Two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers came out first in support of Joe Philbin. Pro Bowl wide receiver Davante Adams followed a few days later. And you can be sure other players will chime in after Sunday’s season finale against the Lions. None of this should be surprising, and none of this should mean a thing when team president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst decide on which person should replace Mike McCarthy as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers.
Players always love the interim coach. He’s like the fun uncle who lets the kids eat whatever they want and stay up until midnight when the parents go away for the weekend. He’s like the cool substitute teacher who puts in a movie when the real teacher gets sick for a few days. Simply put, it’s something different. And while that’s always appealing at first, it’s almost never what’s best for the children or the students – or in the case of professional sports – the team.
All this support for Philbin reminds me of what happened in Kansas City seven years ago. The Chiefs fired Todd Haley after 13 games and replaced him with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. The team then won two of its last three games, including an upset of the previously undefeated Packers. The players made it perfectly clear who they wanted to be their next coach.
“That’s my guy. Everybody knows that,” said veteran defensive tackle Shaun Smith. “That’s not only my head coach, that’s my role model. My father figure. We don’t just talk football, we talk life.”
“He treats us like men,” said Pro Bowl outside linebacker Tamba Hali. “I think anybody on this team would agree with me, if we can keep Romeo as our head coach here, it would be great.”
General manager Scott Pioli listened to the players even though Crennel was a disaster as a head coach in Cleveland just a few years earlier. And guess what? He was the same disaster in Kansas City. Crennel was fired after just one season, and Pioli was shown the door with him.
There are many other examples of interim coaches failing after getting the permanent job, but I chose this particular one because of the numerous similarities between Crennel and Philbin. Both are salt of the earth human beings. Both are very popular with their players. Both were up in age when named interim coach (Crennel was 64 and Philbin is 57). And both were respected coordinators who failed in their first stint as head coaches (Crennel went 24-40 with the Browns from 2005 to 2008 and Philbin went 24-28 with the Dolphins from 2012 to 2015).
The one big difference between Crennel and Philbin sure doesn’t favor the latter. Crennel cut his teeth in the NFL under Hall of Famer Bill Parcels and future Hall of Famer Bill Belichick. Meanwhile, Philbin cut his teeth in the NFL under Mike Sherman, Mike McCarthy and Chuck Pagano.
Historically, 42 men have gone from interim coach to head coach of the same team. Only 9 went on to have winning records. The most recent is Jeff Fisher, who went 141-115 with Houston/Tennessee after taking over for Jack Pardee in 1995. The other 33 ranged from the truly awful (Dick LeBeau went 8-24 with Cincinnati) to the truly mediocre (Wayne Fontes went 64-64 with Detroit). Granted, none of them had Rodgers at QB, but there’s really no spinning the ugly numbers.
Does all of this mean Philbin would have no chance to succeed if named head coach? Of course not. Mr. Magoo could win 9 games with Green Bay if Rodgers stays healthy and plays more like a motivated MVP and less like a sulking JAG. Throw in a great offseason from Gutekunst and the Packers might even be able to get back to the playoffs in 2019 with Philbin on the sideline.
But getting to the playoffs can’t be enough for the Packers. If it was, Sherman and McCarthy would’ve had even longer tenures in Green Bay. The goal has to be winning another Super Bowl before the 35-year-old Rodgers retires, and the odds of that happening under Philbin are remote.
Aside from being a terrific guy, Philbin would bring very little to the table as a head coach. He’s not an innovative offensive mind like Sean McVay, or heck, even like McCarthy. He’s not a motivator like Mike Tomlin or John Harbaugh. And he didn’t show himself to be particularly adept at hiring quality coordinators while with the Dolphins. Sherman ran the offense (into the ground) and Kevin Coyle was about as popular in South Beach as Dom Capers was in Green Bay.
After 13 seasons of McCarthy, the Packers need a change – a real change. The new coach doesn’t have to be a thirtysomething offensive whiz. The new coach doesn’t have to be a successful college coach. The new coach doesn’t even have to be a hot coordinator from a winning team. The new coach just needs to be new. He needs to bring freshness to a franchise that has grown stale in recent years. Simply put, the new coach can’t be Joseph Lombardi Philbin.
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