It’s simple: Mike McCarthy is the right coach at the right time for the New York Jets.
The former Packers coach met Saturday with chief executive officer Christopher Johnson and general manager Mike Maccagnan, and with the Jets desperately needing to make this hire work, McCarthy makes the most sense at so many levels.
He’s got previous head-coaching experience, something that no Jets coach has had since Bill Parcells came to the team in 1997. He’s got a Super Bowl ring and all the cachet that goes with it. And he already has proved he can develop quarterbacks, as evidenced by his work with Aaron Rodgers. For Sam Darnold, the Jets’ 21-year-old quarterback, that’s a perfect fit.
With eight openings in this year’s hiring cycle, this is an extremely competitive environment for finding the right coach, and McCarthy clearly is the most qualified candidate. There will be competition for him; Browns general manager John Dorsey already has worked with McCarthy when the two were with the Packers, and the Browns have their own talented young quarterback in Baker Mayfield.
But if the Jets can convince McCarthy that they have what it takes for him to come aboard and begin working with Darnold, who showed plenty of promise in his rookie season, the Jets will be in good position to flourish in the coming years.
Is McCarthy perfect? Of course not. Every coach has flaws, and the 55-year-old McCarthy is no exception. He has had game management issues — not unlike many coaches — that have come under scrutiny in Green Bay. He had a sometimes-contentious relationship with Rodgers, especially in recent years. And you could argue he should have gotten more than one Super Bowl title when the Packers’ roster was championship-worthy.
His relationship with Rodgers might be the biggest area of concern among skeptical Jets fans, but let’s face it: What coach and quarterback — even the most successful in NFL history — haven’t butted heads on occasion?
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have had their differences, especially the last two seasons. Parcells and Phil Simms had plenty of sideline arguments. Bill Walsh and Joe Montana had their differences. Same with Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre.
Rodgers is one of the NFL’s most gifted players, but he’s also one of the most headstrong personalities, so it’s small wonder that he’d bristle under what he considered McCarthy’s conservative play-calling tendencies. But Darnold is wired completely differently, and I just don’t see that kind of fractious relationship developing.
Darnold was a sponge when it came to trying to absorb NFL concepts in his rookie season, and he had no problem going along with offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, quarterbacks coach Mick Lombardi and veteran backup Josh McCown. There’s no reason to think he wouldn’t do the same with McCarthy.
Darnold is much more of a laid-back personality than Rodgers, and it’s difficult to envision him getting to the point that there would be serious communication problems with a coach like McCarthy. If anything, Darnold would be helped by the steadying influences of a veteran coach whose offensive expertise is widely respected around the NFL.
Does it guarantee there wouldn’t be issues between the two? Of course not. No one is naïve enough to believe there won’t be hiccups along the way. But there’s a much better chance of the two forging a peaceful coexistence than developing an adversarial relationship.
Darnold isn’t the only thing to like about the Jets’ job. With nearly $100 million in salary- cap space, McCarthy and Maccagnan can bring in some big-time talent — especially on offense — to build on some of the good things we saw in 2018.
Le’Veon Bell forced his way out of Pittsburgh by sitting out the season, and the multi-talented running back can fill a huge void.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown also might be available — albeit in a trade — but the Jets would be wise to stay away from a potentially divisive locker room presence. Brown’s no-show in the Steelers’ regular-season finale after disagreements with Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin is something the Jets should avoid. Despite Brown’s exceptional talents, the Jets can do without the theatrics. Things can just as easily go off the rails with a new team as they have with the Steelers.
There is a chance to get a bona fide pass rusher with the third overall pick, and there’s more help to be found on both sides of the ball in free agency and the later rounds of the draft.
It has to be an enticing opportunity for McCarthy, and if Johnson and Maccagnan can convince him to come aboard, the Jets will be in terrific position moving forward. And McCarthy can think about what kind of reputation he might earn if he succeeds on the big stage of New York.
As Johnson said on Monday, “If you make it here, you’re a freaking legend. That counts for something.”