GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy was blindsided by his Dec. 2 firing — even though he knew a playoff-less season might very well mark the end of his 13-year run as the Green Bay Packers head coach — and disputes the notion that his team had become complacent in the waning years of his tenure.
Speaking to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky in his first interview since team president Mark Murphy fired him following a 20-17 loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field, McCarthy said his firing “couldn't have been handled any worse” by the team and said claims that there was a lack of accountability “bothered me” and were “not accurate.”
McCarthy, who is still living in the Green Bay area and intends to be a head coach again in 2020, has installed a high-tech video system in his home office and is delving into “video research, data and analytics” in order to reimagine his offense in anticipation of his next job.
But in looking back, McCarthy had sharp words for the Packers and Murphy, who had another member of the staff call McCarthy up to his office shortly after his post-game press conference in the aftermath of the team’s loss to the Cardinals. The team announced McCarthy’s firing a few hours after kicker Mason Crosby’s potential game-tying 49-yard field goal sailed wide right as time expired.
“If we missed the playoffs, I expected change might happen. But the timing surprised me. Actually, it stunned me,” McCarthy told ESPN. “But time provides the opportunity for reflection and clarity and that's where I'm at now. And it's clear to me now that both sides needed a change.
“It couldn't have been handled any worse. Anytime you lose a close game, it's a difficult time emotionally afterwards, but when you lose a home game at Lambeau Field in December, it's really hard. And that hasn't happened very often. I walked out of my press conference, and I'm thinking about the game, thinking about how our playoff shot was now minimal. That's where my head was at. And when I was told Mark Murphy wanted to see me — and the messenger was cold and the energy was bad. Mark said it was an ugly loss, and it was time to make change. He said something about the offense and the special teams, and he didn't think it was going to get any better. There was no emotion to it. That was hard.
“Every time I released an individual, you get your words right. There's a personal component to it. You know he has a family. He's family. There wasn't any of that. So that was off. … The exit really stuck with me for a while. It was hard to swallow. The emotional challenge of shifting from humiliation to reflection was a very important step in seeking clarity so I could personally grow from the experience of my entire Green Bay Packer career; that's what I wanted to get to, not just the ending of it.”
McCarthy said he received roughly 500 text messages in the wake of his dismissal — more than twice the number of congratulatory texts he got after leading the 2010 team to the Super Bowl XLV title — and said his wife, Jessica, actually told him she was “relieved” when the Packers fired him because, as she put it, “I know you're not happy with the way things were going there, and it's beat the hell out of you. It's beat the hell out of you the last couple of years. It's been hard to watch it.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy took issue with Murphy saying that a number of players had voiced concerns about what they perceived to be a lack of accountability with McCarthy. When he announced new head coach Matt LaFleur’s hiring, Murphy said players told him before interviews began that “they wanted somebody that would hold players accountable. And the other thing that the players talked a little bit (was) how they felt a complacency had set in among some players and coaches.”
All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, in an ESPN Wisconsin interview on Jan. 31, said he felt there were instances of a lack of accountability last season.
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“I think anytime, if complacency is being talked about, that’s one (sign) someone’s been in a place for too long,” Bakhtiari said, before adding, “The one thing that always rubbed me the wrong way, and I guess it can kind of parallel with complacency, is accountability. … The one thing that would really grind my gears was guys being late for the plane (before road trips) and no one holding those guys accountable or even fining them for being late. (It should have been), ‘Hey, we’re leaving at 1:30. You’re not there, the door is closed.’ That’s how it needs to be.”
“There needs to be that fear for guys across the board that, ‘Hey, your job is consistently judged and based on having to perform.’ … The one thing I saw, guys here and there can show up a couple minutes late to the plane, meetings … and it kind of filters through. If you’re not going to hold one guy accountable to one situation, it’ll slowly trickle (down) to multiple avenues. That’s one thing that I noticed that I was not a fan of at all.”
McCarthy, though, insisted those depictions were untrue.
“When you throw out words like complacency and accountability, that bothered me,” McCarthy said. “That’s not accurate. I’ll be first to say that coaches are in the business of being criticized. We deal with it on a daily basis. But when you throw out a statement like that, you better have it right.
“A big part of the success I’ve had in this league is due to a tireless work ethic. All coaches work hard, but the accountability comment was totally inaccurate. I held my coaches and players accountable every year. Our internal fine process would support that. All I know is I did my job every day and was accountable to winning in line with the standards and the values of the Green Bay Packers that were established by the likes of (ex-general manager) Ted Thompson and (retired team president) Bob Harlan a long time ago.”
As for his relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, McCarthy acknowledged the two didn’t always see eye-to-eye but focused mostly on the positives of their 13 years together.
“Where there's change, let's be real, especially the way the change happened, there's things that come out after the fact. Things get said. He-said, he-said this and things like that,” McCarthy said. “When I think about my relationship with Aaron, you're talking about 13 years. That's a very long time. It's been a privilege to watch him grow in so many different ways and see him do so many great things on the field and off. To think you can be in a relationship that long and not have any frustrations, that's unrealistic.
“As far as coaching him, I'd use a lot of words. He's challenging, very rewarding and fun. We had a lot of fun. Some of my greatest one-on-one conversations, accomplishments, adjustments and adversity we fought through have been with Aaron.
“The difficulty in coaching a Hall of Fame quarterback is keeping that connection, the efficiency and the fluency with the other players on offense. They want to do more. They're capable of doing so much more, but the reality is you have to remember is it's the coordination of 11 men on every play. But yeah, it's pretty fun to go through your entire offensive playbook and know you can run everything in there with your quarterback. I mean, that's a joy.
“His job was to score as many points as he can. My job was to make it all work. We can all grow personally and professionally, but because of the experience I had not only with Aaron but with all my players, I know I'm a much better person and a better coach than I was 13 years ago. I hope Aaron and all the players I coached, I hope they feel the same.”