GREEN BAY – Less than 24 hours after being named the Packers’ interim head coach, Joe Philbin threw the number 13 up on a screen for every player and coach inside the team meeting room to see on Monday.
His message centered on tuning out all the outside noise surrounding the organization’s decision to part ways with Mike McCarthy after Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals and concentrate solely on the 13th game of the 2018 season this Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Atlanta Falcons.
Philbin addressed players for about 20 minutes on Monday before asking defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and special teams coordinator Ron Zook to identify three or four things the Packers “can really sink our teeth into” going into Sunday’s game against the Falcons regardless of what Atlanta does schematically.
Offensively, Philbin plans to do the same and confirmed he’ll call plays for the remainder of the season.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Philbin acknowledged the self-fulfilling prophecy that has Green Bay sitting at 4-7-1 with four games left in the regular season. A lack of big plays and execution has contributed to the predicament the Packers find themselves in, which in turn, has zapped the team of energy and juice.
His task over the next four weeks is getting the Packers to play to their potential.
“I told them, ‘The No. 1 responsibility that you have is to be a professional. Period. We all have a job to do, we all have to do it better,’” Philbin said. “It’s not like we’re going to fly some magical players or magic coaches in here in the next four weeks. We’ve got a good group of men, we’ve got a good staff, we have to get these guys to play better and we have to make some plays. We have to help each other out and play more complementary football.”
Monday was a day filled with mixed emotions. Philbin got his start with the Packers in 2003 as an assistant offensive line coach for Mike Sherman and remained on staff after McCarthy was hired in 2006. While well-traveled over a coaching career that spans 35 years, Philbin and his wife, Diane, consider Green Bay home.
So when the opportunity was presented for Philbin to return as the Packers’ offensive coordinator in January, he quickly jumped at the chance to reclaim the position he held from 2007-11 prior to becoming the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
After working closely with McCarthy this past offseason to rewrite the offensive playbook in hopes of another Super Bowl run, Philbin never thought he’d wind up replacing his friend on an interim basis. Philbin said he had “two very emotional conversations” with McCarthy before addressing the team and told McCarthy how much he and the coaches missed McCarthy during their typical Monday morning film breakdown.
As difficult as the past few days have been, Philbin had no reservations about stepping into the head-coaching seat for the remainder of the season.
“It’s been tough. I haven’t slept very much,” Philbin said. “You come back here (this season) and you want to be part of the solution. You want to help a guy that’s been a great man, he’s been a great coach, been a friend, and you feel like you let him down. So it’s been busy, and I told the team, what he’s done here speaks up for itself. You know, I know how he feels. I’ve been through it. It’s not fun.”
With his typical sharp and dry wit, Philbin mentioned that Monday was his and his wife’s 30th wedding anniversary, and Diane likely would be expecting a big dinner, though he cautioned to “not hold her breath” given how hectic the week has been.
Still, the decision to elevate Philbin to the interim role made sense on a number of levels, beginning with his time as the Dolphins’ head coach from 2012-15. Philbin said Monday that experience taught him two important lessons – to be the same man regardless of his job title and to trust his instincts.
Philbin has a history with several veterans in the Packers’ locker room dating back to his first stint in Green Bay, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but he also has forged relationships with the next generation of Packers playmakers over the past year.
“He's a guy that's already earned my respect,” receiver Davante Adams said. “He’s punctual, kind of a militant guy. You know what to expect. He's the same guy every day, treats everybody the same way so it makes it real easy to respect him and fall into what he has going.”
To those unfamiliar with him, primarily on the defensive side of the ball, Philbin outlined four virtues on Monday he asks of players – be professional, be accountable, be respectful and be punctual.
Philbin is still sorting out how all of his previous duties as offensive coordinator will be handled, but doesn’t have any massive overhauls planned for the direction of the team. His goal is to get the team to play up to its potential in all three phases through fundamentals and maybe streamlining a few things to improve overall efficiency.
“I don’t think we’re going into the offensive meeting room and we’re going to change everything about this offense. I don’t think that’s the case,” said right tackle Bryan Bulaga, a first-round pick in 2010. “I’ve known Joe for a long time. I think he’s a very good coach. Obviously, he’s going to have his own ideas and thoughts as well. There’s going to be a different feel to it, I’d imagine, but that’s something we’ll see on Wednesday.”
The Packers’ current situation is somewhat unprecedented. The only other instance in which a Packers head coach hasn’t finished the season came in 1953 when Gene Ronzani resigned with two games remaining.
President/CEO Mark Murphy told reporters Monday the organization considers Philbin in the mix to be the Packers’ next head coach and wants to see how the team responds under his leadership over the next four weeks.
When asked about his aspirations to again be a head coach, Philbin said his only focus at this moment is this year’s team and trying to finish 2018 on a high note.
“This is the role I’m in right now and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability,” Philbin said. “My ambition in 2018 right now is to help this team play its best football of the year. Period. And the future’s the future. We’ll deal with that as it comes.”