GREEN BAY—Mike McCarthy called 2013 “clearly” his most challenging season as a head coach, but he believes overcoming those challenges to win a division title identified the players, coaches and others who will help the Packers the most moving forward.
As is McCarthy’s custom, he didn’t get into the specifics of his postseason evaluations on Wednesday, but he suggested the “culture” of his team was on trial through various stages – emerging from an injury-riddled training camp with a sluggish start, hitting stride in the season’s second month, dealing with the franchise’s first major injury at quarterback in over two decades and then losing at the wire in the playoffs – and the experience will prove invaluable for him and those around him.
“When adversity hits, people go one way or the other,” McCarthy said. “A lot of it was good, some of it wasn’t so good. Everybody has to buy into the program, and when you do that, you’re able to get through times like we were able to get through this year. But things show up you may not think were there. It gives you more information, more opportunity to grow.”
Following the playoff loss to the 49ers on Sunday, McCarthy spent Monday and Tuesday doing exit interviews with the players, which he said were informative as well as emotional. More thorough player evaluations will go on as all the film is studied over the next month or more.
For now, he’ll move on to evaluating the coaching staff in the coming weeks. The Packers could lose an assistant or two to promotions with other teams, as quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo is reportedly interviewing for the head coaching job in Cleveland and is rumored to be a candidate for other teams’ offensive coordinator positions.
But as for public speculation regarding defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ job security, McCarthy gave no indication anything imminent will happen.
“No one will be evaluated today. I’m not going into this thing looking to make big changes,” he said. “I think Dom Capers is an outstanding football coach, and I’m glad he’s on our staff.”
Roster turnover is a given, and with the current number of free agents and the shortcomings revealed on defense after quarterback Aaron Rodgers was injured on Nov. 4, more personnel changes are likely on the defensive side of the ball.
“We need more impact players,” McCarthy said. “We need more players making plays on defense. I think that’s stating the obvious. I feel those guys are here. Do we have more coming in? That’s really what the offseason is for.”
The offense managed to win the NFC North despite playing four different QBs – only the fourth NFL team to do so, according to McCarthy – but that side of the ball became a case of what might have been.
Finding a power, workhorse running back in Eddie Lacy balanced Green Bay’s offense, and after a 4-0 October, McCarthy felt the unit was on its way to a historic season.
“I felt that this was going to be the best offense that we’ve ever had here. I thought we were going to go past 2011,” he said. “When we came out of the Minnesota game, I thought we really, really hit our stride.
“I felt very, very good about our offense, … and the defense was playing very well. The special teams, we had a lot of change, and that kind of caught up to us down the stretch.”
Injuries up and down the roster created a trickle-down effect that made it a struggle for the coverage and return units to maintain consistency. Punter Tim Masthay and kicker Mason Crosby had solid, impressive seasons, but otherwise the constant rotating of players affected the units’ performances.
“(Injuries) have a large effect because you have to change guys, and then you have guys playing next to guys they haven’t played with before,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. “It hurts you a little bit with continuity.
“I think we’d all be naïve if we thought we were going to line up with the same 11 players every game. At times, we did a good job adjusting. At times, we didn’t do such a good job. We were up and down.”
That mirrored the team as a whole, mostly due to the long injury list. For the third time in the last four seasons, the Packers had a seemingly inordinate number of injuries, and Rodgers’ absence on top of that led to a winless November.
McCarthy said the team’s studies of the nearly annual injury epidemic haven’t revealed a viable explanation, but that won’t stop those involved from trying to understand everything behind the unfavorable statistics.
“Do I like it? No. It’s a challenge,” McCarthy said. “It’s a challenge when you can’t get guys to practice. It’s a challenge when you’ve got a young football team and the same guys aren’t playing together each and every week. It shows up, and it definitely showed up this year.”
That said, McCarthy reiterated that he was proud of his team for what it accomplished, despite the disappointment of standing in front of the media for the final time during just the second week of the playoffs.
Only once since his first season as head coach in 2006 have the Packers not made the postseason, but all the trials in 2013 had McCarthy at times flashing back to that rookie year, which featured 1-4 and 4-8 records before a strong final month.
“Certain points in that season I felt like I got ran over by a truck, but this year it seemed like it never stopped,” McCarthy said.
Just as it did seven years ago, continuing to battle and finishing the season with something to hang the proverbial hat on matters in McCarthy’s eyes.
“I don’t see any windows closing,” he said. “We’re built the right way.” Additional coverage - Jan. 8