Former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy went into the 2018 season with the understanding that a second straight year without a playoff berth might impact his future.
But he never thought it would end before he got the chance to see it through.
In his first interview since he was fired with four games left in his 13th season as the Packers’ coach, McCarthy told ESPN’s Rob Demovsky that he did not see it coming when team president Mark Murphy called him into his office after the Dec. 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
“Frankly, no I did not,” McCarthy said. “As a head coach, I’ve always tried to stay immune to and stand in front of all the outside noise. That was always my focus with my players. It was always to protect them as much as possible from the drama. I think that’s important. And I stayed true to that to the last day. If we missed the playoffs, I expected change might happen. But the timing surprised me. Actually it stunned me. But time provides the opportunity for reflection and clarity, and that’s where I’m at now. And it’s clear to me now that both sides needed a change.”
Still, it was the first time the Packers had made an in-season coaching change in more than 60 years. And they did it to a coach who ranks 25th in NFL history in wins with 135 (including playoffs) and who led the Packers to nine playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title. It led some to say that McCarthy deserved a better ending.
“Obviously,” McCarthy said when asked if he agreed.
“It couldn’t have been handled any worse. Anytime you lose a close game, it’s a difficult time emotionally afterward, but when you lose a home game at Lambeau Field in December, it’s really hard. And that hasn’t happened very often. I walked out of my press conference, and I’m thinking about the game, thinking about how our playoff shot was now minimal. That’s where my head was at. And when I was told Mark Murphy wanted to see me — and the messenger was cold and the energy was bad. Mark said it was an ugly loss, and it was time to make change. He said something about the offense and the special teams, and he didn’t think it was going to get any better. There was no emotion to it. That was hard,” he said.
“Every time I released an individual, you get your words right. There’s a personal component to it. You know he has a family. He’s family. There wasn’t any of that. So that was off. The way people leave that building was very important to me. That’s a part of the business,” McCarthy said. “Hopefully moving forward for guys like Clay [Matthews] and Randall [Cobb] and Nick Perry and Jordy Nelson and T.J. Lang, it’s important for them to leave the right way. That way represents the Green Bay Packers standard that I tried to uphold every day.”
McCarthy said the exit “really stuck with me for a while.”
“It was hard to swallow,” he said. “The emotional challenge of shifting from humiliation to reflection was a very important step in seeking clarity so I could personally grow from the experience of my entire Green Bay Packer career; that’s what I wanted to get to, not just the ending of it.
“But, hey, I’ll never forget the response after, because I put my phone away [that night]. I woke up, and I could not believe my phone. When we won the Super Bowl, I received over 200 texts. That week, I had over 500. I got more than twice as many messages for getting fired than I did when I won the damn Super Bowl. It’s remarkable. They were from current and former players, competitors, owners of other NFL teams, politicians, media members, guys I competed against that I had never even talked to. I was blown away by it, and still am.”