The Green Bay Packers may be headed into a stretch of 3 consecutive road games that won’t just decide whether they make the playoffs or not, but whether it’s time to make changes at head coach or general manager.
Since 1993, the Packers have made the playoffs 18 times. Their current head coach, Mike McCarthy, has been at the position since 2006, making the playoffs in all but two seasons, posting a 108-59-1 record so far and most importantly, leading the team to win the Super Bowl after the 2010 season. But whenever the Packers lose, in the regular season or in the playoffs, McCarthy is often blamed for his conservative coaching and decision making. Suddenly, everyone is reminded that the Packers haven’t been to the Super Bowl more than once despite having Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, and since 2010 they’ve made the NFC title game just once, losing it with an epic second half collapse.
McCarthy is the popular figure to blame when things aren’t going well. Expectations are high in Green Bay. In 2015, they finished 10-6 and failed to win the division for the first time since 2010, their Super Bowl season. The Packers did win their Wild Card game but looked completely outclassed in the divisional game loss against the Arizona Cardinals. Rodgers had his first bad season, or bad by his own standards, since his first year taking over for Brett Favre. This season was supposed to go better through the first 8 games than just 4-4, sitting third in the NFC North, and losing to the Chicago Bears, something that has rarely happened under McCarthy and Rodgers.
One name who is usually off the blame game but is becoming more and more criticized is Ted Thompson, the general manager. He was a scout under Mike Holmgren when the Packers won the Super Bowl in 1996, and then left with Holmgren to Seattle. He returned to Green Bay in a general manager capacity in 2005. He brought in McCarthy instead of Mike Sherman after the 2005 season. Thompson is known for being shy in front of the media, not talking except when it’s mandatory for him to do so. He’s also known for avoiding any kind of spending in free agency, preferring to stick to developing the players he drafted. Thompson made a name for himself by identifying talent in the draft.
The Packers, like the Steelers, tend to be very patient with their coaching staff and front office personnel. Their long term success suggests that’s the right approach. But one has to wonder: Have the Packers been this good and this competitive for so long because of giving their coaches and general managers space and time to work? Or does it have more to do with the luck of having two hall-of-fame caliber quarterbacks one after the other?
Right now, the Packers are waiting for this season to unfold. For the running game to fix itself but it might not. For Rodgers to play like the All-Pro he can be, and sometimes is, although less than before. But if the Vikings and Lions remain ahead of them and the Packers do miss the playoffs, it won’t be a one time thing. It’ll be the result of two or three years of declining results and ability, and perhaps a sign it’s time for a change. The question is who stays standings after the dust disappears: Thompson or McCarthy.