Packers coach McCarthy is better than legendary Lombardi

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 19, 2011 - 6:55 AM

Mike McCarthy will need to win about five Super Bowls before most Packers fans will elevate him to Vince Lombardi's exalted status, but I say he's already a better coach.

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Packers coach Mike McCarthy (left) reinvigorated one Hall of Fame quarterback, Brett Favre, and might have created another in Aaron Rodgers.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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If he wins his next two games, Packers coach Mike McCarthy will get to hold the Lombardi Trophy, that symbol of NFL excellence and homage to the presumed greatest coach of all time.

Which is funny, because if I had to win an NFL playoff game today, I'd rather have McCarthy on the sideline than ol' St. Vince.

McCarthy will need to win about five Super Bowls before most Packers fans will elevate him to Lombardi's exalted status. I say he's already a better coach than Vinny, and any Packers fan who doesn't agree should get with the century and embrace modern developments. Such as electricity, and the forward pass.

Lombardi dominated 14- and 16-team leagues. To win his first four NFL titles, he had to win either one or two postseason games. Today, becoming the best of 16 teams and winning one or two postseason games would get you to the conference title game, a level reached by such legends as Jim Mora, Denny Green, Brad Childress and Steve Mariucci.

Lombardi took advantage of a league that viewed the forward pass as an occasionally necessary evil. The Packers who won the 1961 NFL title ranked ninth in the 14-team league with 168 passing yards per game.

If a McCarthy-coached team ever averaged 168 yards passing, he'd be Macalester's offensive coordinator the following year.

In today's NFL, the quarterback is the fulcrum of an elaborate and intricate mechanism featuring dozens of formations and hundreds of plays. In Lombardi's NFL, the quarterback was a UPS man, required to deliver a leather object from the center to the halfback.

Lombardi dominated the NFL by demanding toughness from his players. That was easy when concussions were referred to as "seeing stars.''

In McCarthy's NFL, one more blow to Aaron Rodgers' head could end the season, and if he asked Rodgers to "gut it out,'' McCarthy would be subjected to public ridicule, if not legal action.

The NFL was so primitive during Lombardi's rise that he gained a marked advantage over the rest of the league by -- I'm not making this up -- making his players work out.

The level of physical fitness required by the average backup tackle in today's NFL made the Packers physically superior to the competition in the 1960s.

Remember, Lombardi dominated a league that had yet to embrace the concept of the short pass. Lombardi became a coaching giant by emphasizing -- I'm not making this up -- the "sweep.''

Imagine if a current NFL coach tried to win with a playbook designed around the power sweep. Even Childress, who wanted to build his offense around power running when he took over the Vikings, eventually acknowledged that an intricate passing offense was necessary to win in today's NFL.

In Lombardi's NFL, he could line up his assortment of indentured Hall of Famers and run over the opposition.

In an NFL filled with remarkably fast, powerful defenders, McCarthy has resorted to using three-back and five-receiver sets during the same drive.

Lombardi's team was never threatened by free agency or salary caps. McCarthy has been forced, because of free agency and injuries, to remake his team almost weekly. His best defender during the playoffs has been Tramon Williams, who was once released by Houston, and his best back has been James Starks, a rookie sixth-round draft pick.

Lombardi relied on one Hall of Fame quarterback, Bart Starr. McCarthy reinvigorated one Hall of Famer, Brett Favre, and may have created another in Rodgers.

Lombardi reaped the benefit of coaching on the Frozen Tundra, giving his players a dramatic home-field advantage. Today, Lambeau Field and its sidelines are heated, making Lambeau just another outdoor stadium to opponents.

Clearly, McCarthy is the better coach. But in the interest of even-handedness, we have to give Lombardi this: He was the better dresser.

McCarthy always looks like he just got done mowing the lawn. Lombardi dressed like a champ -- the champion of a small, backward, league.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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