GREEN BAY – Joe Philbin likes to keep things simple.
During his previous five-year stint as the Packers’ offensive coordinator, he was fond of boiling football down to a numbers game.
“If they have more guys over here, we’re going to run it over there,” he would say. Or, “If they have three cover guys against our two receivers over there, we’d like to throw it over here.”
So it was no surprise on Wednesday when Philbin was re-introduced as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator that he stated his immediate goals in similarly simple terms.
“Help Mike McCarthy be the smartest play-caller in the National Football League and help our offense score points, period,” Philbin said. “That’s it.”
A lot will go into that, but McCarthy and Philbin have already embarked on trying to get the Packers’ offense back to its record-setting levels of 2011, the final season of Philbin’s initial nine-year stay on Green Bay’s offensive staff that began before McCarthy’s arrival.
After leaving Green Bay, Philbin spent four years as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins and then the last two with the Indianapolis Colts, going back to his roots as an offensive line coach.
The time away made him realize that while he didn’t take Green Bay for granted, it was more special than he knew, a feeling that hit home in 2016 riding the Colts’ team buses into Lambeau Field as a visiting opponent.
He also feels he’s a better assistant coach now after standing in a head coach’s shoes.
“Your job is always to make the person above you look really good and really smart,” he said. “I told Mike this, that I have a better appreciation for Mike’s job now than I did then. It’s not possible for a head coach to be involved to the great detail I’m sure Mike would love to be every single day.”
The involvement is plenty heavy now, however, with McCarthy and Philbin turning back the clock and starting from scratch as they prepare for 2018.
“We’ve taken a little bit of a back-to-basics approach on offense, going back and building the playbook like you would your first year as a staff,” McCarthy said. “Joe is such a great teacher. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”
McCarthy added it was a “no-brainer” to bring Philbin back when he became available after the Colts’ coaching staff was dismissed. “It didn’t take too many conversations,” McCarthy said, though one of his first questions was whether Philbin would have any personal reservations about returning to Green Bay.
Days before Philbin coached his last game for the Packers, the 2011 NFC Divisional playoff contest against the Giants, one of his adult sons, Michael, died tragically in a Fox River drowning accident.
Philbin said it’s indeed “emotional” to return, but he repeatedly added the timing and fit certainly feel right. He’s excited to be back and to work with a new-look offensive staff that includes only James Campen – originally Philbin’s offensive line assistant from 2004-06 and now the offensive line coach and run game coordinator – from his first tenure in Green Bay.
“After his first meeting with the group, the chemistry starts immediately,” Campen said. “Those things don’t just go away.”
Jim Hostler, who worked with Philbin in Indy, is the pass game coordinator, so Philbin will have plenty of familiarity with his top two lieutenants as they look to develop continuity as a staff. That was a key, Philbin believes, to the offense’s steady rise in the first half of McCarthy’s reign that culminated in setting team records in nearly every major offensive category in 2011.
“I said to the staff we have a great challenge in front of us,” Philbin said. “There have been a lot of points scored here in Green Bay in the last 12 years.
“It doesn’t matter what you did a year ago. Had I stayed in 2012, we would have been looking for ways to improve the offense. We all know we want to score more points. It’s a simple barometer. But how do we do that?”
That’s what the next seven months will be about until it’s once again time for training camp. The Packers had their worst offensive season under McCarthy in 2017, no doubt due in large part to quarterback Aaron Rodgers missing nine starts.
But it’s now up to Philbin, Hostler, Campen and company to determine what other issues undermined the unit’s potential and how to correct them moving forward.
“These guys are accomplished coaches,” Philbin said. “We’ve got a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience and talent in the room. Just like in the locker room, talent is one thing, but everyone has to work together.
“We’re all here to work and make this offense hum.”