GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mark Murphy didn’t just fire Mike McCarthy on Dec. 2 and then take the next month off. While the Green Bay Packers president might not hire his next coach until early February, depending on where his choice is currently employed, it doesn’t mean he and general manager Brian Gutekunst haven’t been actively working on their search.
In fact, they’ve already started to vet candidates and could begin to set up preliminary interviews.
NFL rules prohibit them from talking to currently employed coaches during the regular season or hiring them until their season is over. The so-called Josh McDaniels rule change, one that would allow to teams to lock up a coach while his team was still alive in the postseason, was never enacted.
But at this point, college coaches and anyone unemployed are fair game.
What’s more, Murphy has decided not to use a search firm, according to a person familiar with the process. That means he and his staff will handle the entire process. In the past, Murphy has used Jed Hughes of the consulting firm Korn Ferry to assist with hires, and it was at times met with criticism for taking something so important outside the organization. The Packers used Hughes to pick candidates when Murphy was hired as president in 2007, and Murphy in turn used Hughes to help with several openings, including when he forced out Ted Thompson as general manager and hired Gutekunst 11 months ago.
This hire, more than anything Murphy has done for the Packers, will shape his legacy as club president.
“The advantage of doing it now is really [to] start kind of identifying candidates,” Murphy said the day after he fired McCarthy and made Joe Philbin the interim head coach. “You can start to talk to certain people. Coaches that are still coaching you have to wait until after the season, and there are rules around the playoffs. But it gives us a little bit of a head start.”
With that in mind, here’s a look at what Murphy and Gutekunst can and cannot do at this point:
What the Packers can do
Evaluate Philbin: Murphy called Philbin a “legitimate candidate,” and his four-game audition got off to a strong start with Sunday’s convincing win over the Falcons. His stock could rise even more with a win over the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field. Murphy and Gutekunst also get to interact with Philbin on a daily basis in his new role. The trio met last Friday, and Philbin said “communication has been very good.”
Interview college coaches: Given Murphy’s background in college athletics (he served as athletic director at Northwestern immediately before he came to the Packers) and Gutekunst’s ties to college football (he broke into the NFL as a college scout and later became the Packers’ director of college scouting), it wouldn’t be a surprise if they tap candidates from the college game. Jim Harbaugh (Michigan), Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma) and Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern) could be among them. And remember, college coaches who say they’re staying in college (like Harbaugh did recently) might be doing that just to make sure recruits don’t decommit.
Interview out-of-work NFL coaches: Why would the Packers hire someone who’s out of coaching? It’s unlikely, but John DeFilippo, the former Vikings offensive coordinator who was fired Monday, probably was on Murphy’s initial list. He and DeFilippo’s father, Gene, were said to be close friends during their days as college athletic directors.
Hire a current college coach or someone out of the NFL: The expectation is that Murphy will give Philbin the rest of the season, but if he decided to pick someone from the above categories, he could make the hire immediately. It’s unlikely he would do that without exploring all possibilities, but it is allowable.
What the Packers can’t do
Talk to coaches currently employed: Murphy can do all the background checks he wants, but he can’t talk to anyone -- head coach or assistant coach -- whose team is still playing games. As for playoff teams, he can conduct interviews during wild-card week but only if that coach works for a team that has a first-round bye. If Murphy were interested in a winning wild-card participant, he could interview that coach only in the week leading up to the divisional playoff game. No initial interviews can be conducted after the divisional weekend for any coach whose team is still alive. However, between the conference title games and the Super Bowl, an assistant who previously interviewed can have a second interview provided that his current team agrees to an acceptable time and place no later than the Sunday before the Super Bowl.
Hire a coach on a team whose season is still alive: There was a push last offseason for this rule to be changed after the Colts had an agreement in place with McDaniels, who then backed out. McDaniels, who almost certainly will be on the Packers' list, decided to return to his job as the Patriots' offensive coordinator, and the Colts couldn’t do anything about it because they couldn’t sign McDaniels to a contract until after the Patriots lost to the Eagles in the Super Bowl. The competition committee’s proposal died because of the fear that coaches might be distracted from their playoff duties even though they couldn’t technically begin their new job until their team was eliminated.