INDIANAPOLIS – When Mike McCarthy spoke roughly a month ago about rebuilding the Packers’ playbook from scratch with his revamped offensive coaching staff, he wasn’t kidding.
“We’ve gone back to the ’06-type format, the first tab, putting the ball in play,” McCarthy said in an extensive media session with several Green Bay beat reporters last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. “This is how we get in the huddle. We are building the playbook from Page 1, which we haven’t done since the early years.”
No one needs a full-scale lesson, of course, in how to huddle up. If there are any changes in which position stands where in the huddle in 2018, it’ll be covered in a quick, 15-second PowerPoint slide sometime before the first OTA in late May.
But the point is the overhaul of the coaching staff combined with more than half of McCarthy’s 12 seasons having come under the rules of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement made this the right time to go back to square one.
McCarthy described how he does four-year retrospective studies on his offense in order to avoid getting stale in the ever-changing NFL, and his third four-year study was a revealing one with two of the seasons (2015 and 2017) being two of the toughest years offensively for his team.
He didn’t get into many details of what he discovered, other than the passing game skewing hard to drop-back passes versus play-action ones in recent years. In addition, the limited offseason contact with players since the 2011 CBA has required constant adjustments to teaching methods and emphases.
In any event, a reinvigorated offensive meeting room at 1265 Lombardi Ave. has seen a daily influx of energy through the process, so much so that one passing play put up on the screen has generated up to three hours of discussion at times.
“I love it,” McCarthy said. “I just love watching tape and the conversations and the history. When you give your coaches the history of the play, they go, ‘OK, it started here. Then it was changed to this.’ It’s all part of answering the why. If you understand the why with more detail, the better you can sell it and teach it to your players.”
The history of the men in the room has plenty to do with it, too. McCarthy reiterated that bringing back Joe Philbin as offensive coordinator was a “no-brainer,” while new passing game coordinator Jim Hostler and quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti have both been offensive coordinators elsewhere in the past.
Combine them with run game coordinator James Campen, the longest serving member of McCarthy’s offensive staff, plus three position coaches in Brian Angelichio (tight ends), Ben Sirmans (running backs) and David Raih (receivers) who have been in Green Bay the past couple of years, and the mixture of perspectives has proven valuable.
“It was time to go back to basics,” McCarthy said. “That’s what we decided to do. It was good for Joe, because there’s a lot of things that had changed since he had left (after 2011). That’s normal. You can’t stay the same on what you’re doing. You’ve got to evolve to try to improve.”
What form everything will take come September when Aaron Rodgers begins his second decade as Green Bay’s starting quarterback remains to be seen. McCarthy emphasized he’s not straying from his belief in a system that’s built on concepts with numerous variations. The “new” playbook won’t just be a collection of plays, because it never has been.
One challenge with the limited offseason contact with players is finding the balance between installing the playbook and teaching the fundamentals, which McCarthy continues to tweak.
In the end, the chance to dive in, back to the beginning, has been refreshing for McCarthy after orchestrating the biggest overhaul of his coaching staff in nine years. He admitted he’ll never feel “comfortable” with making changes because of the personal toll it takes on everyone, but he’s done it when his evaluations have dictated it because it’s part of the job.
But now he’s back to the part of the job he loves, and it’s full speed ahead.
“It’s a hard process. You’ve got to take your time,” he said. “It’s been a very difficult couple of months personally, but it’s all football now so I’m enjoying it.”