(Going back to when you were with the 49ers and you picked Alex Smith in the draft, what were the things you didn’t see in
Well, going through the draft process that both Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers were involved in, there was a number of things that you definitely liked about both young quarterbacks. And I like to emphasize young. They both had a lot in front of them. There was definitely a lot of projection. But I’ve said it time and time again, just for Aaron Rodgers to be considered for the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft speaks volumes about him as an individual and what we thought about him athletically. Fortunately for the Green Bay Packers he was available at 24, and I’m glad I have the opportunity to work with him and watch him develop into a championship-caliber quarterback. But Aaron’s always had the physical ability, definitely has the mental capacity to operate a very high-level offense, which he does very effectively for us. And I think he’s improved in his in-the-pocket, out-of-pocket ability to transition and make plays with his feet. There’s a lot that goes into those decisions, and we are here today because Aaron Rodgers is in Green Bay.
(How does your offense thrive in a typical weather season in Green Bay? What obstacles does it cause and how do you overcome them?)
When we prepare for football games, and the topic of weather comes up, the one element that I pay close attention to is the wind. The temperatures really don’t factor unless they get well below zero, then it definitely affects the way you handle the football. We’re fortunate enough that we can practice in it, prepare particularly our perimeter players to handle the football in cold temperatures. But the wind, to me, is what affects you game-planning-wise, what affects the way you approach a game, and it affects the way you call a football game. That’s really what we focus on.
(Do you have any sense how difficult this week was for
Definitely. I think anytime you’re dealing with a personal situation in such a heightened week of importance professionally, it definitely drains on you. I know Cullen is relieved and that’s more of a personal matter for him and his family. But definitely, there’s relief, the fact that there’s been communication.
(The name on the trophy resonates in Green Bay, and Vince Lombardi influenced generations of coaches who came after him. What was that influence and what did you personally take from Lombardi’s career and learn from?)
I think every coach that’s ever had the opportunity to step on the playing field, or even on the practice field is aware of Coach Lombardi’s presence and the importance and the impact that he’s made on the coaching profession. When you talk about excellence and discipline, work ethic, he was the one that really brought all that to the forefront. He’s such a big part of the history and tradition of the Green Bay Packers, something that we celebrate all the time as an organization, something that’s being celebrated right now on Broadway, and we take a tremendous pride and focus on bringing that trophy back where it belongs. Coach Lombardi not only affected the coaching profession. I’m a big believer that he’s made a clear impact on the development of the National Football League.
(How long have you dreamed about that trophy and what would it mean to you to hoist that on Sunday?)
Well, I’ve always dreamt about championships, and the opportunity to be in the National Football League since 1993, this is definitely the goal. I think it’s obvious that it’s heightened with my opportunity to be the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. The opportunity to bring this trophy back home is something we all think about as a football team, as an organization on a daily basis.
(How would you assess the Super Bowl prep week, and what do you do from here until gameday?)
I think has gone very well. I really like our practice structure over there at Highland Park High School. It’s been excellent for us. Our setup at the Omni hotel has been very conducive to our classroom environment that we operate in and the things we’re trying to get done as a football team. I think the quality of work has been excellent. I know our players are looking forward to today’s practice to wrap things up and get back onto a normal schedule. We will meet at the Omni until 10:30, we’ll get on the buses at 11 a.m. to go over to the Highland Park High School facility. We will take a team photo, and then we’ll have an hour of practice in helmets to finish up our on-the-field preparation. Then the players will be free the rest of the day. And then tomorrow’s schedule will be the same schedule that we’ve operated on for the last five years. We’ll come in in the morning. The special teams and quarterbacks will meet at 8:30. Then we’ll go from that to offensive and defensive meetings that will conclude at 11 a.m. Then we’ll have chapel at 8:30 and we’ll have a team meeting tomorrow night at 9 o’clock. Then Sunday we’ll have our gameday schedule.
(Mike Tomlin said the decision would be made today on Maurkice Pouncey, whether he practices or not will determine whether he plays. Is it too late to make an adjustment based on who’s going to be in there, and is there a big difference from Legursky to Pouncey?)
We’re preparing for their offense. I don’t think their protection schemes or their run concepts are going to change very much based on who’s playing center, because Ben Roethlisberger is going to make that offense go. It will not change our approach defensively based on who’s playing center.
Chasing perfection and catching excellence on the way is something I think exemplifies everything that every football team, particularly ours, is trying to accomplish.
(When Pittsburgh and Green Bay met last time, we saw a tremendous display of offensive football by both teams. Do you expect a similar kind of game this time, or do you expect a different kind of game?)
I hope half of that game is one offense playing at that performance, and I hope it’s ours, obviously. That was an exciting football game, but every year is a different year. I think defensively, based on watching their body of work throughout the season, and I know firsthand that our defense has improved, so with that their defense has improved. So I look for the defenses to impact this football game more than they did in last year’s game. These games have all the potential in the world for big plays. We’re more focused on staying true to the little things, to the fundamentals, staying true to what brought us here in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams. We’re going to play as wide open as we need to, as smash mouth as we need to, and situations will dictate that throughout the game. But it’s the last game of the year, it’s the opportunity to bring the Lombardi trophy home, and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.
(You talk back home about having your finger on the pulse of the team. Can you describe how you think your guys have handled all the other things that come with being in the Super Bowl this week?)
I think they’ve handled it smoothly. I had a chance to, the stage I was sitting on at media day, being in the middle there, just had a chance to watch the players interact. They seemed to be enjoying themselves. The comments and the feedback from the public relations department seems like they’ve enjoyed themselves. The families started to show up yesterday, so that’s always a nice moment, a nice break in the week for everybody, players and coaches. I think that part has gone very well. The schedule is similar to the way we operate, so that’s what you try to accomplish as a team, to stay within the regularity and the continuity that you have in preparing for football games. After today, I know they’re really looking forward to completing today’s work, because they really like Saturday’s schedule, and Saturday’s schedule is very significant. We have a 48-hour rule that we always talk about when we break practice on Friday, and then when we break our meetings on Saturday at 11 o’clock, we’re in the 24-hour rule. It will probably be 27-hour rule this week. Those are targets throughout the week that our players are very in tune with, and everybody, I’m sure Pittsburgh’s the same, is ready to play t his game.
(What is the condition of
I would be shocked if Donald Driver does not play Sunday. He would practice today if I would let him. He tweaked it in Wednesday’s practice, and frankly I just do not want to take any chances at this point. So I will hold Donald from practice again today. Donald’s played a lot of football, he knows the offense, he’s had a whole week of preparation with the plan last week, so this is clearly just being safe with him.
(How do you keep the stage from not being too big for your players? How do not get them to be swallowed up by everything that surrounds it? And what have you learned about the players as men over the last couple weeks?)
Well, the last couple weeks, I’ll start there. We’ve had an opportunity to play in five playoff-type football games. We feel that has really prepared us for this opportunity. In yesterday’s team meeting, we normally go through and give a report on the officials’ crew. It’s an all-star crew, so there really wasn’t a whole lot to talk about from that standpoint. We talked about the different scheduling that goes on with the Super Bowl, as far as the long pre-game, the long halftime, and just make sure that we’re preparing our players for everything. And frankly, we took a moment and showed the movie from Hoosiers. Everybody loves the movie Hoosiers, where the basketball team walks into the arena and they measure the foul line and it’s 15 feet, and they measure the hoop and it’s 10 feet, and everybody goes OK, it’s big in here. That’s our approach. We’re going to play football. When we cross that white line, it’s going to be about playing Packer football, and that’s what we’re focused on.
(Can you talk about the greatness of
Charles is a tremendous football player. That’s very evident to anybody that’s played against him. I can recall when he came into the league and I was coaching at the Kansas City Chiefs, and the first couple game plans competing against Charles, and we said we’d better go after him now because in a couple of years we’re not going to be throwing the ball over there. That just holds true. He’s very smart. He plays four positions on our defense. I think that tells you a lot about this ability mentally to operate in and out of schemes. Plays the nickel, the dime, has played safety, and is our starting corner in base. So he gives us tremendous flexibility, but he’s a tenacious player. He’s always around the football. He’s probably one of our best or the best tacklers on our football team. It’s nothing for him to go back and handle a punt or a kickoff in a tough situation, whether it’s because of injury. He returned punts for us his first year and a half in Green Bay. So I just have tremendous respect for him as a player.
Leading into the next step, I felt that he had a lot more to offer as a leader. The leadership of our football team wasn’t where it needed to be. After the regular season is concluded, traditionally in Green Bay we have playoff captains that are voted on. Charles was voted as one of the defensive playoff captains. I thought about it the whole week leading into the Philadelphia game, and I called the six captains into a meeting Saturday night after the snack, and I said before the game the captains are going to lead the team prayer and are going to give the final message before we go onto the field. You six figure it out. It’s your message. I want it to come from the heart, and it was an opportunity for leadership to grow. Just to watch him in that position, because the other five anointed him as the one to talk -- Aaron Rodgers is the one that leads the prayer -- but just to watch him in that position, it’s been special, and the football team has responded to it. He has a lot to offer. He has a big heart. He’s played a lot of football. But he’s a tremendous Hall of Fame football player in my opinion.
(You have talked about how you have tried to keep the team loose to a degree. How are you personally keeping yourself loose or is it possible to do that as the head coach?)
I am focused on hand. I am fortunate that I have extra responsibilities. I get to jump in a police car and come over here this morning and talk to you guys while the football team is in meetings. But just keeping very busy, keeping very focused on the game. It’s not another game. It is a football game is really what we’re really focused on. We’re focused on beating the Pittsburgh Steelers. That is very important for us. We understand everything that goes on with the Super Bowl. Now we have the weather that may cause situations with our families coming in. These are things we talked about, tried to prepare for prior to us coming down here to North Texas. I really like the way our team handles it. Our football team, really our locker room as a whole, there are a lot of steady personalities in our locker room. We don’t have a lot of people bouncing off the walls when something goes wrong. I think that is a real credit to our people, to our players, and I think that is a big part of why we have been successful this year.
(Coach Tomlin said this morning he had plans to have people come in and give some motivational speeches. Are you going to have any former Packers or motivational speakers come in, and if so, when?)
We have two team meetings left in our schedule, one tomorrow night at 9 p.m. and one Sunday at 10:30 a.m. I will have a speaker tomorrow night, and I’d rather keep that to the players for right now. We’ll discuss publicly who that is after the fact, but we’ll have a speaker at tomorrow night’s team meeting.
(With so many injuries this season and guys stepping into key roles, what does it say about your coaching staff’s ability to get guys ready to play in big spots?)
I think it’s a tremendous compliment to our coaching staff to take players continuously through the year, whether they are young players on our roster that frankly weren’t ready to play, or if it was free agents that were brought into our program in Week 6 or 7. It probably doesn’t mean much coming from me but it’s one of the best coaching performances that I’ve been a part of from a staff standpoint, just individual coaches. You go down to the team meeting at 7:45 and Edgar Bennett is walking out of his 6:30 early meeting with