NFC Championship

Coaches' futures matter more than their pasts

Commentary

January 20, 2008|By DAVID STEELE

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy reportedly has agreed to a contract extension that will double his current salary to $4 million a year. His New York Giants counterpart, Tom Coughlin, is virtually a lock to get his reward of a contract extension soon. The two men face off this afternoon for a berth in the Super Bowl.

John Harbaugh, settling into his new digs in Owings Mills today, surely would smile at all of the above.

Especially about McCarthy, because there aren't many better examples for the Ravens' new coach to draw inspiration, and counterattacks for him to offer to those who doubt his credentials.

McCarthy is living proof that good coaches can come from the most unlikely places - and, more important, that likely places should never be the only ones searched for head coaching candidates.

Who, in the 2005-06 offseason, would have considered the San Francisco 49ers' offensive staff a cradle of NFL head coaches? McCarthy's star had been on the rise for a while before his one season as the 49ers' offensive coordinator - but in that one season, 2005, the unit finished last in the league.

Yet the Packers handed him the reins of a young team in major transition, which had just missed the playoffs for the first time in 14 years and was essentially being held hostage by Brett Favre and his annual offseason diva routine. (Supposedly, dealing with a locker room dominated by Ray Lewis is a fierce challenge for Harbaugh; McCarthy probably would laugh out loud at a cushy gig like that.)

The brass kept saying McCarthy was the right "fit." Sure looks that way: In tonight's NFC championship game, McCarthy will be looking for his 19th win in his past 22 regular-season and playoff games. As much credit as he has gotten for wrenching the Packers back in the right direction, connecting with Favre, blending old and young on the roster and bringing a storied franchise back to the NFL's elite ... he probably still hasn't gotten enough credit.

However, he soon will get the dollars, which is just as good, if not better.

Coughlin, meanwhile, brings a whole different lesson book for Harbaugh to study. Before taking over the Giants in 2004, he had made his bones in college and the NFL, with a conference title-game trip with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But for the first three years in Jersey, his drill-sergeant style earned him more player indifference (if not rebellion) and national ridicule than victories. This season's 0-2 start put a contract extension on the verge of being irrelevant - you had to wonder if his career would extend to the end of the season.

Now that he has gotten the Giants off the mat and into tonight's game, the leap many have made is that his gruff, my-way-or-the-highway demeanor sank in and was proved correct. Not quite. It's more that he figured out that he couldn't afford to stay that way all the time, and that reaching his players in a different way was the only option left. If this sounds a little like the dilemma Brian Billick faced two years ago, it should. The results were not dissimilar.

Players saw him as less of an obstacle and more of a partner in a common quest. Coughlin figured out how to push the various buttons on the team, instead of pushing one for them all. Virtually every place the Giants had problems playing to their potential - with Eli Manning, Plaxico Burress, Brandon Jacobs, the entire defense - the problems disappeared. Now they've taken the hardest route possible to this game, playing all on the road.

The ability and willingness to evolve as a coach, no matter how old, how successful and how convinced you are that you're right, is always an asset. It's something Harbaugh can call on if he hits a speed bump early on or later in his tenure.

Coughlin and McCarthy come into this game from different directions. No two coaches are alike, successful coaches aren't cut from the exact same mold, and nobody ever won a Lombardi Trophy with his resume.

Harbaugh, at age 45 and with no experience as high as the coordinator level in the NFL, has two role models worth following. If he gets the Ravens this far one day, the titles he used to hold and the roadblocks he might have to hurdle won't mean much anymore.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

David Steele -- Points after

Even more perplexing than Rex Ryan's snubbing in the just-completed Ravens head coaching search was the absence of Mike Singletary's name from the list. Or any team's list. After the dance with Jason Garrett and the choice of John Harbaugh, if even one utterance of "He's not ready yet" escapes anybody's lips ...

As for Ryan, if he's comfortable accepting his old job back under a new coach, it would be a relief. If he's not, it would be completely understandable.

Is it too much of a stretch to say that if an injury-riddled, Norv Turner-coached team beats an undefeated, record-setting, Bill Belichick-coached team on the road with a Super Bowl trip on the line, it would be the biggest upset in the history of civilization?

Somewhere, Rafael Palmeiro is wagging a finger at the Miguel Tejada developments and saying, "I told you so."

A respected broadcaster was suspended for two weeks, a magazine editor was fired, mass quantities of a magazine were pulled from circulation and the nation is buzzing, for better or worse, about one of the uglier chapters of American history. Not quite the "non-issue" you claimed it was, huh, Tiger?

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.