GREEN BAY, Wis. — Up in the head coach’s office on the third floor at Lambeau Field, Mike McCarthy was only a few days away from the beginning of the Green Bay Packers 2013 season.
But, taking a 15-minute break from preparing for the San Francisco 49ers, McCarthy talked with me about trying to improve the Packers’ running game, Aaron Rodgers’ leadership, standing by Mason Crosby and much, much more.
Here is McCarthy’s one-on-one interview with FOXSportsWisconsin.com:
Q: With your eighth season now beginning and a 74-38 overall record, 6-4 postseason record, three division titles and one Super Bowl, how do you assess your head coaching career with the Packers so far? Has it been a success and gone as well as you thought it could have gone when you took this job in 2006?
MCCARTHY: “I would just say we’re off to a good start. I don’t really spend a lot of time looking backwards. I find it interesting when people read these statistics. Obviously we’ve been able to accomplish a lot of good things and there’s some things that got away. I think when you look at the experiences from the past, the most important thing that I look at is, ‘What did you learn from it and how do you apply it to this year’s team?’ Hopefully with some of the changes and adjustments we made that we’re getting that done.”
Q: Aaron Rodgers is 29 years old and there’s no reason to believe that the two of you won’t be here for a long time. With you two together, is there pressure to win another Super Bowl in this upcoming time period?
MCCARTHY: “It’d just be speculation. You guys have a great time talking about it. We’re going to try to win them all. That’s all I can tell you.”
Q: The release of both Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman surprised a lot of people, especially with your quarterback school being renowned and respected. Do you take it personal when two guys you spent so much time with were not be able to make it?
MCCARTHY: “I think you can go to a number of different players. I think anytime you have the opportunity to spend time with, more than a year, a player like Alex Green was a very difficult decision. DJ. Williams. You’re talking about guys that we’ve been together for a number of years. It’s no different than Graham. I always take personal responsibility when it doesn’t quite work out for the player. But you’ve got to remember now, you’ve got to remember the big picture. Your players on your team are not only competing with their teammates to be on the 53, they’re also competing with the rest of the NFL and that’s why you have a personnel department and that’s why they do their job and we do our job. And, at the end of the day, you make decisions you feel are in the best interest of the team. And that’s really what those decisions came down to.”
Q: Do you feel a closer connection with quarterbacks, though? Is it fair to say you spend more time with QBs?
MCCARTHY: “Absolutely. I’m a play-caller, so it’s really just the way the job responsibilities are laid out. So, yeah, definitely. Based on the way we’re structured, I’ll always have a closer relationship with the quarterbacks.”
Q: I wrote a story last yearabout my observations and talking with players in the locker room about Aaron Rodgers being a great leader. When you see the negative stuff come out about Rodgers’ leadership, is it confusing to you?
MCCARTHY: “No, I think it confirms. I think the things that have come out of late are confirmation of him as a leader. Being a leader is not a popularity contest. It’s even more difficult today than probably in prior years because there’s so much more insight into the locker room with information that is available, and more information is more ability for what’s done with that information. I think Aaron’s experiences as a leader have grown. I think he’s learned from it, but I think the guy does an outstanding job. Once again, not everybody is going to be, everybody doesn’t like the leader. That’s part of the deal.”
Q: There’s some players who you seem to gravitate to more than others, at least in my observations. DuJuan Harris is one of those guys that you seem to really stand by publicly. The team drafted Eddie Lacy in the second round, traded up for Johnathan Franklin, something that the team doesn’t often do. Then, to stay with DuJuan Harris when you classified him as the starter. Why such faith in Harris despite the new additions?
MCCARTHY: “Well, DuJuan Harris was our starter at the end of the season. He suffered an injury on an awkward play in OTAs, and Eddie Lacy and Johnathan are rookies. So, I thought it was very natural for DuJuan to still be the starter. As far as the guys being injured, DuJuan and Bryan Bulaga, you feel terrible. You feel terrible for all these guys that have been hurt. Derek Sherrod is battling back and we’ve had a number of guys who have gone on IR. You always feel bad on a personal level, but it is part of the game. DuJuan’s (injury) I just thought was so unfortunate because everything he did from the spring to get ready and then he didn’t make it through the first game. I thought it was obvious that DuJuan Harris would be our starter.”
Q: Is that at all a situation of a guy not losing his starting job just because the team drafted two running backs?
MCCARTHY: “I don’t think you should ever lose your job because of a draft pick. It’s both things. A) Where is he at in his development? And I think DuJuan Harris has a lot of football in front of him. Then you’ve got these rookies you’re just growing with, just getting started with. At that time, DuJuan Harris was still a starter at that time.”
Q: Is it fair to now call Eddie Lacy the team’s feature back?
MCCARTHY: “Time will answer that. Once again, it’s about creating opportunities and getting these guys in the game. Every game is different. You try to utilize all the guys on your 46. Eddie’s performance will be the biggest determining factor to see if he’s a feature back.”
Q: It’s been since 2009 that the team has had a 1,000-plus yard individual rusher. Do you hope you have that now, or do you care at all about that?
MCCARTHY: “No. There’s certain yards you want to accomplish as an offense. Our goal is always points. We talk about points, first and foremost. We were ranked fifth last year, we were No. 1 the year before and we’d like to get back to that. We have a standard of offensive production that we have, and if it has two 1,000-yard backs and that’s part of it, then that’d be great. Two 1,000-yard receivers, that’d be great, too. At the end of the day, the system has always been built around the quarterback and that won’t change.”
Q: You made the promise that you will improve the running game this season …
MCCARTHY: “I feel confident. We’ve spent more time on it, committed more resources, we’ve changed some of the things we’re doing schematically, and with that, I have confidence it will be better.”
Q: Does your running game have to be good enough to get one of the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage? It seemed like, for as good as Rodgers was last season, he didn’t have the same looks downfield as he did before. Does it need to improve so Rodgers has better looks deep that he maybe didn’t have as much of in 2012?
MCCARTHY: “It’s all part of it. You want to win every play. You have a win percentage you’re trying to attain on offense, whether it’s third downs, second downs, first downs and, ultimately, all the plays put together. You want to win plays, whether you’re running it or throwing it. Obviously the more you’re running it, the better your actual passing game has a chance to be. It all fits together.”
Q: In the return game, are you still hoping to avoid a situation of having to put Randall Cobb back there?
MCCARTHY: “That answer to your question is really the responsibility of Jeremy Ross and Micah Hyde and Johnathan Franklin. Those are the guys we’re working. Randall, Jordy, Tramon; we’ve always worked our veterans in that situation. You hope you don’t need all of them, but you have to have everybody ready.”
Q: But is there a benefit if Cobb can just be an offensive player only?
MCCARTHY: “That’s why you play the games, though. We’ll answer that when we start playing the games.”
Q: Last season you stood by Mason Crosby, with the ‘Mason is our kicker’ comments. Is there a shorter leash on Crosby this season?
MCCARTHY: “I think we’re starting the season and everybody has to perform to a standard. When that standard isn’t met, those are the conversations that Ted and I will have, and we’ll move forward accordingly.”
Q: You brought in Giorgio Tavecchio and later had Zach Ramirez for a 24-hour period, but neither was a draft pick. Typically if a kicker is drafted, then the veteran kicker isn’t as likely to stay.
MCCARTHY: “Well, draft day is different. We had some kickers that were high on our boards; it just didn’t work out.”
Q: So it wasn’t like a kicker was avoided or anything in the draft?
MCCARTHY: “No, not at all.”
Q: Now that you’re down to one kicker …
MCCARTHY: “Mason Crosby won the job. I’ve been impressed with his body of work here, particularly at the end of training camp.”
Q: Did you feel like your strategy last season publicly with Crosby to say ‘He’s our kicker’ didn’t work? There’s different motivational techniques some coaches use for certain players …
MCCARTHY: “I never evaluated my public comments. Everything we do is internal. We evaluate all of our players. We have those conversations here, and, once again, you have standards and it’s important for everybody to stay above them. It’s not as easy as, ‘If you make this many kicks, you’re OK.’ It doesn’t work that way. It’s not practical. There’s a lot of other things that go into every personnel decision you make. It’s no different than keeping 53 players. You have 27 defensive players and 23 offensive players. The guys that didn’t make it on offense, it’s not because of what happened at their position. It’s probably what happened at the positions on defense. A lot more goes into it this than just what the one guy did.”