Skeptical of McCarthy's New Coaching Staff?

Jeff Hanisch/USPresswire)

A tight end coaching the quarterbacks? An offensive lineman coaching the tight ends? A quarterback coaching the running backs? On the surface, none of that makes sense. But if Mike McCarthy has proven anything in Green Bay, he knows how to put together a coaching staff.

When you've recently won a Super Bowl and are coming off a 15-win regular season, your savings account contains an ample supply of free passes.

And so it is with Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy's decisions on how he rounded out his coaching staff.

If the Packers were some NFL laughingstock — say, the Cleveland Browns, who recently hired Brad Childress as offensive coordinator — McCarthy might be the butt of jokes nationally.

To review, McCarthy announced a head-scratching series of coaching moves on Monday as he filled in the blanks to replace offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.

Promoting Tom Clements from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator was perfectly logical. From there, Ben McAdoo went from tight ends coach to quarterbacks coach, Jerry Fontenot went from running backs coach to tight ends coach and Alex Van Pelt, who played quarterback in the NFL for nine seasons and has served two stints as an NFL quarterbacks coach, was hired to coach running backs.

To put it another way, McAdoo never coached or played quarterback, Fontenot never coached or played tight end and Van Pelt never coached or played running back.

But, given McCarthy's success and track record, who is anyone question — let alone a guy like myself who questioned similar moves made last offseason?

"I really think it's creative thinking that has worked out well for us. It was really no different (than last year)," McCarthy said on Monday.

Last year, McCarthy raised eyebrows when he moved Edgar Bennett from running backs coach to wide receivers and promoted Fontenot from assistant offensive line coach to running backs coach.

Bennett, after all, played running back in the NFL for seven seasons and had spent six seasons coaching Green Bay's running backs. Under Bennett, the Packers' backs were as fundamentally sound as any group in the league. In 2009 and 2010, the Packers never lost a fumble on a running play. Combined, run and pass, they put the ball on the ground just four times during those two seasons. In 2009, Ryan Grant didn't even fumble on a running play. In 2010, rookie James Starks became the top back for the playoffs and never put the ball on the ground. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers almost never was hit by a blitzer, thanks to Bennett's troops being so well-prepared.

Why on earth would McCarthy mess with such a good thing by giving Bennett a new role and replacing him with a former NFL offensive lineman?

"I think the results speak for themselves," McCarthy said.

Indeed they did.

In 2011, the Packers' backs weren't flawless but they were pretty darned good under Fontenot. The running backs got a combined 392 touches in the regular season, with Starks and Grant each losing one fumble. Disaster, of course, struck in the playoffs, with John Kuhn and Grant losing fumbles, though the season-long trend of ball-security clearly says that those miscues had nothing to do with McCarthy turning the running backs over to a lifelong lineman.

So, McCarthy is rolling the dice again.

Clements was one of the best quarterbacks coaches in the game. Whether it was his weekly Wednesday chat with reporters or after the game, barely a week went by when Rodgers didn't mention Clements as a major reason why he was putting up mind-boggling numbers week after week.

Can McAdoo, who had spent the last six seasons as tight ends coach, have that same impact on the league's reigning MVP?

McAdoo is an up-and-coming coach who might have become the offensive coordinator in Miami or Tampa Bay this offseason had he been allowed to interview by McCarthy. Can Fontenot either elevate that group, if it features Jermichael Finley again, or make that group impactful, if it has to rely on the likes of D.J. Williams and Andrew Quarless?

And can Van Pelt, who started 11 games in his career and served as Buffalo's offensive coordinator in 2009, make an impact at a position he's never played? Remember, Grant is a free agent, so there's a decent chance that Van Pelt's stable of backs will be led by Starks, who was a disappointment in his second NFL season, Alex Green, who saw his rookie season end with a torn ACL, and Brandon Saine, an undrafted rookie. Coaching such an unproven group could be a tall order, even for the most experienced running backs coach.

Time and again, McCarthy came back to it being about the men he hired and those men being the right fit.

Coaches coach. Pure and simple.

McCarthy, a collegiate tight end, is recognized as one of the great quarterback gurus in the game. Andy Reid was never a quarterbacks coach until Mike Holmgren hired him in 1997. That year, Brett Favre won his third MVP.

Heck, Vince Lombardi's first head coaching job was boys basketball coach at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, N.J.

Fundamentals, of course, are important, but to think the running backs are going to start fumbling because Van Pelt is their coach, or to assume Rodgers is going to start throwing it to the wrong jersey because McAdoo is his coach, is just wrong.

McCarthy was proven right in 2011 and there's little reason to assume he won't be proven right in 2012.

"Really, having a coach that's played another position within the offense really brings another level of expertise or experience to that room," McCarthy said. "My conversation with our players, they appreciate that. I know talking with John Kuhn and Ryan Grant, they thought it was unique that Jerry Fontenot brought an offensive lineman's perspective to the running back room and the relationship between the linemen and running backs.

"I really like the experience level, the diversity. That's something that we can really draw from, both Tom and I, as we continue to try to build this offense and stay creative and get ready for next year. I love the diversity of it. More importantly, it's about men. It's about the right type of people that fit together, and we feel like we've accomplished that."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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