Final message to Packers is about ‘embracing change’

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GREEN BAY – No one wanted to head into the offseason on the heels of a 31-0 loss, but in his final talk of 2018 to the players, Packers interim head coach Joe Philbin wrapped up what was and turned the page to what’s coming in succinct, accurate fashion.

“I told them football can be a humbling game,” Philbin said Monday morning, less than 24 hours after Green Bay wrapped up a disappointing 6-9-1 season. “Just look at the difference in the locker room in the course of seven days, from the New York locker room to what we had yesterday.

“But I also talked to them about embracing change, whatever that may be, not looking at it as a negative but looking at it as a positive.”

Change is afoot in Green Bay, beginning with a new permanent head coach coming aboard sometime over the next month, which will lead to the assembling of a coaching staff. The usual roster decisions on pending free agents and other financial considerations also await, and then players will return for offseason workouts in April a few weeks before the draft, when another rookie class will join the NFL ranks.

The work ahead for President/CEO Mark Murphy and General Manager Brian Gutekunst is extensive, but two straight playoff-less seasons will create that.

Despite a forgettable final performance by the Packers in 2018, Philbin believes the opportunity is there to turn things around sooner rather than later.

“I think there’s a really good foundation here,” he said. “I think there’s some really good players, good men in the locker room. Brian’s done a great job. There’s a bright future. Certainly there needs to be improvement, too, but every team does that every single offseason.”

The Packers must improve in all three phases. The defense made strides under coordinator Mike Pettine, who incorporated a lot of young talent and had to shuffle personnel due to numerous injuries, but the letdowns in spurts over the last two weeks were reminiscent of the off-and-on rough stretches earlier in the year.

Ongoing problems on special teams mushroomed into game-changing mistakes over the final two games, clear evidence the issues were getting worse and not better.

The offense endured its share of struggles as well, unexpected given that Aaron Rodgers started all 16 games, though he played all season on a knee injury sustained back in Week 1 and then left Sunday’s finale early with a concussion. While Davante Adams had a season for the ages statistically, injuries to Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison robbed Rodgers of two veteran targets for much of the season, and the chemistry with younger receivers was a constant work in progress.

“There’s natural growing pains,” Philbin said. “Could we have done a better job coaching and ironing out some of those things? Sure, absolutely. That’s part of our job. There’s a natural curve that occurs in the passing game with the timing, the trust, the rhythm, when you put in new players. It takes some time.”

For Philbin the most immediate question is what’s next for him. Murphy said upon naming Philbin the interim coach following Mike McCarthy’s dismissal that he’d be a candidate for the full-time job, and he’ll likely be among the many candidates the Packers will interview in the coming days and weeks.

On Monday, he sounded comfortable with however it shakes out, stressing that the next head coach has to be the right fit with the top of the organization’s front office, and he expects Murphy and Gutekunst to exhaust their search for that best fit.

“It’s absolutely vital, and if it’s not, it won’t work,” Philbin said.

“I’m going to present who I am, what I believe in, what I feel I can do for the organization, and then it has to be a match for them. I’m sure they have criteria they want to have met.”

Philbin reiterated something he’s said several times over the last four weeks, that it was both “a privilege” and “an honor” to lead the Packers onto the field for four games, over which the team went 2-2.

“2019 will be here before we know it,” he said. “It’s rapidly approaching, and we’ll see what the future holds.”

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