Philbin was the offensive coordinator since 2007
With Joe Philbin off to Miami to be the team’s eighth head coach in the past 12 years, Mike McCarthy is left with a gaping hole on his staff. So in what has turned out to be a longer offseason than Packers fans had anticipated, how to replace Philbin figures to be the first of many big decisions facing McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson in the coming months.
Promoting quarterbacks coach Tom Clements would seem to be the most logical move, but is it really the best one? Clements is outstanding at what he’s currently doing, and truth be told, his role is more important to this particular team than that of the offensive coordinator. Not to take anything away from Philbin, but this offense is McCarthy’s baby. He’s the one who brought it to Green Bay; he’s the one who taught it to his position coaches; and he’s the one who developed it into the second-highest scoring unit in league history. Philbin obviously played a major role behind the scenes, but going into year 7, this offense would be productive with Tom Rossley as its coordinator (I’m exaggerating, but you get the point).
If I were McCarthy, I’d do whatever I could to keep Clements around as the quarterbacks coach. If that means giving him a significant raise and a fancy title (assistant head coach), so be it. Aaron Rodgers has gotten better every year under Clements’ tutelage, and even after one of the greatest individual seasons in league history, the 28-year-old still has room to improve. Who knows how Rodgers would get along with a new coach. Would he respect that person as much as he does Clements? Would he be as willing to listen to a new voice on the practice field? Would he trust that person as much during the heat of a game? Maybe, maybe not.
And what about grooming a replacement for unrestricted free agent Matt Flynn, who will almost certainly be gone by the middle of March? If I’m McCarthy, I would want Clements working every day with Graham Harrell, Nick Hill and whatever other young player Thompson brings in between now and the start of OTAs. And while Philbin has received a lot of credit in recent weeks for the development of Rodgers and Flynn, that was overstating things a bit. Sure the coordinator is involved with the quarterbacks and certainly deserves kudos when they do well, but that person is more of an overseer than a hands-on teacher. And when it comes to quarterbacks, nobody is more important than the person who spends every waking moment encouraging, criticizing, cajoling and educating them.
So what would I do? I’d try my best to keep Clements working exclusively with the quarterbacks. If that happens, I’d then make tight ends coach Ben McAdoo the offensive coordinator. Wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett could also do the job, but McAdoo has been with McCarthy longer and he knows the offense better than any other assistant coach. Plus, he’s a terrific teacher and a good motivator. Working every day with Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless can’t be easy, but he’s managed to get both young players to grow up significantly in the past few seasons. Anyone who watched those two players practice when they first entered the league and then watched them last summer would know what I’m talking about.
If there’s no way to keep Clements other than to make him the offensive coordinator, then I’d reluctantly give him the job. It’s better to have him around – even if he’s not working specifically with the quarterbacks. I’d then replace him with either McAdoo or Alex Van Pelt. I wrote about the former in the preceding paragraph and the latter a few weeks ago. And while either man would bring a lot to the table, neither has the experience nor track record of Clements when it comes to working with quarterbacks.
Prior to this offseason, McCarthy had been incredibly fortunate with his offensive coaching staff. Despite plenty of wins and plenty of points, only one assistant (Jimmy Robinson) had left since 2007. That’s unprecedented continuity for a group of coaches who were part of a team that went to two NFC championship games and won a Super Bowl between 2007 to 2010. It was only a matter of time before other teams began picking from McCarthy’s prized fruit. There’s no doubt in my mind that McCarthy will find quality coaches to replace the ones who leave – and that includes Clements. But if he doesn’t have to replace the best quarterbacks coach in the league, he shouldn’t. That’s how good Clements is.