Ben McAdoo made the 26-hour trip from Fairfield, Conn. to Indianapolis through a raging snowstorm in a car that is no longer made and after working for a football team that no longer existed.
This was February, 2003, and McAdoo was out of job after having been the tight ends for Fairfield University, which ended its football program after the 2002 season. He’d heard of a job opening with the New Orleans Saints, where Mike McCarthy was the offensive coordinator, and was desperate to meet with him.
McCarthy had already told McAdoo over the phone that he was fairly certain the position was filled, and that he’d let him know once he returned from the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. But McAdoo felt he couldn’t wait, so he packed a duffel bag full of binders filled with plays, notes and other correspondence from his days as a college assistant and off he went in his old Daewoo.
McAdoo didn’t get that job, but he did leave an indelible impression on McCarthy, who found a spot on the Saints’ coaching staff the following year and formed a partnership that turned out to be the most important of McAdoo’s career.
When the two coaches meet on Sunday at Lambeau Field, they will share a bond forged over a decade of working side-by-side, with the two sharing a coaching apprenticeship that eventually saw them take over as head coaches of two of the most storied franchises in NFL history. McAdoo stayed by McCarthy’s side in moves from the Saints to the 49ers and then to the Packers, where McCarthy helped prepare his protégé for his eventual ascension to the Giants’ head coach.
Giants vs. Packers in McAdoo’s first career playoff game holds immense significance and symbolism for the Giants coach, even if he was unwilling this past week to publicly draw attention to what it might mean to be facing his mentor.
“Mike has been a tremendous influence on me, but this isn’t the time or place for that,” McAdoo said during his Wednesday afternoon media session. “We’re excited for the opportunity. We earned the opportunity and now we have to go out there and prepare for a big ball game.”
McCarthy’s influence on McAdoo is incalculable. McAdoo was an offensive quality control coach under McCarthy in New Orleans, and they worked together again when McCarthy joined the 49ers as offensive coordinator. One of McCarthy’s first hires upon becoming the head coach in Green Bay in 2006 was McAdoo, who worked as tight ends coach until 2011 and then coached the quarterbacks, including Aaron Rodgers, in 2012-13. His body of work so impressed Tom Coughlin that the Giants coach hired McAdoo to become his offensive coordinator. And after two seasons of fine work with Eli Manning, it was McAdoo who succeeded Coughlin after the Giants parted ways with the two-time Super Bowl winning coach.
McCarthy and Rodgers both gave ringing endorsements to McAdoo when the Giants were interviewing Coughlin’s replacement, and that conviction has been borne out with a playoff run in McAdoo’s first season.
“I think it is obvious that he has done a great job,” McCarthy said. “I don’t care how well you prepare or how well (prepared) you think you are, there are always things that come up that there is really nothing to point to. Situations arise, and it’s not like there’s a handbook sitting on your desk where you just look it up in Chapter 6, so I think he has done a great job of navigating the challenges of the first year as a head coach.”
McAdoo will now try to match wits with the coach who spent so many years introducing him to the finer points of coaching. Both men have the good fortune of working with Hall of Fame caliber quarterbacks — McCarthy coached Brett Favre and then Rodgers, and the two combined to win the Super Bowl after the 2010 season.
But McCarthy has also known heartache from the Giants, although it was Coughlin and Manning who were a part of two upsets at Lambeau. The Giants beat the Packers in overtime in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, and they beat a 15-1 Packers team in the divisional round of the 2011 playoffs. The Giants went on to win the Super Bowl both years, with McCarthy and McAdoo on the sidelines for each loss.
It is Manning vs. Rodgers again, but it is McCarthy vs. McAdoo for the first time. Two blue collar coaches from the cradle of football in western Pennsylvania — McAdoo the son of a coal miner, McCarthy the son of a police officer — will meet at a stadium steeped in history and try to add to the Super Bowl legacy of their respective franchises.
Mentor vs. protégé for the right to advance to the next step of their dreams.