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McCarthy Makes Strong Statement

by Mike Conklin

E-mail: mikeconklin@packerpedia.com
September 12, 2013


In terms of coaching success, Mike McCarthy is approaching rarified air.

He has already won a championship, and is given credit for pushing all the right buttons during that injury-plagued season.

Later this year, his win total will move him past Mike Holmgren into third place in Packers history. By the time his current contract expires, McCarthy is even on pace to win more games than Vince Lombardi ever did.

McCarthy's position is secure. Only three coaches...Bill Belichick, Marvin Lewis, and Tom Coughlin...have been with their teams longer. Having won 33 of his last 42 games, McCarthy is on a very impressive, if not historic, run.

Perhaps that success is one of the reasons that he was able to make one of the bolder coaching moves you will see, just this last week in San Francisco.

One of the big stories in the aftermath of Sunday's loss to the 49ers was the fallout from the personal foul penalty on Clay Matthews in the second quarter. Matthews launched himself through the air to tackle 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Even though Matthews had already committed himself to the tackle while his target was still in bounds, he didn't make contact until Kaepernick had already stepped on the sideline. A personal foul was called (and an ensuing melee broke out), and instead of forcing the 49ers to a 4th-and-2 a sequence of events unfolded that eventually resulted in the 49ers scoring a touchdown.

This has been a much discussed play, for many reasons. It resulted in referee Bill Leavy admitting that he assessed the penalties incorrectly. It also resulted in Jim Harbaugh insulting Matthews indirectly through the media in the days following the game. But there was also another aftereffect of that play that has largely gone unnoticed.

The next time the Packers defense took the field, Clay Matthews stayed on the bench.

Think about that for a moment. Imagine if Aaron Rodgers were benched. How big of a story would that be?

Perhaps using a quarterback is an unfair comparison. Consider the effect of benching Brian Urlacher when he was in his prime with the Bears, or Ray Lewis with the Ravens. Clay Matthews is an iconic figure in Green Bay, just as those defenders were for their respective teams. Players like that usually don't get benched.

Matthews wasn't sidelined for long, to be sure. He joined his teammates on the field shortly thereafter. But by that time, the message had been sent.

Since taking over as head coach in 2006, Mike McCarthy has preached about "accountability and availability" over and over again. In this case, he had a chance to practice what he preaches.

Benching a superstar like Clay Matthews is not something that is done lightly. In fact, there may not be that many coaches in the NFL who would have done the same thing if faced with a similar situation.

Tom Coughlin probably would have. Belichick likely would too. Other than that, how many other coaches really would? Certainly not Jim Schwartz in Detroit.

Clay Matthews is one of the highest-paid players in the league, and is second only to Aaron Rodgers in stature in Green Bay. Sending him to the bench sends a strong message to the rest of the team.

In a game that the Packers eventually lost, that decision by Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff may have an effect that could reverberate through the rest of the season.

Mike McCarthy proved that when he talks about being accountable, he is not spouting empty words. If there was ever any doubt about that among Packers players before, there isn't now.





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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Thank you to @PackFanChris for his contribution to this story.