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Holmgren vs. McCarthy: The Debate Ends This Season

Holmgren vs. McCarthy: The Debate Ends This Season

Ask yourself this question: who are the greatest coaches in the history of the Green Bay Packers?

The first two names that come to mind are no brainers.

Some may argue that Curly Lambeau is the best coach in the history of the team. How could one not  give him strong consideration? A founding father of not only the Packers but also the NFL, Lambeau led the Packers to a 212-106-21 record (.667 winning percentage) and 6 NFL titles during his tenure. He is the reason the Packers ever came into existence, and his legacy cannot and should not be overlooked.

The second name that has to be mentioned is Vince Lombardi. A coach who carried a presence larger than life, Lombardi took a pathetic Packers franchise and restored it to glory during his career in Green Bay. Going a ridiculous 98-30-4 (.766 winning percentage) Lombardi won 5 NFL titles in 7 years, and  in that time coaching the Packers, established himself as (in my opinion) the greatest coach in the history of the NFL.

It is beyond Lambeau and Lombardi that the pantheon of coaches gets a little murky. Names like Bengston, Infante, and Rhodes litter the history of the Packers. But I believe that the debate as to which coach should take their place after the two giants will be decided this year.

When Mike Holmgren arrived, he was exactly what the Packers needed. The hot coaching prospect at the time, Holmgren was a disciple of the Bill Walsh offense, which had won 3 Super Bowls during the 1980's. Teamed up with Bob Harlan and Ron Wolf on the executive end,  and players like Brett Favre, Reggie White, and Leroy Butler on the field, Holmgren made the Packers winners again. In his 7 year stay in Green Bay, Holmgren went 84-42 (.667 winning percentage) including 9-5 in the playoffs. Winning Super Bowl 31 helped cement his place as one of the greatest coaches in Packers history.

Mike McCarthy's story is similar in many regards to Holmgren's. While not the highly sought after candidate, McCarthy took over a team which had been stripped of much of its talent and had to rebuild. And rebuild they have. With Ted Thompson on a never ending mission to stockpile talent, McCarthy has been able to bring the Packers back to the top of the NFL mountain. Going 68-36 thus far as coach, McCarthy has added to his resume the past two seasons by winning Super Bowl XLV and following it up with a franchise best 15-1 regular season record, and is still adding to his legacy.

That narrows it down to Holmgren or McCarthy for third best coach in Packers history. That is a difficult decision.

At this point, I have to give the edge to Holmgren. If for no other reason, Holmgren never had a losing record during the regular season. His worst coaching record was 9-7 (three times) but two of those seasons included trips to the playoffs. McCarthy has suffered one losing season (6-10 after 2008) and and 8-8 record during his first season in 2006. The 6-10 record looks especially poor considering it came on the heels of a 13-3 season and a trip to the NFC Championship Game. One can blame the Summer of Favre was a distraction to that team. How well a team can respond to adversity goes a long way in determining how good a coach really is, and at that time, McCarthy was not nearly as effective a coach as he is now.

Not that Holmgren is perfect. Far from it. His teams were designed for multiple Super Bowl titles, and only won one. Losing Super Bowl 32 was especially painful. And Holmgren's flirtation with the Seahawks while still coach of the Packers was distracting. His legacy could have been much more secure if he could have maximized his time in Green Bay by either staying longer or winning another title. Instead, the door was left open for someone to supersede him.

So what does McCarthy need to do this year to move past Holmgren? Simple: win the Super Bowl. There are only two other coaches who have won multiple titles with the Packers, and you see where they are on this list. Adding another Super Bowl victory not only pushes McCarthy past Holmgren, but he then begins his march toward Lombardi/Lambeau in the discussion. Going to the playoffs is nice, but failing in the playoffs will not help. McCarthy needs to win another Super Bowl for this discussion to end.

As McCarthy enters his seventh year coaching the Packers, the expectations are greater than ever. Holmgren had seven years to make his mark on Packers history. This is going to be an interesting subplot to keep an eye on during the season.

Holmgren vs. McCarthy. The debate ends this year


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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (11) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

CheeseheadKevin's picture

Good article. I enjoyed reading it. Lets hope for another title this year. Go pack Go

JohnRehor's picture

Thank you. Glad you liked it. Go Pack Go!

J.R. Augustine's picture

There are a ton of factors that can play into who wins this debate, but I think you hit the nail on the head... bottom line... it's about winning the Super Bowl.

JohnRehor's picture

It's an interesting topic, and have heard pros and cons for both. Will be interesting to see how things pan out over the course of the season. Hopefully it ends with MM and company back on top of the NFL

Mike Smith's picture

Well, it can end here... If McCarthy doesn't win this yr but wins 2 more in the next couple yrs, does he not pass Holmgren?
Good article though, I enjoyed reminiscing the Holmgren yrs!

JohnRehor's picture

Of course he would, but I was trying to compare the same number of years coaching (7 for each). Can always wonder what would have happened if Holmgren stayed, while we are seeing what is happening with MM since he is still coaching.

Glad you liked it-thanks for reading!

Mike Smith's picture

I'd love to see you do an instillation on Wolf vs Thompson

JohnRehor's picture

Was thinking about doing this as well. Keep an eye out for it-will try to have it done before the start of the season

Ace731's picture

It always makes me wonder what could have been if holmgren stayed. He was the only coach that had the reigns on favre. But they only won 1 super bowl. And they should have been in many more. Interesting none the less.

toolkien's picture

Just as we may be at a tipping point for the 3rd best coach, we may also be a tipping point for the 2nd best era of the last ~70 years, displacing the mid-90's 2nd to the 60's. But it all depends on how these next few years go, obviously. There had been slightly more sustain the last five years, but the "bulge" was bigger in the mid-90's (i.e. 1996 being one of the best teams of the modern era). Another championship will settle the matter on just about every front.

It has been great to have had these three windows of opportunity ('95-'98/'01-'04/'07-'11) which had the Pack as one of the top tier teams over the last 2 decades. Let's just hope that the Pack can refrain from giving the ball away hot-and-heavy in the playoffs which has afflicted a large proportion of the second two windows (2010 being the exception).

In the end, comparing the two coaches, and separating potency (the GM's job) from consistency (the HC's job), Holmgren I think got more consistency from his teams than McCarthy has been getting from his. That I think is true even with the 19 game winning streak which am pretty well settled had to do with such overwhelming potency by the GM versus solid consistency from the HC. That's not to run McCarthy way down, this is a relative thing and McCarthy is still pretty high overall.

JohnRehor's picture

You bring up a good point about the current era the Packers are playing in. Where they wind up historically remains to be seen, but there is a good possibility they could displace the Holmgren/Sherman era (not going to include the Rhodes cup of coffee tenure in the discussion)

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