Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A closer look at the Packers defensive coaching massacre

Were the Packers right to fire so many defensive coaches in one fell swoop, as happened over the last two days? According to a poll in today's online Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 88% of more than 3,500 people responding so far give a resounding "Yes!".

But beyond that, what do we make of this? According to yet another great article by sports writer and Packers analyst Bob McGinn in the Journal-Sentinel, the purging of the defensive staff is of historic proportions. McGinn writes, "Other than a regime change involving an entire staff, the Packers have never witnessed anything like this from a sitting coach."

Given the massive bloodletting that went on -- McGinn's article recounts prior coaching purges over the decades -- there is a bit of a curious note to it all: neither head coach Mike McCarthy or GM Ted Thompson met with the press or even agreed to answer questions about the firings. The announcements came in the form of a news release only.

So far, none of the fired coaches has made any statements.

One of the facts to emerge is that there was apparently a split in the defensive coaching staff that started early in the season. McGinn reports, basically, that there was a faction on the same page with defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and another faction on board with linebackers coach/assistant head coach Winston Moss. Basically, Moss and some others didn't like the scheme Sanders was running.

Local Wisconsin sports radio and pundits have obviously been kicking this topic around since the news broke. One reporter made the comment that head coaches typically don't get more than 2 bad years in a row before they themselves are shown the door. The point was made that with this major house cleaning on the defensive side of the board, McCarthy will be pulling out all the stops to make sure this dismal season is not repeated because, as the reporter said, "the wolves will be at his door then."

Related to this, though, is the whole topic of personnel. Wayne Larrivee, the radio voice of the Packers, was interviewed about the situation and made the point that by cleaning out most of the defensive coaches the new coordinator will be free to build his own team of assistants. That might also mean a change in scheme from 4-3 to 3-4. If so, Larrivee pointed out, that has personnel implications because players suited to the one scheme usually are not suited to the other. Larrivee offered the example of Corey Williams, who was arguably the key Packers defensive lineman in 2007. As we also know, he was traded to Cleveland after the season for a second round pick after the Pack had placed the franchise tag on him. Larrivee noted that Williams was great in the Packers 4-3 scheme, but his production was not the same this past season in Cleveland's 3-4 scheme. Interesting.

Whoever gets the defensive coordinator job will have a huge task ahead of them. They will need to assemble a staff, devise a scheme, and make sure the right players are in the right places to make it all click. If it falls flat, the head coach and a lot of others might also be putting their homes up for sale in and around Green Bay.

You can read McGinn's article here. Like all his articles, it's well worth the read.

Lots of coaches available
The good news for the Packers in this situation is that it's a buyer's market, so to speak. There are a lot of excellent, experienced coaches available. Among the names being floated, along with the un-fired Winston Moss, is former San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan who was the defensive coordinator with Baltimore before heading west to become San Francisco's head coach. Nolan is also the guy who hired Mike McCarthy to be his offensive coordinator and then also allowed him to get interviewed for the Packers head coaching job a year later. Reports are that Nolan looks like the leading candidate for the job but there are no certainties of any kind at this point in the process and there may well be several factors working against Nolan, including cost.

Cost also factors in the discussion of a few other possible coordinators. Gregg Williams who was with Jacksonville and Washington over the last few years is in the mix, as is Eagles secondary coach Sean McDermott. Some reports indicate that McDermott could be a hot property given his long tenure under Eagles defensive guru Jim Johnson. But the Pack can't talk to him as he is still under contract with the Eagles and could only do so with the team's permission once Philly is done playing.

Former Detroit head coach Rod Marinelli is available, as is Jim Haslett. There are other possibilities as well. You can read more about all the candidates here.