Moving on is never easy.
One could sense that underlying theme as Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy and 2005 defensive coordinator Jim Bates agreed to part ways on Monday afternoon.
"I respect Jim Bates," McCarthy said. "He did a hell of a job here last season."
Bates deeply contemplated whether to stay or go, discussing it with his wife Beverly, whose family lives two hours away from Green Bay. Following a season-ending meeting with General Manager Ted Thompson, Jim took a trip to Kohler, Wis. with Beverly to clear his head. Bates and McCarthy talked on Sunday, and they came to their decision on Monday.
Money or contract length did not factor into his departure. Bates said that head coaches meet special people along the way, and McCarthy deserved the right to bring those individuals aboard.
"I want to give Mike that opportunity to pick those guys he's looked at over the years and has relationships with," Bates said. "I didn't want to step in his way."
For Bates the situation became analogous to last year. As Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator in 2004, Bates led the defense to the eighth-best ranking in the league, but the team decided to hire Nick Saban as head coach at season's end. Although Saban offered Bates the defensive coordinator position, Bates moved on to Green Bay instead.
"I went through that same thing type of thing with a close friend last year," Bates said.
Like last season Bates interviewed for the head coaching position for the team with whom he had previously served as defensive coordinator. Thompson chose McCarthy. Bates clearly wanted to become head coach but took the decision in stride.
"Sure, I was disappointed when I didn't get the job," Bates said. "But that happens in this business, and you have to go forward."
Becoming an NFL head coach remains a goal for Bates, and the 59-year-old said he possesses the enthusiasm of a younger coach. He works out regularly, and the animated coach often taught his defenders in a hands-on way, even dropping down to a three-point stance to demonstrate proper technique.
"It used to be when you got up in years, people would look at you and say, 'he's too old to coach,'" Bates said. "But I can coach for a long time."
He will pursue head coaching and defensive coordinator positions with other teams in 2006 but will be selective in choosing his next stop.
"I'll look at all opportunities," Bates said. "I won't just jump on just any opportunity. It will have to be the right place, the right situation and the right people involved."
Other teams will certainly be impressed by the job Bates did with the Packers in 2006. He elevated a defense ranked 25th in total defense in 2004 to seventh in 2005 and from 25th in pass defense in 2004 to first in pass defense in 2005. Several pundits predicted the unit to rank much lower than that.
"The staff and the players responded in a very favorable way," Bates said. "They answered the bell. I could not be prouder of a group of that was picked to be so low to finish so high."
Along with upgrading the defense, Bates departs with other good memories of the Packers organization. In particular he will remember the passion of the Packers fans. The game-like atmosphere at the Family Night scrimmage floored him. During Fan Fest in March, the fans treated him like a rock star. Bates signed more autographs at the event than he has ever before.
"To coach in this franchise was a great honor for me," said Bates, who thanked former head coach Mike Sherman for hiring him as Packers defensive coordinator. "Every football coach that ever coaches should have the opportunity of coming through Green Bay."
McCarthy has not determined who will succeed Bates. He said he has a list of candidates, including in-house names and defensive coaches around the league. He will not select a coach based on the specific scheme they run but focus on a person who has passion and experience.
"We're going to get the best defensive coordinator out there that gives us the best chance to win on Sundays," McCarthy said.
Bates said whoever coaches the defense in 2006 will have a solid pool of players to mold.
"This team has such great character," he said. "In this league and this time, teams can go from a 4-12 to a 12-4 ... This team can be back in no time."