New York Jets Coaching Search: Why Mike McCarthy Is Not A Prize

Dan Essien on why Mike McCarthy is not the safe hire he’s being made out to be

There seems to be growing momentum linking Mike McCarthy to the New York Jets vacant head coach position. Many are even saying he should be at the top of the Jets’ list. Let’s take a look at why that sentiment is misleading and why the Jets could do much better.

Mike McCarthy is a well known name around the NFL. He’s a Super Bowl champion and has been a head coach for the Packers for 12 years after bouncing around the NFL and college as an offensive coordinator. Mike McCarthy has an impressive past. But the Jets shouldn’t be looking for a coach with just an impressive past and NFL head coaching experience. They need a coach that can elevate their current team. I think there’s a ton of evidence that suggests that coach is not Mike McCarthy.

Failure to Adapt

We are all well aware of Mike McCarthy’s past successes. We should all be more aware that the NFL has changed quite a bit since the Packers were at their peak and I’m not sure McCarthy has done much to keep up. An article by Bill Barnwell stated that most believe the Packers offense has been far too reliant on Rodgers’ improvisation. His recent results support this.

Teams like the Saints were able to develop new systems around their aging star quarterbacks that took the pressure off of them. The Saints drafted Alvin Kamara, and utilized him and Mark Ingram to ease things for Brees. McCarthy trotted out Ty Montgomery as the Packers feature back for a good amount of time from 2016-17, despite how obviously unsustainable it was. Of course, Ty Montgomery’s injuries came, and his effectiveness fell off of cliff.

Aaron Jones emerged as the starting RB in Green Bay after an impressive rookie season in 2017. But somehow Jones had a pretty tame season alongside Aaron Rodgers. By comparison, James Conner, who was not really known for his receiving prowess, stepped into Le’veon Bell’s role in both the rushing and passing game and had a huge season. Conner averaged 113 yards from scrimmage per game this season, including 4 catches a game. He did all this with a first time NFL offensive coordinator and a defensive minded head coach. Aaron Jones averaged 77 yards from scrimmage per game and just 2 catches per game. McCarthy did mention that Jones needed to be a bigger part of the passing game in October. But in the end, he only gave him 3 targets a game this season (Conner averaged 5.5 targets per game). Good offenses can scheme opportunities for their playmakers. The Packers struggled to do so.  The Packers had an opportunity to diversify their offense, gain some balance, and ease pressure off of Rodgers this season. Instead, their offense regressed and leaned, again, on Rodgers hero-ball.

No Aaron, No Offense

The Jets need a coach whose success isn’t so tightly linked to a single player. They need a coach that instills confidence in his players no matter who is on the field. Some may point to Matt Flynn keeping the Packers afloat for a few games in 2013 as an example of McCarthy succeeding without Rodgers. But we also saw Todd Bowles and Chan Gailey win 10 games with Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015 and that, honestly, was more impressive. But in addition, what we’ve seen more recently from McCarthy without Aaron Rodgers is telling.

In 2017, McCarthy had another opportunity to show he can exist without Aaron Rodgers and it was ugly. When Rodgers went down with an injury 6 games into the season, the Packers were 4-2. They then proceeded to go 3-6 without him, and then lost the season finale in his week 17. In fact, we’re pretty used to seeing Rodgers play through injury in recent years. The team looks toothless without him. In 2017, the Packers finished 21st in points, 26th in total yards, and 25th in passing yards (behind the Jets duo of Josh McCown and Bryce Petty).

McCarthy has had 12 years to develop an offense that can at least exist without Rodgers. His failure to do so is maybe worse than his failure to improve his game management abilities in those same 12 years. We’ve seen teams this season that have gone through sudden change and performed better than McCarthy did with Aaron Rodgers in 2018. The aforementioned Steelers offense was significantly better statistically despite the loss of both offensive coordinator and All-Pro starting running back. The Ravens finished as a better scoring offense than the Packers, despite switching to a rookie quarterback midseason. To use another candidate in this comparison, Todd Monken had turnover dispensers at QB in Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and an abysmal running backs group. His offense was still better than Mike McCarthy’s this season. The Jets need to go with a coach that’s on the upward trend. Not a coach flailing to stay afloat.

He’s Not Andy Reid

Many have suggested the Jets may go with McCarthy in an attempt to get something similar to what the Chiefs have gotten out of Andy Reid. Mike McCarthy is not Andy Reid. In fact, the actual expansive gulf between Reid and McCarthy should give you pause. It’s almost disrespectful to even compare them. Especially when you consider that none of McCarthy’s assistants have gone on to any truly notable success outside of Green Bay. And don’t even try to bring Belichick into this. Right now, Reid has his fingerprint on three different offenses across the NFL: his own in Kansas City, Doug Pederson’s in Philadelphia, and Matt Nagy’s in Chicago. He’ll likely have four next season, as offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, is likely to accept a head coaching offer. People are already talking about Reid’s 31-year old quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka who’s only been in Kansas City since 2017.

Beyond assistants, Reid has shown the ability to keep his offense fresh for more than a decade. Despite the fact his best offensive minds have moved on over the years, Reid’s offense continues to get better. He’s always been at the forefront of innovation and he’s always shown he can succeed with any type of quarterback. Not only does he not get enough credit for what he did with Alex Smith, he doesn’t get enough credit for what he did with Michael Vick. He signed a guy that had been out of the NFL for two years, and built him back up in a year. Vick was NFL comeback player of the year and a Pro Bowler in 2010 while posting career highs in TD passes, completion percentage and QBR.

Reid has succeeded with all sorts of levels of talent at quarterback. Of late, McCarthy has been underwhelming with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Mike McCarthy is not Andy Reid and no one should ever insinuate there’s anything more than a 0.000000001% chance he can do what Reid has done.

It’s true: the Jets can do much worse than Mike McCarthy. But this isn’t just another Jets offseason with no direction and no hope on the horizon. The Jets finally have their franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold. They can’t afford to get their next hire wrong. McCarthy is considered a safe choice because he’s a familiar name and he has a Super Bowl on his resume. But take a look around. Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, and Pete Carroll are the only coaches in the NFL who are consistently succeeding with more than one NFL head coaching stint under their belt. The league is in the midst of a great deal of change. Plenty of coaches have been left in the dust. The Jets need a coach that’s keeping up.