Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has had success on the field for many reasons. Perhaps the most important of those reasons is how he manages his team off the field. McCarthy is best at managing his team’s attitude. Whether facing a potential trap game or the defending champs, McCarthy always seems to be able to get his team in the right state of mind.
McCarthy often says that one of his primary jobs is to be aware of the “pulse of the team.” After the team’s ugly win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, McCarthy had to tell his team to quit hanging their heads like they lost.
In the Packers’ meeting room, there are framed pictures of each of the franchise’s championship teams. When the Packers came into their first meeting of the season in 2010, there was an empty frame hanging on the wall with a plaque that read, “2010 NFL Champion Green Bay Packers.”
The night before the Packers played in the Super Bowl, after team meetings, McCarthy had all of his players line up and get sized for rings. Coming from a blue-collar, even-keeled, straight-laced guy like McCarthy, that had to have an affect on his team. Despite these bold motivational tactics, the coach manages to keep a leash on his players’ cockiness, and you’ll never hear a Packer promise a victory or disrespect an opponent. When Aaron Rodgers sat out last year’s season finale, McCarthy had him call plays on the sideline to keep him mentally in the game.
The Green Bay players make for boring interviews, generally, because they don’t drop diva phrases or brash predictions. They’re always the first to say they need to be better, they need to do more, regardless of their record. When the media was fawning over Randall Cobb‘s recent 202-yard performance, Cobb would only say, “Should have been more. I dropped a few balls and I have to make those plays.”
More than anything, however, what convinces me that McCarthy has control over his locker room is how the players – all of them – parrot the coach’s phrases. The locker room listens to what he preaches and it shows up all over their interviews. In the final stretch of their Super Bowl run, McCarthy had the team thinking in quarters, and after every game, you’d hear the players say, “Eight more quarters”; “Four more quarters.”
When Green Bay has struggled with offensive balance, McCarthy talked about how sometimes you need quantity over quality to get the run game going. Players echoed that same phrase: “quantity over quality to get the run game going.” Just watch a McCarthy press conference, and then watch the players’ locker room interviews – you can’t miss McCarthy’s fingerprints’ all over the players’ words.
During the 2010 season, Packer fans were feeling sorry for themselves when, in addition to a long, long list of injuries, Rodgers was declared out for the game against the New England Patriots. McCarthy addressed the media that week prior to the game with a strong statement: “We’re nobody’s underdog,” he said, and he looked like he meant it. The players looked like the believed it, too, on the field. When 15 players went on the injury reserve list, McCarthy refused to let that become an excuse. He didn’t sugarcoat the fact that injuries stink, but he never gave the impression, to the media or his team, that those injuries would prevent the Packers from success.
When the Packers had a win stolen from them in Seattle earlier this year, McCarthy came into his post-game press conference and said, “Don’t ask me a question about the officials.” McCarthy was steaming, but in refusing to publicly acknowledge the situation to the media, he showed his team that they couldn’t waste time on things they couldn’t change. In the terse locker room afterwards, players repeated, over and over, “We’re on to New Orleans.” I’m sure McCarthy said other things to his team in private, but publicly, the team wasn’t going to be allowed to feel sorry for itself. Given the distractions following from the Seattle game, McCarthy was impressive in getting his team in the right mind frame to face the next opponent on a short week.
For another example, look at the way perennial malcontent Charles Woodson has transformed into a leader of the team. He came to Green Bay bitter and angry that no other team wanted him, and had no intention of staying longer than it took to get an offer from another team. Famed for sleeping in meetings, late nights on the town, and blowing off teammates and coaches, Woodson bought in to the Packers’ mindset. Now he is the heart and soul of the defense, even from the sidelines, and the young players look at him to form their own practice habits and film study habits.
McCarthy’s style might not fit every team, but he’s perfect for the Packers. A man who looks visibly uncomfortable every time he’s forced to address the media, he knows how to reach the players. He seems to have a knack for knowing when they need a pat on the back and when they need a kick in the rear.
He doesn’t need a lot of bluster or showmanship on his own part to do his job. McCarthy is fine – happy, even – when his team flies under the media radar. There are plenty of teams that have the on-field talent of the Packers, but have been unable to get the players to buy into the team mindset. McCarthy has been able to do so, and his success in the locker room has translated to success on the field.