Mike McCarthy had outlasted his usefulness for the Packers and was summarily dismissed Dec. 2 after a humiliating 20-17 loss to the woeful Cardinals at Lambeau Field. After watching the team drop to 4-7-1 and sensing that McCarthy’s relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers had steadily decayed, team president Mark Murphy severed the relationship and named offensive coordinator Joe Philbin the interim coach.
But McCarthy shouldn’t be out of work for long. In fact, he ought to be high on the list of potential coaches for the Jets. With Todd Bowles expected to be dismissed after a third straight season with double-digit losses, McCarthy might be the most attractive candidate of all.
It has been more than 20 years since the Jets last hired someone with previous head-coaching experience, and they would do well to make McCarthy the first former head coach since Bill Parcells in 1997 to take over. The Jets have been through five head coaches since Parcells stepped down after the 1999 season, and only Rex Ryan got as far as the AFC Championship Game (twice).
Green Bay will face the Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday and host the Lions to conclude the season. McCarthy won’t get a firsthand look at the quarterback he’d inherit if the Jets hired him, but the 55-year-old coach surely knows plenty about Sam Darnold.
The Jets’ 21-year-old first-round pick has produced a solid rookie season, albeit one filled with the usual assortment of rookie mistakes. There is plenty to work with for McCarthy, a talented quarterback guru who helped shape Rodgers into arguably the NFL’s best quarterback. An early-season knee injury slowed Rodgers this year, but there is no denying McCarthy’s influence on the 35-year-old quarterback’s growth.
They won a championship together after the 2010 season, as Rodgers was the Super Bowl MVP in a 31-25 win over the Steelers in Dallas. McCarthy’s Packers reached the playoffs nine times and he finished with a 10-8 playoff record and 125-77-2 regular-season record. He’s one of only 25 coaches to win a combined 135 games, and he’s one of only 12 coaches in that group to have a career winning percentage over .600 (.613).
He’s not a Hall of Fame coach, at least not yet. But there are plenty of examples of coaches who have succeeded in their second NFL job, and McCarthy should be viewed through that prism. Consider:
• Bill Belichick’s career didn’t flourish until he got to the Patriots after a challenging run as the Browns’ coach.
• Andy Reid has been terrific with the Chiefs after being fired following a 4-12 season with the Eagles in 2012.
• Tom Coughlin won two Super Bowls with the Giants after being fired in Jacksonville.
• Mike Holmgren got the Seahawks to a Super Bowl after leaving the Packers following a run in which he got to two Super Bowls and won Green Bay's first title since the days of Vince Lombardi.
While it’s still very early in the process for the Jets, it feels as if it’s a foregone conclusion that CEO Christopher Johnson will move on from Bowles. The fate of general manager Mike Maccagnan seems less certain, and I lean toward him staying at this point. His moves to climb up the draft board to pick Darnold and his drafting of safety Jamal Adams, wide receiver Robby Anderson, defensive lineman Henry Anderson, tight end Chris Herndon and linebacker Jordan Jenkins argue in his favor. But with first-round disappointments such as Darron Lee and Leonard Williams and some other draft-day misses, it’s no lock that he stays.
If Maccagnan does survive, he and Johnson need to put McCarthy at or near the top of the list as Bowles' replacement. The lure of hiring someone with previous head-coaching experience, plus McCarthy’s expertise on offense and with developing quarterbacks, make him one of the most attractive candidates.
There’d be no adjustment period in terms of knowing the ropes of head-coaching responsibilities, and while the metropolitan area would be an exponentially larger stage than Green Bay, McCarthy’s straightforward approach would work well here.
If McCarthy isn't the choice, there are several promising would-be head coaches, but none with previous NFL head-coaching experience. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, USC offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub and Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur are some hot names. But none has McCarthy's resume.
And it’s McCarthy who stands alone when it comes to checking the boxes of what you’re looking for in a head coach who’s uniquely suited for the Jets.