Mike McCarthy, the former head coach of the Green Bay Packers, has been making a lot of headlines recently about trying to get back into the game. It is probably not a coincidence that these headlines started popping up within a week of the Carolina Panthers firing Ron Rivera. The Panthers are a relatively stable franchise in a family friendly city, they have a talented roster, and they have always hired guys or wanted to hire guys like McCarthy to be their coach.
ESPN provided the first specific reports this week linking McCarthy to the Panthers. Long-time listener, second-time general manager Marty Hurney and/or new owner David Tepper interviewed him following the Panthers loss to the Colts.
Tepper has been explicit with the media in his desire for a blending of old school and new school styles in the Panthers future. McCarthy is stylizing himself as just that in a recent interview with NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero.
Nobody should be surprised if his name ends up being the first and most frequent named churned out by the rumor mill in the coming weeks. Just as nobody should be surprised that the Panthers’ historical prototype candidate is also their revolutionary prototype candidate.
After all, the Carolina Panthers have only had three GM’s in their history. Two of them have been Marty Hurney, and he has a type. John Fox was an old school new school guy once. So was Rivera. Tepper’s insistence on old school/new school balance doesn’t really tell us anything newer than the Panthers priorities from 17 years ago. His consistent public focus on analytics, however, at least gives us an idea of what new school means as more than just buzz.
So what is McCarthy’s new school?
He has been working with three coaches—Jim Haslett, Frank Cignetti Jr, and Scott McCurley—who are also not currently employed by an NFL team. Their goals are to study “new league trends” and reconsider the value of mathematics. Cignetti Jr was Rodger’s quarterback coach from 2018 (one of his worst years); McCurley is their young guy, going on 40, who has never risen above the level of a defensive quality control coach; and then there is Haslett, best known as the head coach of the pre Drew Brees New Orleans dumpster fires. It is not a room that screams new thinking.
I’m not saying don’t interview the guy. He is smart and I bet every person in that room is smarter than their resumes suggest. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that they took a fresh look at football and ready to come back and set the league on fire with new concepts on both sides of the ball.
What I am saying is that you can’t be surprised when a duck hires a bunch of other ducks and tries to paint their old duck mobile a brand new shade of fun and end up on the other side of the garage with a giant, duck-colored car that quacks like a Editor’s note: Walker clearly still has some issues to work out with respect to the recently scuttled riverboat that left a small hole in his psyche over the past four years. Please, bear with him.
It’s not all questionable. . .
McCarthy's interview does link him to certain tangible ideas in the realm of player wellness. He seems to have come to an understanding that the game of football is performed by players, thus making those players' health a priority for the wellness of the team's product. That tracks well with the direction of the Panthers under Tepper and the team's hiring last year of one of the NFL's first full time clinical psychologists. That hire was Tish Guerin, who now serves as the Director of Player Wellness.
He also mentions that spending time in his Wisconsin garage has led him to regret not taking fuller advantage of analytics in his coaching. That's going to be a hard pill to swallow for a lot of Panthers fans.
But has he really changed?
It sounds an awful lot like the Riverboat special of yesteryear, also known as the oft promised but never realized advent of "Analytical Ron" that ultimately never got more progressive than using new school words to mask old school decisions. The Panthers would have to work hard to avoid the impression that they fired a predictably conservative coach who struggled to win with Cam Newton just so they could hire the guy who was most recently fired for being predictably conservative and struggling to win with Aaron Rodgers.
The decision to hire or not hire McCarthy comes down to two questions: how will he use analytics and what would he do with Cam Newton. Answering those to Tepper’s satisfaction should be enough to ensure anybody the job. And if McCarthy turns out to be nothing more than a Ron Rivera who isn’t afraid of math, then that’s not too bad, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t trust him until after he has proven himself.