Then on Monday, McCarthy reflected on his own initial transition to the job, saying Thompson as the GM was “perfect for a first-time head coach” because of his consistency, his plan, and his ability to remove emotions from decision-making.
Throughout their five years together at the top of the Green Bay Packers’ football operations, those traits have defined the working relationship between Thompson and McCarthy. It’s one built on constant communication, mutual trust and respect, and several shared values.
But the 2010 season, which is culminating in a trip to Super Bowl XLV, has revealed more about just how well these two work together, and how their skills in their given profession have risen to the top.
A slew of injuries in the first half of the season forced Thompson and McCarthy to do what’s essentially the core of their jobs better than they ever have. Thompson and his personnel staff had to find quality players to fill the gaps in the depth chart, while McCarthy and his coaching staff had to get them ready to play and contribute. The essence of team-building and coaching were needed on the fly and in trying circumstances.
They both succeeded remarkably well, and that’s as big a reason as any why the Packers are going to the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 years.
It’s hard to say whether the two could have weathered such a storm earlier in their tenure and still emerged as NFC champions. Perhaps they could have.
But there’s no question that the foundation of communication, trust and respect established in their first four years together – forged in part by the difficult sea they navigated together in the summer of 2008 involving Brett Favre – helped them have the confidence that they could charge ahead, believe in what they do, and keep this team’s goals within reach all along even as an inordinate number of key players left the picture.
By now the lengthy list is known to Packers fans. Within the first six weeks of the season, starters at running back, tight end, right tackle, safety and linebacker (two) were lost for the year, and roughly a half-dozen players forming the depth at those and other spots also went down. The team was 3-3 with a roster and starting lineup in a constant state of flux.
Thompson and the personnel department simply got to work. Over the next several weeks, they brought in defensive lineman Howard Green and outside linebacker Erik Walden to help on defense, plus linebackers Diyral Briggs and Matt Wilhelm for special teams.
Meanwhile, McCarthy and his staff cranked their “teaching and demanding,” to echo a pet phrase of the head coach’s, into overdrive to get the new additions, as well as a bunch of other players acquired within the past year for depth – like safety Charlie Peprah, defensive end Jarius Wynn, linebacker Robert Francois, and late-round or undrafted rookies like cornerback Sam Shields, running back James Starks and defensive end C.J. Wilson – coached up.
In the aftermath of this franchise’s biggest victory in 13 years, neither the GM nor the Head Coach wants to take too much credit, because the nature of their work through this adversity-filled season required both to tap into expertise the other didn’t have. Neither could have pulled this off alone.
“I’m proud of our staff, proud of our coaching staff, proud of our leader guys on the team that took these guys in,” Thompson said. “A lot of credit goes to these players. They didn’t know they’re not supposed to be able to play well, they just played. The coaches got them ready and they did a good job.
“(McCarthy) gets them prepared. He has a good coaching staff. He cares about the players. All those things are good assets to have as a head coach.”
So too, as GM, is Thompson’s “strength to stick to the plan, even through the storms,” McCarthy said.
“You would never want to have a better partner for a GM/head coach relationship, in my opinion, because you know what you get every day,” he added. “That's important. He's very gifted at personnel evaluation. I think that's obvious. He stays true to that.
“He's the leader of our football operations. He's why this team is in the shape that it's in and why the future looks so bright.”
That future is always on his mind, too. Thompson spent the week leading up to the NFC Championship at the East-West Shrine Game practices in Orlando, scouting college talent. This week he’s at the Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala., doing more of the same.
“I don't know if there's another GM that's on the road as much as Ted,” McCarthy said. “He's out there every week. And you know when he selects a player in the Draft, it's someone that's well-researched.”
That goes for the late-rounders as well as the marquee picks, such as the numerous first- and second-round selections Thompson has made over the past six drafts that have helped form the core of the current team – quarterback Aaron Rodgers and safety Nick Collins (2005); linebacker A.J. Hawk, guard Daryn Colledge, and receiver Greg Jennings (2006); running back Brandon Jackson (2007); receiver Jordy Nelson (2008); nose tackle B.J. Raji and outside linebacker Clay Matthews (2009); and tackle Bryan Bulaga (2010).
At the same time, the coaching acumen of McCarthy and his staff has been prominently on display in various instances. Such as the undrafted Tramon Williams emerging as a Pro Bowl performer and backup quarterback Matt Flynn coming 15 yards away from knocking off AFC East power New England and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady on the road.
Had the Packers beaten the Patriots that night in Foxborough, McCarthy wouldn’t even have considered it as an upset, calling his team “nobody’s underdog” earlier in the week. Likewise, Thompson said he doesn’t gain any added satisfaction from earning a Super Bowl berth employing what the media has termed “his way” – relying unfailingly on the draft and using free agency sparingly, with Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett in 2006 the only major unrestricted free-agent signings on his watch – because he doesn’t believe his methods are as far from the norm as portrayed.
“I don’t take any personal satisfaction out of the way we do things,” Thompson said. “We do things the way Ron Wolf taught us to. Everybody who works in our personnel department was tutored under Ron Wolf, including myself. So, we’re just doing our job.”
A job that veteran receiver Donald Driver characterized as believing in the locker room, which in turn has made the locker room believe in him.
“That shows you what type of character he has to trust in the players that are already here that they can build this team,” Driver said. “I take my hat off to him. Normally you think a GM would have to go out and grab players to make this team better. He didn't believe in that. He believed in the people he's got in the locker room, the free agents and the draft picks. He knew that those guys would step up and fill the shoes of our injured guys and they did.”
With the help of a coaching staff that followed McCarthy’s lead and never allowed themselves, nor anyone else, to use injuries as an excuse.
“What’s impressive is when new guys come in and step in and play and do well and our coaches take them in and they’re not nervous about it,” Thompson said. “Sometimes that doesn’t work too well. It’s like, ‘Oh, woe is me,’ but that’s not the way our guys approach it.”
The approaches of the top two men now have the Packers one win away from a fourth Super Bowl title and a 13th world championship. That’s the focus at the moment, and it’s been the focus of their methods and hard work all along.
“Our goal (was) not to win this game,” Thompson said right after the NFC title win in Chicago. “Our goal is to win the next game.”