GREEN BAY — Joe Philbin has done a lot during his 35-year football-coaching odyssey.
He’s worked at several I’ve-never-heard-of-that places, such as the Worchester Polytechnic Institute and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He’s coached at Harvard, perhaps the most prestigious academic school in the country. He’s spent a combined decade with the Green Bay Packers, working as an assistant offensive line coach, tight ends coach, offensive coordinator and now, as interim head coach. And he also has been an NFL head coach, with the Miami Dolphins from 2012 to 2015.
But on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field, he’ll do something he’s never done: Call the offensive plays in a regular-season NFL game.
In fact, Philbin, who didn’t call the Dolphins’ plays but did call plays in preseason finales as the Packers coordinator (including this past summer), thinks the most recent time he did call the offensive plays in a game that counted was at Northeastern in 1996, when he was the Huskies’ offensive coordinator and line coach.
“It’s been awhile,” Phlibin said. “Been awhile.”
One person who doesn’t seem all that concerned about Philbin handling that role? Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has long been a Philbin supporter. Rodgers scarcely played as a rookie in coach Mike Sherman’s last season of 2005, so he’s rarely heard a voice other than that of ex-coach Mike McCarthy in his helmet speaker.
“I’ve been translating Pittsburgh(-ese) for a long time, so I think I’ll be able to figure out (Philbin’s) East Coast dialect a little better from the start,” Rodgers said, joking after practice Wednesday. “No, it’ll be good. He was calling the plays in today at practice. You just get used to the voice. He was calling them in the preseason, in the fourth game. I wasn’t there but I was talking to (backup quarterbacks) Tim (Boyle) and DeShone (Kizer) about it, and they said it was a smooth operation.”
Nevertheless, Rodgers said there are subtleties he and Philbin will have to work through before Sunday’s game.
“Just the little things. Signals I might give over to the sideline, whether I need the play again or just looks from time to time,” Rodgers said. “Just get on the same page in our body language with the two of us. And then spending some time talking about the plan, which I’m sure we’ll do the next couple days. … (Changing the play) has always been part of the offense. There’s check-with-me’s, there’s audibles within plays.”
Rodgers and Philbin each stressed that Philbin has been in game-planning sessions since returning as offensive coordinator during the offseason, and that while Philbin might not have been the one on the sideline holding the giant laminated play-calling menu, he knew what was on it. Philbin has worked the Packers’ first 11 games from the coaches’ box upstairs.
“He’s been putting the plans together and installing them and doing the scripts and all that. So I don’t think that’s really going to change,” Rodgers said. “He’s always down around our meeting room. We’re always having conversations.”
Asked if he’d like to see changes to the offense now that Philbin is running it instead of McCarthy, Rodgers replied, “I don’t think you scrap the whole thing. I just think you really need to be better in situational offense (like on third down and in the red zone) if you want to win games. So we’re going to pay a little more attention, even more attention, to that the next couple weeks, because we’ve got to fix that.”
As for the team as a whole, Philbin was encouraged that the voluntary Tuesday weightlifting session had its best attendance of the season — something Philbin interpreted as an indicator his players still care about the season and aren’t giving up.
“Optional. That, to me, is a great indicator,” Philbin said. “It’s a better indicator than me pontificating about this, that and the other thing. We can talk and I can talk about all these highfalutin things, but at the end of the day, you have to go out and play football, you have to coach football.”
And that’s one thing Philbin is undeniably excited about — serving as head coach of the Packers.
“It’s going to be a privilege,” Philbin said. “It will be an honor to lead the team onto Lambeau Field, for sure.”