GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy is taking a new approach with the Green Bay Packers’ coaching staff — and he’s turning to some old friends to help him make sure it returns his team to Super Bowl contention next season.
McCarthy, who is heading into his 13th year as the Packers head coach, has altered the structure of his staff on both sides of the ball, implementing pass- and run-game coordinators on both offense and defense beneath new offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
“It’s like Year 1,” McCarthy said in introducing the new staff Wednesday, although most of the hires had already been reported. “Not only is the defense building a new playbook, so are we on the offense. We’re tightening that approach. And it’s been great. You have new input, you have new experiences that are in the room. You have a different way of saying the same thing.
“It’s been exciting. The energy is over the top.”
On defense, former cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt has been promoted to pass-game coordinator, while new inside linebackers coach Patrick Graham will serve as the run-game coordinator. On offense, longtime offensive line coach James Campen will be the run-game coordinator, while new hire Jim Hostler, who coached wide receivers with Philbin in Indianapolis the past two seasons, will serve as the pass-game coordinator.
Asked to explain his thought process with the new structure, McCarthy explained that the changes will give Whitt, Campen, Graham and Hostler greater responsibility in presenting game plans to players in their areas of expertise and also give them greater opportunity for growth as coaches.
McCarthy said Whitt, who interviewed for the defensive coordinator job that went to Pettine, had earned “an opportunity to have a lot more input” while Campen, who has always “taken the lead in the run game,” also deserved more responsibility.
“It’s more a reflection of the jobs they’ll be doing, and an opportunity to advance from the assistant coach level to the obviously (new) level between that and the coordinator,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy considers Philbin, the Packers’ offensive coordinator from 2007 through 2011, one of his closest friends in coaching, a bond that remained intact while Philbin served as the Miami Dolphins’ head coach (2012-’15) and the Colts assistant head coach/offensive line coach under Chuck Pagano the past two years. Hostler, meanwhile, is working for McCarthy for the third time, having been on the New Orleans Saints’ staff with him in 2001 and 2002, and on the San Francisco 49ers’ staff with him in 2005. McCarthy was the coordinator and Hostler was a position coach in both instances.
In addition, McCarthy hired Frank Cignetti Jr. to coach quarterbacks, replacing Alex Van Pelt, who let his contract run out in hopes of finding an offensive coordinator job elsewhere. Cignetti and McCarthy first crossed paths in 1989, when they were graduate assistants together at the University of Pittsburgh. They reconnected in New Orleans, where Cignetti was the quarterbacks coach in 2000 and 2001. Cignetti spent the past two seasons as the New York Giants’ quarterbacks coach under Ben McAdoo, another McCarthy protégé.
Philbin said he believes he’s a better assistant coach after being a head coach, and when asked what his job is now, he had his answer at the ready.
“Making Mike McCarthy look like the smartest play caller in the National Football League. Honest to God, I think that’s part of your job when you’re an assistant coach,” Philbin said. “In that chain of command, your job is always to make the person above you look really good, and look really smart. And I told Mike this. I think I have a better appreciation for Mike’s job now than I did then.”
While McCarthy didn’t know Pettine at all — except by reputation, aware that he’d never coordinated a defense that didn’t finish in the NFL’s top 10 — he said the two connected early in the interview process, even as McCarthy was still considering pursuing other candidates.
“I had some other ideas because I had a couple of options of how I was looking to build a staff. (But) when we started going, I felt that we really connected,” McCarthy said. “I thought Mike really knocked it out of the park. I knew early in the process that he was the right man for the job.”
Asked how his defense will look, Pettine replied, “We’re going to be prepared. It’s about paying attention to detail. There’s no magical (formula). People talk about scheme, what kind of playbook – that’s a very small part of playing great defense. I think as a coach, you have to adjust. … (When) you look at us, you’re going to see we’re going to be multiple and we’re going to be aggressive.”
One position on Pettine’s side of the ball remains unclear, as safeties coach Darren Perry, who is up for the Tennessee Titans’ defensive coordinator position and has drawn interest from other teams as well, is in limbo. While Whitt and former special teams assistant Jason Simmons, who was named secondary coach, are in charge of the back end at this point, McCarthy confirmed that he wants Perry to return — he even mentioned that Perry had been in a staff meeting with the analytics team on Wednesday — and said that he expects Perry’s status to be “cleared up by the end of the week.”
For now, though, the focus is on getting the staff up and running together, as this marks the most significant staff turnover of McCarthy’s tenure.
“We need to take advantage of the energy, the enthusiasm and really all the new experience that has come into our coaching staff,” McCarthy said. “We understand what we want to be and we understand what we are right now. And at the end of the day, it’s taking the resources, getting the team to come together and play to win and win championships. We all understand what the standard is in Green Bay.”
Joe Philbin, Offensive Coordinator
James Campen, Offense – Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line
Jim Hostler, Offense – Pass Game Coordinator
Brian Angelichio, Tight Ends
Frank Cignetti Jr., Quarterbacks
Ben Sirmans, Running Backs
David Raih, Wide Receivers
Jeff Blasko, Assistant Offensive Line
Mike Pettine, Defensive Coordinator
Winston Moss, Associate Head Coach/Linebackers
Patrick Graham, Defense – Run Game Coordinator/Inside Linebackers
Joe Whitt Jr., Defense – Pass Game Coordinator
Jason Simmons, Secondary
Jerry Montgomery, Defensive Line
Scott McCurley, Defensive Assistant
Ryan Downard, Defensive Quality Control
Ron Zook, Special Teams Coordinator
Maurice Drayton, Assistant Special Teams Strength and Conditioning Staff
Mark Lovat, Strength & Conditioning Coordinator
Chris Gizzi, Strength & Conditioning Assistant
Thadeus Jackson, Strength & Conditioning Assistant
Grant Thorne, Strength & Conditioning Assistant