GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Less than a week ago, someone asked Joe Philbin if he ever entertains the idea of becoming a head coach again.
It has been more than three years since he was fired as the Dolphins head coach after a 24-28 record in a little more than three seasons.
“Not to be evasive. Right now I’m focused on doing as good a job right here and right now as I possibly can,” Philbin said, referring to his role as the Green Bay Packers’ offensive coordinator. “But with that said, it’s a difficult job. It can be a lonely job.”
Just ask his wife, Diane.
Monday was the Philbins' 30th wedding anniversary. It was also the day Joe Philbin was introduced as the Packers' interim head coach, one day after his longtime boss, Mike McCarthy, was fired.
"It is our 30th anniversary today, so she’s expecting a big dinner and everything,” Philbin said Monday.
Then he rolled his eyes and said: “Don’t hold her breath.”
It was an emotional return to the big chair for the 57-year-old Philbin. He worked for McCarthy in two stints -- from McCarthy’s first season in 2006 until he was hired by the Dolphins in 2012 and then again this season. When he returned in January, Philbin said his job was to “help Mike McCarthy be the smartest playcaller in the NFL.”
“You come back here, and you want to be part of the solution,” Philbin said. “You want to help a guy that’s been a great man, he’s been a great coach, been a friend, and you feel like you let him down. So it’s been busy, and I told the team: What he’s done here speaks up for itself. You know, I know how he feels. I’ve been through it. It’s not fun.”
Now it will be Philbin’s job to call plays -- something he didn’t do when he was the head coach in Miami -- for at least the final four games of the season. Packers president Mark Murphy said Philbin is “a legitimate candidate.”
“He’s as fine a man as I think you’ll meet,” Murphy said. “But he’s also been part of some of our best teams here, the Super Bowl team and the teams around that era. And another advantage, quite honestly, of making the change now rather than after the season is this gives us an opportunity to see Joe as our head coach for four games, see how the team responds and see how the coaches and others respond.”
Just like when he was asked the question last week, however, Philbin wasn’t interested in looking into the future. Instead, he put the number 13 on the screen in front of the room at Monday’s team meeting.
“I said, ‘Look, all we, we’ve got one thing to think about, and that’s our 13th game against the Atlanta Falcons, a good football team coming to Lambeau Field at 12 o’clock [on Sunday], and we’ve got to do things better -- all of us,’” Philbin said. “And I told them, ‘The No. 1 responsibility that you have is to be a professional -- period. We all have a job to do. We all have to do it better.’ Players and coaches, I said, so it wasn’t all on them, it wasn’t all on us.”
Philbin said there won’t be any major changes in the way the Packers operate, but he asked the offensive staff, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and special-teams coordinator Ron Zook one thing: “Let’s see if we can identify three or four things that we can really sink our teeth into, and we don’t care what the Falcons do, we can execute these calls. That’s really ... we’ve got to kind of establish an identity that way. Not interested in a ton of new schemes. If we can streamline it a little bit, I think that would be fine, too. But it’s more about playing the game the right way, getting some momentum as a football team, playing some complementary football, scoring some more points and keeping people out of the end zone.”
Most thought Philbin’s return to the Packers would be good for the offense and good for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Philbin coordinated the offense in the first of Rodgers’ two MVP seasons and earned the respect of the quarterback.
“Joe and I have been around each other for a long time,” Rodgers said. “Again, a lot of mutual respect there. He’s been our offensive coordinator for a couple of stints. He was in a different room when I got here in ’05, but I’ve always appreciated his approach and his work ethic and his communication style. We’ll just try and do the best we can these next four weeks on communicating and finishing this thing up the right way.”
For Philbin, this is a chance to show that he has learned from some of the mistakes he made in Miami. As the self-deprecating Philbin said, “We don’t have time to cover all the mistakes I made.”
But one of them, he said, was forgetting to trust his instincts.
“You have to do that, and you have to make some more gut decisions,” Philbin said. “There’s some that came perfectly true that I can look back on and know. And that’s part of the learning process.”
Philbin trusted his gut when he returned to the Packers 11 months ago, something he knew wouldn’t be easy for him and his family. Just days before he took the job in Miami, his son Michael drowned in the half-frozen Fox River that bisects Green Bay. It was just last month that Philbin and his wife felt comfortable enough to speak in-depth about it with ESPN.com.
“I’ve got to be the same guy,” Philbin said. “That’s probably mistake No. 2, since you’re bringing all these up. I’ve got to be the same person -- not that I wasn’t in Miami. Again, I love coaching, I love football. This is a good group of men. I look forward to working with each and every one. I told the defensive guys, ‘Hey, let’s be honest, I don’t have the same kind of working relationship with you guys that I have with the other guys.’ I told them a little bit about me and what I believe, three or four things, I told them I want to see you be professional, be accountable, be respectful and be punctual. If you do those four things, we’ll never have a problem.”