in-house candidates. Others from the outside are expected to get involved as well.

McCarthy expressed appreciation that Murphy made him a part of the hiring process, but declined to say how much involvement he will have. Later, he said he’s “very, very confident, comfortable with that approach.”

But what if McCarthy and the new general manager end up not being a good fit?

Then the McCarthy era in Green Bay would seem to be nearing an end. Despite the one-year contract extension McCarthy received during the just-concluded season that will take him through 2019, he could be looking at his last season in Green Bay.

The vocal minority who have tired of McCarthy probably wouldn’t mind that, but Murphy’s decision ultimately could cost the Packers one of the NFL’s top coaches. The Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010, have played in four NFC championship games and earned eight consecutive playoff berths before a major injury to quarterback Aaron Rodgers derailed the 2017 season.

And most (but not all) of the team’s failures since the Super Bowl can be traced to personnel shortages more than coaching.

No matter what you think of McCarthy, the prospect of losing him and creating even more upheaval is something the Packers can’t afford. Rodgers is 34 and the Packers would be stupid to waste one or two of his remaining seasons due to organizational instability.

McCarthy’s declaration that fit is “a two-way street” could be construed in several ways.

Was it a shot across Murphy’s bow to hire a general manager he can work with? Was he marking his territory in the new working relationship between the coach and general manager? Was he angling for more input into personnel decisions?

One thing McCarthy talked about was improving the communication and structure of player acquisition, making sure the draft picks fit the scheme. Although the Packers have been extraordinarily stable for an NFL franchise, things were not always as harmonious as they appeared outwardly, especially when it came to personnel.

McCarthy would never come out and say it, but Thompson’s draft picks in recent years didn’t always reflect what the coaches wanted, especially on defense.

“The most important thing is the communication and the connection between the GM and the head coach,” McCarthy said. “So that’s the focus. Any time there’s success you want to make sure everybody gets credit for it. It ain’t no different with failure. When there’s failure, I’m at the front of it. I’m ultimately responsible, so it’s about working together.

“It’s not a one-man show. I believe that. I don’t believe in total control. I think the job’s too big for one person. I think everybody in our business has an ego. If you don’t, you get squashed. But the maintenance of your ego is critical. So this is not a power-hungry moment. This about doing what’s in the best interests of the Green Bay Packers. Mark Murphy and I have talked numerous times about the Packer Way and I believe in it and the decisions that are made will be in the best interests of the Packers. I’m at peace with that.”

It seems he is — even though it might eventually lead to his departure.


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Tom Oates has been part of the Wisconsin State Journal sports department since 1980 and became its editorial voice in 1996, traversing the state and country to bring readers a Madison perspective on the biggest sports stories of the day.