Packers must learn from coach-QB rift

By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA

Rodgers responds to Bleacher Report; OL Cole Madison to join team today

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ best news lately is the NFL’s 100th season will feature the league’s oldest rivalry, Packers at Bears, in the Thursday, Sept. 5, season opener.

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It’s a terrific start to what’s going to be a special season.

The next-best news is that Packers head coach Matt LaFleur began implementing his program in earnest today. The Packers’ offseason workout schedule begins with LaFleur at the helm.

As a side note, offensive lineman Cole Madison will report to the Packers. The fifth-round pick had off-the-field issues a year ago and elected to take the season off. It appears to have been a wise decision, with Madison’s health the most important factor.

Now, it seems, he’s ready to contribute to the Packers.

All that good news couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

The winds of change already swept through Lambeau Field when former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was fired after a dismal Dec. 2 loss to lowly Arizona at home.

Now, it is LaFleur’s time to take the team in a winning direction.

Last week, two stories circulated that painted the Packers in a disappointing light. In an ESPN article, McCarthy said the Packers couldn’t have handled his firing any worse.

He focused long and hard on the “how” and “when.”

He said the messenger was cold and the timing (in-season) was a mistake.

What McCarthy didn’t discuss was the “why?”

Maybe this will clear it up.

McCarthy was fired on Dec. 2 because his team would fail to reach the playoffs in consecutive seasons. He was fired because he couldn’t control his quarterback. He was fired because he was flailing about instead of fixing the stagnant offense.

Then, in a Bleacher Report article that was unflattering at best, Aaron Rodgers was portrayed as a prima donna and McCarthy as running a program that lacked discipline and innovation.

Rodgers on Monday called the article a smear campaign.

Rodgers responded vehemently to the allegations that he called McCarthy “a low-IQ football coach” and that Packers president Mark Murphy told him “not to be the problem” during a phone conversation in which Murphy told Rodgers of LaFleur’s hire.

He also said he never held a grudge against McCarthy because his coach, when with the 49ers, allegedly said he believed Alex Smith was the better quarterback.

Rodgers, to ESPN Milwaukee, said:

“The two main things I think I really want to talk about and just clear up, which are really central themes to the article, the first is the Mark Murphy conversation because part of the article seems to want to say the Packers are worried about me as the leader of the football team moving forward.

“And before I get into what actually happened in the conversation with Mark, I want to say two things: One, if they knew that, why would they offer me a contract last year? And two, which goes into my second central thesis point that I’m going to take down, is if I really disliked Mike (McCarthy) so much, why would I re-sign knowing that if I play and we do what we do around here – we made the playoffs eight straight years and then I got hurt and we missed the playoffs – it’s going to be me and Mike my entire career. So if I really disliked him that much, do you think I’d re-sign. Is the money that important to me? I’ll tell you it’s not. Quality of life is important.”

Rodgers added that Packers fans should be grateful for everything that McCarthy accomplished in his time here.

“We had a hell of a run,” Rodgers said. “We had 13 years, four NFC Championships, one Super Bowl, eight straight playoffs, 19 straight wins … So instead of trashing this guy on the way out, let’s remember the amazing times that we had together.

“Packers fans, remember this, especially those of you who live in Green Bay: Mike lives here. Mike has young kids here. So Mike has to be here. Think about how difficult that is for him.

My favor that I would ask of you, strongly, is if you see Mike, shake his hand. Tell him thanks for the memories … show him the respect that he deserves.”

Fair enough. Rodgers has tried to graciously move on from the Bleacher Report article, and to make an effort to repair/maintain his relationship with McCarthy.

It’s the right thing to do.

Still, all eyes will be on Rodgers to see if he’s truly buying into LaFleur’s scheme. What choice does he have but to be aboard? And why wouldn’t he be?

When all is said and done this is what matters: LaFleur has an opportunity to write his own history here. He enters the job with open eyes, and if that wasn’t entirely true before last week’s double-barreled barrage of disappointment, it ought to be now.

Perhaps some good can come of this.

Let’s hope so because the Bears aren’t messing around. They intend to capture the NFC North title in back-to-back seasons, beginning with the Thursday night opener.

It will be here sooner than you think.

Meantime, the Packers are beginning operations under a new coach, and GM Brian Gutekunst is just 17 days away from overseeing the Packers’ draft for a second time.

There’s a lot to look forward to.

It’s time to leave the past in the past.