There's an awful lot of smoke, now, to the rumor that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is going to hand over the play-calling duties to his former offensive coordinator. The question now becomes: what does it mean? (Spoiler alert: nobody knows.)
It was first reported by a local radio station that OC Tom Clements will be promoted to associate head coach and assume the play-calling duties from McCarthy, and a handful of national reported have chimed in with vague reports of staff changes. Now the Green Bay Press-Gazette independently reports that McCarthy is "strongly considering" handing the reins to Clements.
McCarthy has called the plays since taking over in Green Bay in 2006, and would appear to have done a fine job: the Packers are regularly at or near the top of the league in most offensive metrics, though having the world's best QB has something to do with that. But since winning it all in 2010, the Packers have failed to back get over the hump, and McCarthy has come in for criticism of his game management—specifically, calling plays appropriate to the score and to the clock.
That all sort of came to a head in the NFC Championship, when the Packers couldn't protect a 12-point lead with the ball and five minutes remaining. (The Seahawks' improbable collapse may have overshadowed it somewhat, but let's never, ever forget just how near-impossible Green Bay's meltdown was.)
Aaron Rodgers spoke to how the Packers turtled, instead of going with what had served them so well for the entire season plus the first three-and-a-half quarters of that game:
"We had some chances early, had some chances late to do some things and didn't do it," Rodgers said. "When you go back and think about it, at times we weren't playing as aggressive as we usually are."
McCarthy, in his postgame press conference, refused to second-guess himself. "If you want to question my playcalling..." he said, trailing off. "I'm not questioning it."
Last offseason, McCarthy said that if he felt the team would be better off with him focusing on big-picture things while someone else handles the plays, "I'd give that up." So maybe there's no big power play here—after all, Bill Belichick increasingly ceded play-calling duties to Bill O'Brien and then Josh McDaniels, and that worked out well. And Aaron Rodgers has near-total freedom to run whatever play he wants, anyway. As a practical matter, not much will change with Clements running things. But McCarthy's been the coach for nine seasons now, an eternity in NFL terms. If you wanted to, you could read this as his final chance to figure out an arrangement that works; or a way to ease the eventual transition away from McCarthy, whenever that happens.