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Why the Green Bay Packers fired Mike McCarthy before the season is over

The Packers fired the embattled head coach hours after being upset by the Arizona Cardinals in Green Bay.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

After an embarrassing 20-17 loss to the 3-9 Arizona Cardinals, the Green Bay Packers have fired head coach Mike McCarthy. McCarthy’s final season with the Packers wound up with a 4-7-1 record. The team announced the move Sunday evening, not long after the game.

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin will take over as the interim coach. Philbin was previously the head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2012-2015.

Here’s the statement that the Packers released following McCarthy’s firing, from team president Mark Murphy:

“The 2018 season has not lived up to the expectations and standards of the Green Bay Packers. As a result, I made the difficult decision to relieve Mike McCarthy of his role as head coach, effective immediately. Mike has been a terrific head coach and leader of the Packers for 13 seasons, during which time we experienced a great deal of success on and off the field. We want to thank Mike, his wife, Jessica, and the rest of the McCarthy family for all that they have done for the Packers and the Green Bay and Wisconsin communities. We will immediately begin the process of selecting the next head coach of the Green Bay Packers.”

McCarthy finishes his tenure with the Packers with a 125-77-2 record in the regular season. They won the Super Bowl with him at the helm in the 2010 season and made the playoffs nine times (10-8 record) in his 13 years with the team.

McCarthy hasn’t issued a formal statement, but Jay Glazer of Fox Sports did catch up with him not long after the news broke.

Why now?

The Packers were double-digit favorites against the Cardinals this week. Instead, they lost 20-17, with more of the questionable decision making that’s dogged McCarthy all season. A decision to run a draw play on third-and-10 in the first quarter typified what’s been a needlessly conservative approach.

The Packers’ defense failed to prevent the Cardinals from kicking what proved to be the game-winning field goal on an 11-play, 49-yard drive late in the fourth quarter. Green Bay got the ball back at their own 35-yard line with 1:40 left, typically more than enough time for Aaron Rodgers to get into field goal range, at least. They missed a 49-yard attempt to end the game.

After the game, McCarthy gave a short presser with the media. When asked about his approach to the rest of the season at 4-7-1, he offered a strange, almost defiant reply.

“I’ve never been in this spot. I’m not gonna act like I know what the hell I’m going to do tomorrow when they get in here. We’re going to do what we always do. We’re going to represent the Packers the right way. I know that. Other than that, we’re going to focus on what’s in front of us.

Not long after that, he was fired.

The Packers season has been a disappointment, to say the least. Predicted by many to win the NFC North, or at least be in the mix for a division title, Green Bay struggled out of the gate, tying the Vikings at home.

They managed to get to their Week 7 bye with a 3-2-1 record. After that, they went 1-5, a run culminating with this week’s loss to the Cardinals. It’s the second season in a row that McCarthy’s led the Packers to a losing record, and the first time he’s managed to that with a healthy Aaron Rodgers.

McCarthy struggled to turn Aaron Rodgers’ talent into big wins

McCarthy rode a peaking Rodgers to a win in Super Bowl XLV, but while the duo has seen success in the years since they’ve struggled to pair Rodgers’ talent with his team’s ceiling. The Packers haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since 2010 despite five seasons with 10-plus wins since then. Most notably, Green Bay blew a 19-7 lead with just three minutes left in a NFC Championship Game defeat against the Seahawks.

That success left the Packers in limbo. Green Bay was winning — the club earned five NFC North titles from 2011 to 2016 — but lacked the extra gear to make it to the Super Bowl. For most teams this would bean era of prosperity. For the Packers, anchored by a generational talent behind center, those January failures led to myriad games of “what if?”

Since 2000, only three quarterbacks have won multiple NFL MVP awards — Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. Brady has been a constant Super Bowl presence, with eight appearances and five wins. Manning won two Super Bowls and played in two more. Rodgers has only made it to the season’s biggest game once.

Rodgers’ 2009 to 2016 seasons all ended with playoff appearances. 2017’s streak-breaking 7-9 record could be attributed to Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone. But 2018 saw a moderately healthy Rodgers struggle to acclimate to a new receiving corps for an offense that couldn’t crack the top half of NFL scoring offenses. When a showdown against the Cardinals resulted in just 17 points, it was clear McCarthy’s offensive brilliance had run its course in Wisconsin.

What’s next?

The Packers will finish out their season with Philbin, who will call plays. Parting ways with McCarthy before the end of the season also gives them a chance to begin their coaching search. CEO Mark Murphy said that Rodgers’ involvement in the hiring will be minimal:

But Rodgers might have to adapt his style of play, depending on who the Packers choose as their next coach. The same goes for McCarthy: He should be able to find another job in the NFL, but it’d be wise if he made some changes to his offensive scheme.

We’ll have more as this story develops.