Inside Mike McCarthy's archives: Turning to past to help prep for future

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. -- With the push of a button, Katie Foust opens a moving shelf in a warehouse on South Ashland Avenue.

Within a few seconds, the archival assistant for the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Inc., welcomes the visitors to what she calls, "Mike McCarthy's everything."

It brings an instant smile to McCarthy's face.

He arrives at the building not just for a show-and-tell of the early years of his coaching career -- from his days as a graduate assistant at the University of Pittsburgh to his early stops in the NFL (with the Chiefs, Packers, Saints and 49ers) before he became the Packers head coach in 2006 -- but also to find something out of his own library.

After a quick perusal of one of the shelves, McCarthy, 56, locates it.

"This is a cool book here," he says, pulling a blue binder off the shelf. "This is Dick Nolan's 1985 quarterback manual, from the Dallas Cowboys. With the extra time off, it's been neat to come back down and go through a lot of these books."

On an adjacent shelf is a row of VHS tapes.

One of them is labeled: "Joe Montana workout video, 1993."

"I have every quarterback school [book and video]," he says rattling off a few, such as his year (1999) as Brett Favre's quarterback coach and his first and last quarterback school with Aaron Rodgers (2006 and 2018).

Most of the shelves, however, are lined with a game-by-game history of McCarthy's career. There's a binder for every game in which he ever coached, beginning with the Pitt days in 1989.

On the spine of each binder is the date, the score of the game and the opposing defensive coordinator -- names like Belichick, Tomlin, LeBeau, Haslett, Nolan, Phillips, Ryan (Buddy and Rex) are included.

"As a young coach I started keeping track of the defensive coordinators going back to the Pitt days," McCarthy says. "Everybody saves their offensive playbooks, but this is something I wanted to keep track of."

And it's something McCarthy relied on often, especially early in his career.

The warehouse

A few years into his tenure as the Packers head coach, McCarthy began to run out of room in his then-home on the west side of Green Bay not far from Lambeau Field.

He pondered giving away some of his early books that he didn't think he'd ever use again.

That's when his new father-in-law, Tom Murphy, stepped in shortly after McCarthy got married to the former Jessica Murphy in 2008. Tom Murphy has long served on the executive committee of the Packers Hall of Fame, a separate entity from the team.

"Tom said, 'No, we'll take it at the Hall of Fame,'" McCarthy said. "He actually showed me where they have coach [Vince] Lombardi's files stored away, coach [Mike] Holmgren's stuff. Someday, if they ever want to put up a nice exhibit, they have all this stuff just to show you the process of a coach."

McCarthy is glad Murphy talked him into leaving it with the Hall of Fame.

In the year since he was fired by the Packers, he has spent hours in the warehouse going through not only his archives but those from other successful coaches such as Lombardi and Holmgren.

And not just for nostalgia's sake.

It has served a purpose as he has prepared to interview for head-coaching jobs this time around. This week, he has interviewed with the Carolina Panthers and is expected to interview with more teams in the coming days.

"I've probably been down here a dozen times in the last couple of months trying to get ready," McCarthy says. "I don't ever come here and not say, 'I've got to take this back [because] I think I might need it.'"

Open one of the binders and you'll see everything from weekly schedules of practices and meetings to detailed scouting reports of every player on the opposing team to notes from meetings that week to lists of plays discussed for that game and even actual diagrams of plays.

"This has all the stuff that was given to the players each week," McCarthy says as he opens a binder from the Chiefs' playoff game against the Houston Oilers on Jan. 16, 1994.

McCarthy, then an offensive assistant with the Chiefs, recalled fondly how they lost to the Oilers earlier that season, his first in the NFL, but beat them 28-20 to advance to the AFC Championship Game.

"Here's all the notes you take during the course of the week, plays drawn with handwritten notes, practice schedules, then you get into the game plan," McCarthy says. "These are the plays we were running in that game. It's all handwritten."

McCarthy flips a page to the first 15 scripted plays planned for the game.

"Red left 17 Power," McCarthy says. "With the Bear defense, we had multiple protections in that game because coach [Buddy] Ryan was ahead of his time. The game has advanced so much, but this is how it was done back then."

'The Barn'

To get to the warehouse from Lambeau Field, McCarthy gives a simple instruction.

"Go down your favorite street and then take a right on Ashland," he says on the phone.

He, of course, is referring to Mike McCarthy Way -- the street named for him after he led the Packers to the Super Bowl XLV title.

These days, McCarthy comes from the other direction. It's a seven-mile drive from McCarthy's home in De Pere, Wisconsin, to the warehouse.

After a thorough tour of the warehouse, McCarthy -- with the Dick Nolan quarterback manual in hand -- heads back to what he calls "The Barn." It's a massive, barn-shaped-but-modern building on his property adjacent to his house. It includes a full-court basketball gym, workout facilities, a garage on the first floor and McCarthy's high-tech "football lab" on the second floor.

"A number of these books made it back to 'The Barn' on the primary shelf," McCarthy says. "We have three libraries. All the stuff up to 2009, the Hall of Fame has. Everything from 2010 to 2018 is at 'The Barn.'"

The files from 2010 to 2017 are on shelves in his garage.

The primary shelf upstairs has everything from McCarthy's last season, 2018, and all the work he has done in 2019.

It's where "The McCarthy Project" was born. McCarthy first revealed his year-off plan in an interview with ESPN last spring. Since then, he and several of his former colleagues -- including former Saints head coach Jim Haslett, former Packers quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti and former Packers linebackers coach Scott McCurley -- have done extensive and high-tech studies on both their own previous experiences and on what happened from week to week around the NFL.

McCarthy, who went 135-85-2 (including nine playoff appearances) in his 13 seasons as the Packers head coach, not only has a blueprint for a coaching staff, a refurbished playbook and even practice schedules already done, but he has put together ideas for a heavily staffed team of analytics and football technology departments.

"You're updating this as you're working, but what's been really good is there's a large volume of computer files I did not have access to and we went back and scanned all that stuff to computer files," McCarthy says back at The Barn. "The process of doing that is healthy because it's a new addition. Scotty has been helping with me that.

"A lot of these presentations that you're putting together for interviews, I can say, 'Here's my first team meeting, here's my first meeting with football ops.' That part is pretty close to down. I wanted to stay in the game, keep my mind in the sequencing of what's ahead because every opportunity is different. I just know the head-coaching, program-building component takes time."

And it has been fun, too.

One day at the warehouse, McCarthy found an old Betacam tape he made at Pitt. It was a season highlight film that featured clips from, among others, future NFL players Alex Van Pelt (who would later work as McCarthy's quarterbacks coach for a time in Green Bay) and Curtis Martin (the Hall of Fame running back). He needed a machine to play the tape, and a friend just so happened to have one that would play Beta tapes.

So as Cignetti and McCurley worked at one end of The Barn on cutups from the previous week's NFL games, McCarthy popped the Beta tape into a machine right out of the early 1980s. With MC Hammer's "2 Legit 2 Quit" as the background music, the highlights rolled. There's even a brief moment where a current NFL head coach appears on the screen from inside the Pitt football offices.

"I've got to send this to Jon Gruden," McCarthy says as a young Gruden smiles for the camera. "The game has advanced so much, but this is how it was done back then."