GREEN BAY, Wis. – To most players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster, the only connection they have with Mike McCarthy is when their car tires touch the pavement on the street that borders their practice fields named in his honor.
If they even notice the street sign that reads “Mike McCarthy Way,” that is.
Only 10 players remain on the Packers’ roster from McCarthy’s tenure as their head coach, and three of them played less than a full season for him. To the other seven, though, he’s more than just the name of a two-block stretch of roadway that connects Ashland Avenue and Oneida Street in the village of Ashwaubenon.
Some kept in touch with him after his nearly 13-season tenure as the Packers' coach ended when he was fired with four games left in the 2018 season. Others were surprised to learn that even though he’s in his third season as the Dallas Cowboys coach, McCarthy still spends part of his summers in the area. He and his family kept their home in suburban De Pere and a vacation retreat on the nearby Door County peninsula.
The "McCarthy seven" were asked for their favorite memories or lasting impressions of their former coach, who will be on the opposite sideline at Lambeau Field for the first time when he brings the 6-2 Cowboys to town on Sunday to face the 3-6 Packers (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox).
McCarthy arrived in Green Bay in 2006 at the start of Rodgers’ second season in the NFL. Rodgers did not become the starting quarterback until 2008, after the Packers traded Brett Favre, but McCarthy spent part of those early years working with Rodgers during offseason workouts.
They won Super Bowl XLV in Rodgers’ third season as a starter, and Rodgers said one of the things that still stands out today is that McCarthy wanted the players to feel confident going into that game, so he had them sized for their Super Bowl rings the night before the contest.
“Getting sized the night before the Super Bowl will always be a special memory -- that whole night. We delayed the team meeting 15 minutes or so because a couple of guys were on the piano playing some songs. You just kind of felt that moment was special. I appreciated his delaying things and allowing that moment to exist, and getting sized for your ring, just the confidence we had and the kind of statement was always really special.
“Mike and I started meeting Thursdays after practice for many, many years, in 2009 or '10 I think it was. Those were always fun. Those could go 30 minutes or four hours. You’d start getting to story time. It just bonded us over the years, those conversations. I always appreciated that. I have a lot of gratitude for the offseasons we went through. Obviously the rules are a little bit different [now], but that helped me become a better player. I’ll always be really thankful for that time, especially those early offseasons.”
Rodgers recalled a visit he made to McCarthy’s house on Christmas Day in 2013, when Rodgers was trying to return from a broken collarbone.
“I hit him up in the afternoon and said hey, ‘Once things are winding down with the kids, I’d like to come over and have a conversation with you.’ So I went over, I think he had a couple Iron City [beers], I can’t remember exactly, I might’ve had one just to make him not drink alone, but I wasn’t ever really an Iron City guy. But we had a long conversation about my desire to play the following week against Chicago, and that was a really memorable conversation. Obviously, it was Christmas and that has a whole myriad of emotions it brings into it, but that time and that conversation is always one that stands out to me.”
Other than Rodgers, Crosby played the most time under McCarthy (nearly 12 seasons). The kicker was a sixth-round pick in 2007 and is now the Packers’ career scoring leader. In the middle of his career, Crosby went through a prolonged slump when he missed 12 field goals in 2012, yet McCarthy stuck with him.
“That meant a lot. We always had a great relationship. The fact that he stood behind me and a lot of guys in this locker room. He was always committed to trying to build what we had from within and try to make something special. I’ll always be grateful and thankful to him for all the opportunities he gave me. Thankful to him all the time for him always having my back and being my guy through the good and bad.
“He’s a very loyal, amazing guy. He was always true to himself -- a guy from Pittsburgh and those roots he had from there. You always knew he was going to come in and be a hard-working guy and demand that out of his players. So from the beginning, I just always got that blue-collar vibe from him that he’s going to come in and be a grinder and make sure that he worked as hard as he could.
“It’s good to see them having some success down there [in Dallas]. It’s going to be, I’m sure for him, a little bittersweet coming back.”
The receiver was a second-round pick in 2011 and played in Green Bay through the 2018 season. He returned to the Packers in 2021 after spending one season with the Cowboys (2019, before McCarthy was hired) and one with Texans (2020).
“I’ll never forget being at the combine and going to meet with the Packers and going through the interviews. You get 15 minutes with each team, and they drag you from one team to another, and I’ll never forget when I was leaving that meeting, Mike said, ‘I wish I could take you right now.’ He gave me a T-shirt, and I remember wearing the T-shirt home, and my buddy picked me up from the airport, and I had on the Packers’ T-shirt. I’ll never forget that moment because it was like he believed in me in that moment and throughout my career.
“He played a huge part in my career. After my rookie year, he told me in the exit meeting, ‘I’ve got to find a way to get you on the field and get you the ball more.’ My second year, even though we were deep at receiver, that’s when he started integrating me as a running back and motioning me out of the backfield and doing different things. I have a ton of respect and I’m very thankful for the coach that he was and the role he played in my career.
“I was actually really close to going back to Dallas when he went down to Dallas. I probably would’ve never left and never would’ve ended up back here.”
A fourth-round pick in 2013, Bakhtiari wasn’t supposed to start as a rookie. But when Bryan Bulaga tore an ACL in training camp, Bakhtiari was thrown in at left tackle, becoming the Packers’ first rookie to start there for an entire season. When healthy, he has held the job ever since.
“Mike was my first exposure to the NFL, and some of my fondest moments was doing the exit evaluations [after the season]. I was just a Day 3, fourth-round pick who was trying to work his ass off, and after my third year, I was asking him what I could do better to help out the team. I always wanted to end [each season] with that. And after that third year, he was just like, ‘You just keep doing exactly what you’re doing, can’t wait to have you back, and let’s get [contract] negotiations going and let’s get a long-term deal done.’
"Hearing your head coach say that, I was over the moon. I’ll never forget that conversation. I can’t think about my career without thinking about Mike McCarthy. Hearing him and Aaron talk about winning [a Super Bowl], that stuff has always stuck in my mind.
“I’ve had a text message or two [since McCarthy was fired]. When I had my [knee] injury in 2020, he reached out and I appreciated it.”
Settled on a location for this week's Friday @SportsCenter huddle report previewing the Packers game vs. Mike McCarthy's Dallas Cowboys. pic.twitter.com/YoGdSALLJF— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) November 10, 2022
A defensive tackle from UCLA and a California native, Clark knew little about the history of the Packers when they picked him in the first round (No. 27 overall) of the 2016 draft.
“He made sure everybody understood this isn’t like a regular team -- whether it was the historical statistics he used to put or different things about the Packers' tradition and about Green Bay, you understand the importance of the history.
“It was always about the standard, the standard of this locker room, and having what it takes and doing the work that you’ve got to put in to be great. When you get here and you talk to him and the late [general manager] Ted Thompson, you’d talk to those guys and they’d make you understand what it means to wear that G.”
Like Clark, Lowry was in the 2016 draft; he was a fourth-round pick. It was something that happened after McCarthy was fired that sticks with the defensive end the most. It was when McCarthy came back to speak to the players and coaches a few days after he was let go.
“He came in and you could tell he was emotional, like we all were after that happened. He stood up and thanked us for our efforts and for never quitting on him. That said a lot about Coach McCarthy’s character coming back in there and facing the room and being genuine and telling us how he thought about us and being a straight shooter. I’m sure a lot of coaches would have moved on, but you could tell he actually cared about the guys in the room and the coaches to come in on his own and tell us how he felt and just to wish us well.
“He used to host the McCarthy Olympics at his house during training camp where all the guys would go over and play a bunch of different games. He’d have different team functions at his little compound there in De Pere, and those were always fun. It’s pretty cool that he’s still around here [in the offseason] and he still has that street named after him in McCarthy Way. It’s cool to see his legacy.”
The running back was a fifth-round pick in 2017, which was McCarthy’s second-to-last draft as coach and the final draft that Thompson ran before he was moved to a consulting position
“He gave me my start here in the NFL. I was always thankful to him for drafting me. My first start actually came against Dallas, and it’s crazy to think about him there now. Him and [running backs coach Ben] Sirmans were like, ‘The other guys are hurt, you’re up.’
“They had a little bit of confidence in me, not as much as this staff does, but I’m pretty sure that’s why I saw the field some and started some games early on because they believed in me. He always told us that. [When McCarthy came back after he was fired], he told us that he loved us, that this was his passion, and when you get an opportunity, make the most of it and don’t take anything for granted, and it was an honor and a pleasure to be the coach of the Green Bay Packers for so long.”