It's hard to believe that former Saints' offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy has led the Green Bay Packers to the Super Bowl. While he had mixed results during his time in New Orleans, McCarthy has come up all roses in his return to Lambeau. He's gone 48-32 in five seasons, including three playoff births, two NFC Championships and his first trip to the Super Bowl this year. As successful as Sean Payton has been in his tenure with the Saints, McCarthy has put up similar results.
I remember Mike McCarthy most for talking Jim Haslett and Saints' management into trading for this "promising young quarterback" he worked with in Green Bay by the name of Aaron Brooks. That's right, he's the man most directly responsible for AB coming to the Saints. In fairness, the Saints were starting Jeff Blake at the time, and Brooks was brought in as more of a project/insurance policy. Still, I'd say his talent recognition skills have come a long way, wouldn't you?When Mike McCarthy came to New Orleans, he was one of new coach Jim Haslett's first hires in 2000. McCarthy was the quarterback coach in Green Bay, and had a great reputation after having a very successful working relationship with the likes of Brett Favre and at the time youngster Matt Hasselbeck. You'll remember that 2000 Saints' coaching tandem also featured Ron Zook (who would go on to become head coach of Florida, then Illinois) as a defensive coordinator. They took the city and league by storm, no pun intended, and led the Saints to their first ever playoff victory in that inaugural season. That bought a lot of good will between ownership, the city, the fans, and others. Eventually, though, that good will would run out. Haslett let McCarthy go after 2004 as the Saints failed to ever make it back to the playoffs. Haslett would stick around for the infamous 2005 "Katrina season", before being let go himself. McCarthy was never blamed for the team's failures, though, as most took exception to Haslett's undying loyalty for Brooks and the team's lack of a competent defense. Defense, by the way, was supposed to be Haslett's forte.
Below is how well the Saints did offensively under Mike McCarthy's direction:
While one could argue that McCarthy was held back in his design by having Aaron Brooks at quarterback, don't forget that those teams also featured Ricky Williams, Deuce McAllister in his prime, arguably the greatest offensive tackle in NFL history in William Roaf, and Joe Horn. McCarthy then went on to be the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers in 2005 and he directed their offense to 32nd in the NFL overall. That's right, dead last. While he had a good track record with the Packers and a lot of existing relationships that helped immensely in landing the head coaching job following that abysmal 2005 campaign with the 49ers, he didn't exactly have the pristine resume that most first time head coaches boast. Throwing out that horrendous year with the 49ers that could have labeled him as awful, his tenure with the Saints proved that he was a slightly above average offensive game caller at best.
Fast forward to his coaching days with the Packers. Those offenses have been, since he joined, 9th, 2nd, 8th, 6th and 9th. Impressive to say the least. His worst offensive production in 5 years in Green Bay in better than his best in 5 years with the Saints. Granted, he's had the luxury of elite quarterbacks in Brett Fave and Aaron Rodgers which would make any coach look good, but few can argue his days of mediocrity with the Saints aren't far behind him.
McCarthy, mostly remembered by us as a "decent to average coach" leading up to his successful run in Green Bay, now has a chance to cement his legacy among the best in Green Bay Packer history. With a win Sunday, he'll have given the franchise as many Super Bowl wins as Mike Holmgren, and he'll only be one short of the legendary Vince Lombardi. That's pretty good company if you ask me, especially given the rich football tradition that franchise has enjoyed. Hard to believe he's come this far.
Are you buying into the fact that McCarthy is now an elite NFL coach? Was he held back by the wrong pieces in New Orleans, or has he just made big strides since?