GREEN BAY—They are links in a chain that all pull in the same direction, which is to say toward their head coach’s vision for his football team. You don’t have to examine Mike McCarthy’s coaching staff too long to see the thread that runs through it.
Look at the staff’s new hires, who were introduced to the media at Lambeau Field on Monday. Ron Zook and McCarthy were on the same staff in New Orleans. Sam Gash played with Alex Van Pelt in Buffalo. Scott McCurley, who’s spent the last five seasons as a quality control coach in Green Bay, is moving up to the hands-on staff as its linebackers coach. McCurley is the latest Packers coach to have cut his teeth at Pitt. It’s a group of coaches that include the recently departed Ben McAdoo, his replacement Alex Van Pelt, and McCarthy.
What do all of the new hires have in common? They share McCarthy’s vision for the development of young football talent.
“You have guys you know and everybody is looking for the same thing. We know what Mike’s looking for. You have everybody working for the same thing. I think it gives you the best chance to win,” Zook said.
Zook is the headliner among the new hires. Aside from having been a head coach at Florida and Illinois, where he resurrected a moribund program, Zook is a pioneer in special teams coaching. He’s the guy who largely forced legislation that forbids wedge busting. He did it as special teams coach in Pittsburgh, where Zook had a 300-pound wedge-buster named Orpheus Roye, who delivered scary knockout blows to Ironhead Heyward and Michael Cheever in a four-week period of the 1996 season. What might Zook do for the Packers as Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum’s assistant?
“The game has changed but … it continues to get bigger, stronger, faster and it’s going to continue to do that,” Zook said on Monday.
Zook is a master of relationships. He’s a motivator. He knows what makes player’s tick. His reputation is for having been a lights-out recruiter. He’ll bring that energy to the Packers.
“Ron Zook is a heckuva football coach. Ron has a personality and a level of experience. I wanted to put more of an emphasis on that area; make sure our players are getting one-on-one time,” McCarthy said.
“Coaching is coaching. I wanted a chance to get back into it. Mike develops players. We grew up in the same type of thing,” Zook said.
Gash is a former fullback. His reputation was for being a tough guy, a hammer in the backfield.
“I still have all my marbles,” Gash joked.
As Van Pelt’s replacement as Packers running backs coach, Gash inherits a hammer, rookie of the year Eddie Lacy.
“(Van Pelt) would call me and I would give him some tidbits,” Gash said of the year he spent out of football, helping a natural quarterbacks coach become a running backs coach. “Two, three weeks ago he called and asked me if I wanted to interview for the job. It’s a no-brainer.”
Van Pelt goes back to the position he played, where he inherits as his star pupil Aaron Rodgers. Lacy to Rodgers; not bad, huh?
“Alex Van Pelt doing running backs was about an outstanding football coach being out there,” McCarthy said.
Maybe McCarthy saw the day when he would need a quarterbacks coach.
“He’s a quarterback coach. I learned the offense with Alex back in 1989,” McCarthy added.
It’s a Pitt thing, yeah.
“The standards are already set high,” Gash said of the running backs position in Green Bay. (Lacy) reminds me of a guy I played with, Curtis Martin. Eddie is similar in his mentality. He’s an exciting guy.”
What will Gash do with Lacy?
“Leave him alone. Let him run. Point him in the right direction and let him go. I’m definitely not going to mess him up,” Gash said.
McCurley is the latest in the line of Pitt products. Maybe McCarthy sees himself in the Pitt guys under him. Maybe McCarthy sees in McCurley a former player who will be remembered more fully for what he’ll do as a coach.
“This is the position I want to be in. I feel comfortable, no matter who I end up with, whether it be inside or outside,” McCurley said.
McCurley is part of a new coaching structure at linebacker. Previously, Winston Moss coached the inside guys and Kevin Greene coached the outside guys. In this new structure, Moss will coach all of the linebackers and McCurley will assist where he is needed.
“Winston is going to be the leader of the group. The players have a huge amount of respect for him. I’m here to assist him. I think I can coach either place,” McCurley said.
McCurley has largely spent the last five years learning defense directly under Capers, the team’s esteemed defensive coordinator. A long time ago, Capers launched the career of a young quality control coach named Billy Davis. Ten stops later, Davis is the defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Oh, the thread weaves its way through them all, eventually.
“There’s a network in the coaching industry,” McCarthy said. “You want fresh faces. You want to develop young coaches like you do young players. You want new ideas.
“Our defense is going to change some. I’ll set the vision for our defense. Dom Capers and the staff will carry it out. We want to get back to some of the things we’ve done well in the past and make sure we use all of our players,” the Packers head coach added.
It’s a vision shared by all. Additional coverage - Feb. 10