GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers was as shocked as anyone when news broke Sunday evening the Packers had parted ways with longtime head coach Mike McCarthy.
For 12 years, the two-time MVP quarterback and McCarthy shared in a productive partnership that garnered the organization its fourth Lombardi Trophy and ushered in an unprecedented run of eight consecutive playoff appearances from 2009-16.
As the only player remaining from the last time the organization made a coaching change back in 2006, Rodgers categorized Monday as an “odd day” for both himself and Green Bay’s locker room on the heels of Sunday’s 20-17 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
“I’m the only one in this locker room who was around in '05 when Mike Sherman was let go at the end of the season and it’s a weird day. It’s a tough day,” Rodgers said. “Obviously emotionally, frustrating defeat at home. A game we expected to win. Then, you get the news later on last night.”
The quarterback and coach shared a common bond under former general manager Ted Thompson. Rodgers was the first pick Thompson made as GM back in 2005 and McCarthy was the only head coach he hired in Green Bay.
The two trusted each other in the aftermath of Brett Favre indicating he wanted to return to football during the turbulent summer of 2008 and stuck together in 2009 when the Packers dropped to 4-4 following a loss to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Their faith was rewarded during a monumental Super Bowl XLV run in 2010. It also helped them tone out outside noise and pressure in order to “run the table” on the Packers’ way to the NFC Championship Game after a 4-6 start in 2016.
Whatever the perception of their relationship might have been, Rodgers said they talked this year more than any other time during their 12 years together, meeting on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Sometimes the conversations revolved around football and game plans, but they also went well beyond that at times.
“I really always appreciated that time with Mike getting to know him on a personal level,” Rodgers said. “As much as what was made, the conjecture about (our) relationship, it was always built on mutual respect and communication. That's why this is a difficult day for myself and guys in the locker room.”
Of the 61 players either on the active roster or injured reserve, 42 have not played for another NFL head coach besides McCarthy. That includes former second-round pick Davante Adams, who has since blossomed into one of the league’s top receivers.
McCarthy stood by Adams during a tough 2015 season in which he was hampered by a lingering ankle injury. Since then, Adams is the only receiver in the NFL to have at least 70 receptions and 10 touchdowns over the past three seasons.
“My heart's with him and his family,” Adams said. “Obviously it's a tough spot for him now and the team as well. I wish him the most success. Obviously he had a lot to do with me being here and my success here in Green Bay. Lot of respect for him and wish him all the best.”
Left tackle David Bakhtiari was effusive in his praise for McCarthy, pointing out that McCarthy was “the first person” to discuss with him the prospects of the two-time All-Pro staying in Green Bay prior to his contract extension in 2016.
With McCarthy serving as the primary offensive play-caller in 12 of his 13 seasons, the Packers finished inside the top 10 in passing yards on 10 occasions. When Rodgers captured his first NFL MVP Award in 2011, the Packers set a franchise record for points scored (560), touchdowns (70), net yards (6,482) and net passing yards (4,924).
The Packers also displayed dominance in the NFC North throughout McCarthy’s tenure, winning four consecutive division titles from 2011-14 and six times overall.
“Knowing we were in it every year, I think there’s something to say about that,” said right tackle Bryan Bulaga, a first-round pick in 2010. “A lot of people weren’t upset when we were winning division titles and making runs in the playoffs. I think people need to look at it from that standpoint. Besides being a really good football coach, he was a great man, too. It’s been an honor to play for him the last nine years.”
As President/CEO Mark Murphy and General Manager Brian Gutekunst begin the process of searching for the Packers’ next head coach, the team will now look to rally behind interim head coach Joe Philbin, who served on McCarthy’s coaching staff for 10 combined seasons over two stints in Green Bay.
Rodgers said he doesn’t need to be involved in that process. Instead, he has his focus set on following Philbin’s leadership and trying to build momentum with the four remaining games on the Packers’ schedule.
Rodgers said he hadn’t spoken yet to McCarthy, but planned to reach out to his former coach as soon as he was done with his obligations at Lambeau Field for the day.
“We accomplished a lot of things together,” Rodgers said. “I have a lot of great memories to talk about down the line.”