GREEN BAY — Bryan Bulaga didn’t quite “get” Joe Philbin at first. The Green Bay Packers’ first-round pick in 2010, he wasn’t sure what to make of his new offensive coordinator.
“He’s got a great dry sense of humor. I learned that my rookie year. It took me a little while,” Bulaga recalled this week, as Philbin took over as the team’s interim head coach following Mike McCarthy’s firing after Sunday’s loss to Arizona. “Sometimes I’d walk out of there like, ‘Was he serious? Or was he messing with me?’ I couldn’t tell.
“But he commands the attention of a room really well. I think guys respect him a lot. And because of the situation, this would be the guy you’d want to fill that void and finish the season out.”
This was not what Philbin had in mind when he returned to the Packers in January, retaking the coordinator job he held from 2007 through 2011 before leaving to become the Miami Dolphins’ head coach. Philbin, whose Packers career began in 2003 under then-head coach Mike Sherman, insisted he wasn’t looking at the opportunity as a chance to audition for the permanent job, even though team president/CEO Mark Murphy has said he is a legitimate candidate.
“Look, this is a job I have right now,” Philbin said. “My ambition in 2018 right now is to help this team play its best football of the year. Period. And the future’s the future. We’ll deal with that as it comes.”
Philbin was his usual self-deprecating self when he was introduced as the interim coach, poking fun at himself for going 24-28 before the Dolphins fired him in 2015 (“We don’t have time to cover all the mistakes I made”) and how his wife, Diane, reacted to his new position on Monday (“It’s our 30th anniversary today so she’s expecting a big dinner and everything — don’t hold her breath”).
But those who’ve played for him know that, despite his sense of humor and likability, he commands respect from players and staffers.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers: “Joe and I have been around each other for a long time. A lot of mutual respect there. He was in a different room when I got here in ‘05, but I’ve always appreciated his approach and his work ethic and his communication style.”
Wide receiver Davante Adams: “He’s a guy that’s already earned my respect. He’s kind of a militant guy. You know what to expect. He’s the same guy every day, treats everybody the same way. So it makes it real easy to respect him and fall into what he has going.”
Left tackle David Bakhtiari: “I’m a big fan of Joe. We’ve got the last quarter of our season and I don’t expect anyone to ease off here. We have a job to do. We have four games left and we intend on winning all four games.”
Bulaga: “He’s all business, he runs a very tight ship, very strict. I don’t want to say very strict, like you can’t even chew gum. But there’s a certain expectation and the guys that haven’t been around him are going to learn real quick what that expectation is because you know what it is when he speaks.”
Philbin said he’ll call the plays starting with Sunday’s game against Atlanta, although he didn’t do that during his Dolphins tenure.
“I don’t think we’re going into the offensive meeting room and we’re going to change everything about this offense,” Bulaga said. “I’ve known Joe for a long time. I think he’s a very good coach. Obviously, he’s going to have his own ideas and thoughts as well. There’s going to be a different feel to (the offense), I’d imagine.”
Philbin said he doesn’t plan to overhaul the scheme for the final four weeks. He said he told defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, special teams coordinator Ron Zook and the offensive staff that he wanted to simplify. He also took responsibility for the offense’s struggles this season, even though he wasn’t calling the plays.
“It’s about making progress. We’ve got to make some progress as a football team. we have to play better. And we have to coach better, too. Without a doubt,” Philbin said. “When you’re the offensive coordinator, you have to be accountable to the head coach and the organization and the players in terms of the production of the offense. It hasn’t been good enough. It needs to be better, it needs to be better at crunch time.
“I don’t think we’re an awful offensive football team. We certainly have to be better starting Sunday.”
And that includes Rodgers, Philbin said, although he believes the offense’s problems aren’t solely on the quarterback.
“It’s not just Aaron Rodgers. That’s one thing that gets lost,” Philbin said. “Football is still a team game and as many things as he’s accomplished as a player, some of the incredible things that he’s done as an individual in this game, you can’t do it on your own.
“There’s certain things he has to do better, too, but we’ve got to clean up the detail and the precision in the passing game and the spacing and the timing and the releases and catching the football. … It’s bigger than him, really. Certainly, we want him to play better. I’m sure he wants to play better. I think if everybody can step up their level of preparation and their level of detail and their level of preparation, then his will come up, too.“
Outside linebacker Kendall Donnerson was promoted to the 53-man roster and safety Ibraheim Campbell was placed on injured reserve. Donnerson is the second rookie seventh-round pick to be promoted to the 53-man roster in a week, joining defensive tackle James Looney, who came up from the practice squad after veteran Mike Daniels was put on IR.
With Donnerson’s promotion, all of the Packers’ draft picks from GM Brian Gutekunst’s first class are now on the roster except Washington State offensive lineman Cole Madison. Madison, a fifth-round pick, remains on the reserve/did not report list after not coming to training camp due to a personal issue but the Packers still hold his rights.