Mark Murphy didn’t want to fire Mike McCarthy.
He’d seen McCarthy raise the Green Bay Packers from the dead before. In 2016, they were 4-6 and written off. Eight weeks later, they had run the table all the way to the NFC Championship Game. In 2014, they were 4-4 after getting destroyed at New Orleans in front of a national television audience. They won nine of their next 10 games to get to the NFC Championship Game. There was a 2-3 start in 2012 and back-to-back losses in 2010 before winning the Super Bowl.
Week after week this season, quarterback Aaron Rodgers spoke of the need for a “galvanizing moment.” Murphy kept waiting for it.
On Sunday, Murphy was tired of waiting. The Packers had just lost to the lowly Arizona Cardinals. At home. In December. In miserable conditions. With Rodgers, the Packers had been practically invincible at home in December with a 16-1 record. These Packers, however, couldn’t beat a team that was 2-9 and had the NFL’s worst point differential.
“We’ve been in these situations with Mike before,” Murphy, the team’s president and CEO, said on Monday during a joint news conference with general manager Brian Gutekunst. “Obviously, you think back to 2016, we were 4-6. All of our efforts were in turning the season around. I really think if we’d gotten a key win here or there, things would have changed. But the way the season unfolded, we were never able to get that win. And, quite honestly, the performance on Sunday night to me made it very clear that a coaching change was needed. Brian and I met after the game last night and both agreed that a change was needed.
At 4-7-1, the Packers were all but eliminated from playoff contention. The firing of McCarthy came during a short meeting with Murphy after McCarthy’s postgame press conference.
“He’s a great man and that makes it even more difficult to make a decision like this,” Murphy said. “But in evaluating the season, I really felt that change was needed and Mike’s tenure had run its course. I think we needed a new voice and it happens in our league.”
Green Bay finished 7-9 last season, but Murphy gave McCarthy a one-year contract extension. Rodgers had missed most of the season with a broken collarbone, ruining the team’s 4-1 start. That injury and McCarthy’s track record amounted to a mulligan for the coach.
There would be no mulligan this year, not after a 20-17 loss to the Cardinals. It was a listless performance for a team that spoke all week as if it were still in the playoff hunt. It had a chance to win, anyway, but newly signed safety Eddie Pleasant dropped an interception that would have thwarted Arizona’s game-winning drive and put the Packers in position to score the go-ahead points. Then, on the final play of the game, kicker Mason Crosby missed a 49-yard field goal that would have sent the game to overtime.
If the Packers would have won, McCarthy might still be coaching.
Or maybe not. Murphy didn’t sound as if he would have turned a blind eye to what he had witnessed over the 3-hour, 7-minute game.
“That’s a hypothetical but we did not play well,” he said. “To lose to a 2-9 team at home, a team from Arizona in a dome, that was not a good performance. I think, in my mind, it made clear that we needed to make a change.”
Murphy and Gutekunst made the decision to fire McCarthy in concert and they’ll hire the new coach in concert, as well.
“It’s really about the people and I feel very confident that we’re going to get the right guy in this,” Gutekunst said.
Interim coach Joe Philbin will get a four-game test run. He joins an unofficial and evolving list of candidates.
“Obviously, we’re evaluators of players first but I think, that’s something back to Ron Wolf, he always taught us you’re always evaluating coaches, as well,” Gutekunst said. “I think you always keep those lists and we certainly have an idea of where we’re going to start. But this will be an ongoing process.”
Their minds will be open to a variety of candidates, including those who coach in college.
“I don’t think we’re going to put any kind of parameters on anything as we go forward. I don’t think we’re going to close the door on anything,” Gutekunst said.
Murphy brushed aside questions why the man to his left, Gutekunst, couldn’t make the call. Murphy also downplayed a series of questions about the team’s leadership structure, in which the head coach and general manager report to him.
None of those things will impact landing the right man, they said. This is a franchise with plenty of factors in its favor.
“This is going to be an attractive job,” Gutekunst said. “This is the Green Bay Packers. This is one of the cornerstones of the National Football League with a Hall of Fame quarterback. Going forward, I don’t think there’s anything here that should hesitate any coach from considering this job.”