McCarthy the first casualty in Packers’ fade from playoff picture

The true extent of the alleged rift between Mike McCarthy and his quarterback may never be known.

A couple of things were clear, though, after McCarthy was cut loose in mid-season of his 13th year as head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

One is that he was a victim of the franchise’s high-bar standards that were revitalized more than a quarter of a century ago. Another is that with each of his team’s fumbles, dropped balls, overthrows and bad penalties, he by association got worse as a coach.

The Packers’ season-long woes came to a head, and McCarthy’s days in Green Bay to a close, after last week’s home loss to two-touchdown underdog Arizona.

As it goes, the coach took the hit for his team’s failings. After a run of eight straight playoff appearances under McCarthy, the Packers hit a skid last year when injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers was lost for almost half the season. The Pack couldn’t recover from that loss, and this year’s second consecutive sub-.500 showing was McCarthy’s undoing.

McCarthy, who led the team to the Super Bowl in 2010 and a 15-1 mark in 2011, has the second-best record among the eight Packer coaches in the post-Vince Lombardi era.

Only Mike Holmgren had a better mark at the helm since 1968, but his combined winning percentage coaching the Packers and Seahawks (.592) is less than the .618 winning rate that McCarthy (125-77-2) posted during his time in Green Bay.

In a nutshell, despite all of McCarthy’s postgame mea culpas about his needing to coach better, the reality is that the Packers simply have not played well.

McCarthy was coach two years ago when a prostrate Ty Montgomery draped his legs over the out of bounds line to field a Detroit kickoff rolling toward the sideline. His application of an arcane rule forced a Lions penalty — a heads-up special teams play by Montgomery and a great reflection on the coaching staff. This year the same Montgomery spaced out and returned a kick he was not supposed to have, and a season still hanging in the balance took a downward turn from which it never recovered.

The year of missed opportunity and poor execution was capsulized in last week’s loss to the Cardinals when an easy, would-be game-saving interception was dropped by newly acquired safety Eddie Pleasant.

McCarthy was criticized for too conservative an approach, rather than a seize-the-day mentality required in today’s offense-heavy NFL. If he were offered a re-do he surely would, among other things, go for the fourth-and-2 that he punted on late in the Seattle game a few weeks back.

And given a chance to do it all over again, he probably would have mentioned to his franchise quarterback that the team had decided to make a change at quarterback coach. The Packers’ replacing of former QB coach Alex Van Pelt without mentioning the change to Rodgers is said to have begun the intramural disconnect.

As a rule, it’s a bad idea to grant too much power to players in personnel matters. But with a position as exclusive as QB coach, and given their quarterback’s value to the team, some sort of pre-move confab with Rodgers might have been advisable. It could have quashed the reported misgivings between Rodgers and McCarthy that snowballed as the losses piled up.

Likewise, a few well-timed wins would have rendered all of the peripheral drama moot, but for the Packers this season it hasn’t happened. The winning ways that Packer fans had come to expect as normal became a revisit of the dark era following Lombardi’s departure, when the Packers had just four winning seasons in 24 years. Let that one sink in for a moment.

McCarthy was a straight shooter and a class act under whose stewardship the Packers won a championship, six division titles and went to the playoffs nine times. From an overall body-of-work standpoint, here’s hoping the new boss is the same as the old boss.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. He can be contacted at sports@newmedia-wi.com.