GREEN BAY — For Joe Philbin, confirmation that he’d made the right decision came from the pew behind him.
Although the new Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator believed the time was right for him to return to the place where he’d spent nine NFL seasons as an assistant — and, tragically, the place where he’d laid his 21-year-old son, Michael, to rest after his January 2012 death — the reassurance of a stranger was certainly welcomed.
“It’s very, very emotional for all of us. But we care and love a lot of people here, and a lot of people care about and love us,” Philbin said Wednesday, after being officially introduced along with a host of other new coaches on head coach Mike McCarthy’s staff. “It’s not easy (coming back here), but this is what’s so special about Green Bay.
“The good, Catholic boy that I am, I went to mass the other day, and some older lady — of course, I’m getting into that category myself — tapped me on the back, and says, ‘It’s great to have you back.’ Things like that ... it’s very emotional. But ultimately, you want to contribute, you want to help people you care about and want to be with. At the end of the day, that I feel very good about when I put my head down at night.”
Philbin, 56, broke into NFL coaching in 2003 as an assistant offensive line coach under then-head coach Mike Sherman, his mentor and one-time high-school English teacher. When Mike McCarthy arrived in 2006, he kept Philbin, and when offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski departed after McCarthy’s first season, McCarthy promoted Philbin to coordinator.
He spent five years in that role, and after the 2011 offense set a franchise record for points (560) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers won his first NFL MVP, Philbin caught the eye of the Dolphins. Miami would hire him as the head coach less than two weeks after Michael, the second-oldest of Joe and Diane Philbin’s six children, drowned in the Fox River near the UW-Oshkosh campus.
McCarthy acknowledged Wednesday that, while bringing Philbin back was a “no-brainer” hiring decision, he was concerned about his friend coming back to a place where he and his family endured such heartbreak.
“That was probably my first question,” McCarthy said. “(But) he thought it was time to come back. And we’re real excited about having him and his family here.”
For Philbin, who was fired by the Dolphins early in his fourth season and spent two years with the Colts as Chuck Pagano’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach before Pagano’s Dec. 31 firing, the decision was about timing.
He intimated McCarthy had reached out to him in 2015 after the Dolphins fired him but suggested he wouldn’t have been ready to return then. The Philbins’ youngest child, daughter Colleen, will be a high school senior this year.
“She came up to me in December and said, ‘Dad, if you have to go somewhere, I want to go with you.’ As a father, you don’t really want your daughter to go to three different high schools, but we’re a family. We’re an all-in family,” Philbin said. “So that was comforting. If she had said, ‘Dad, I want to stay in Indianapolis and finish my senior year,’ you probably wouldn’t be interviewing me right now.
“It just felt right. Sometimes, you just have to trust your gut and your instincts. At the end of the day, Joe Philbin’s a football coach. That’s what I am. That’s what I’ve done for 35 years, and coming to Green Bay feels good and feels right.”
McCarthy said the team’s new power structure — in which general manager Brian Gutekunst, vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball and McCarthy all report to team president/CEO Mark Murphy — has worked well for him so far. Previously, the head coach reported to the GM — who, for McCarthy, was Ted Thompson — but Murphy decided to change the organizational flowchart after doing GM interviews and discovering “silos” existed that hindered communication.
“It’s been great. (Obviously) any head coach would feel great about the increase in communication with the president of our organization,” McCarthy said. “I’ve talked to Mark Murphy more in the last three weeks than I have in my 12 years here. So it’s been great.
“Mark’s a football man, so I appreciate his understanding, not only of who we are, but the league. He’s on the competition committee, so there’s insight there. Just to have communication there, he’s pretty much checked in with me on a daily basis. I like that. We talk about the basics in any professional organization or business and communication is at the forefront. Our communication has greatly increased and for that we are better.”
Exactly a week after he posted a farewell message on Twitter — accompanied by a photo of himself with the Packers defensive linemen — to announce that he was joining Texas A&M’s coaching staff, Jerry Montgomery was back with the Packers, being introduced as the team’s new defensive line coach.
He was reluctant to give any details about what happened and whether new Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher was OK with his change of heart.
“I had a great opportunity to go to a great program and be with a great coaching staff. I think A&M and Coach Fisher are going to do really well there,” said Montgomery, who served as a defensive front assistant last year and now replaces veteran defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who was fired after the season ended. “At the end of the day, the best opportunity for me and my family was here in Green Bay. So I’m going to leave it at that and just thankful for the opportunity be here.
Asked if it was awkward to renege on his decision to go to Texas A&M, Montgomery replied, “You know what? It wasn’t. It was the right move for me and the family. I got on a plane and got back and met with coach (McCarthy) and now I’m here. I’m excited to work with the guys. I love the room, love the upside of the room and look forward to developing the young guys and getting them to where the older guys are.”