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April 25, 2019

4/13/2019 7:31:00 AM
Shoutouts & Callouts
What to make of all the noise coming from Titletown

Jeremy Mayo
Sports Editor


Are the Green Bay Packers the dysfunctional trainwreck an expose written by Tyler Dunne on Bleacher Report last week portrays them to be? Or are things still rosy and great in Titletown, as Aaron Rodgers claimed this week to ESPN Milwaukee radio?

It's the latest hot-button debate in a controversy-driven sports news cycle, begging for fans to take sides. Diehard Packer-backers - and even some former players in the McCarthy/Rodgers era - have come to the defense of their team, while fans of rival NFC North teams have reveled in the apparent upheaval of the Packers' near quarter-century dominance of the division.

Those who think Mike McCarthy should not have been fired are quick to use the claims in the Dunne story that Rodgers' personality poisoned the team and doomed it to failure. Rodgers supports cling to the bits that portray McCarthy as a person with an over-inflated ego, who "checked out" at points during last season, and that former GM Ted Thompson's lack of activity in free agency and declining health deprived the Packers of have many more than one Lombardi Trophy during the McCarthy/Rodgers era.

Of course, there are three sides to every story. Two sides are taken by the disagreeing factions and somewhere, in the middle lies the third side - the truth.

Divorces are rarely ever neat and tidy. The Packers haven't had many during the last three decades, but two of them were absolute doozies. The first was the split with Brett Favre following the 2007 season - something that Dunne claims only enlarged the chip on Rodgers' shoulder.

Rodgers, the Bleacher Report story alleges, never got over his freefall in the 2005 NFL Draft. And, in an ironic twist of fate was playing for a coach in McCarthy, who helped precipitate that draft day nightmare. After all, McCarthy was at the time the offensive coordinator for the 49ers - a team that took Alex Smith over Rodgers with the No. 1 pick in that draft.

Fast forward to 2008 and matters were made only worse when Rodgers was practically booed off the field during Family Night Scrimmage with the specter of Favre unretiring looming in the background.

Having sat in the stands on that tumultuous, steamy August night, I can attest that the vitriol and venom inside Lambeau Field was real as a large number of Packers fans resented the fact that the team had jettisoned a beloved legend.

Though it has yet to reach Favre-like proportions, the Packers-McCarthy split is definitely not as neat and clean as it was first portrayed with McCarthy was let go following an embarrassing loss to Arizona last December.

The sides took the high road at first but late last month, speaking to ESPN's Rob Demovsky in his first public interview since the firing, McCarthy criticized the team and president Mark Murphy for the seeming lack of compassion shown in the timing and execution of the move.

Then there's the Bleacher Report article that sites named and unnamed players, assistants coaches and scouts who said McCarthy's ego got the best of him, and his unwillingness to adapt and adjust eventually led to his downfall. The story even alleges that McCarthy skipped out of meetings in favor of getting a massage (something that McCarthy denied in his interview with Demovsky).

Of course, the story quotes many - including former Packers players Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley - as saying Rodgers undermined McCarthy every opportunity he got.

Publicly, McCarthy and Rodgers both say that didn't happen, but really what else are they supposed to say? That's not to say they aren't telling us the truth, but do you really expect Rodgers to come out and say, "Yeah, I checked into bad plays and told receivers to run different routes just because I had a beef with my head coach and wanted him fired."

Of course he's not going to say that.

Again, the truth lies somewhere in between. And it may take years to find out the truth - if we ever learn what really happened behind closed doors.

More concerning is that so many - both named and unnamed sources - chose to air their dirty laundry in the manner that they did. It's not something we're accustomed to seeing out of the Packers' locker room. But between the Martellus Bennett fiasco in 2017 and this latest soap opera, it goes to paint a picture that things aren't exactly as great inside the walls at 1265 Lombardi Ave. as Packers' fans would like to believe.

If this alleged feud between Rodgers and McCarthy festered as long as it did, it was masked for quite some time by the success the two had together. Winning, of course, is an excellent deodorant. It's no coincidence that the strife became more visible when the division titles and playoff berths stopped coming.

In that vein, it will be imperative for the Packers to get off on the right foot with new head coach Matt LaFleur -both on and off the field. If this all goes wrong and the Packers endure another season or two of the missing the playoffs with the twilight of Rodgers' career in view, it could be the beginning of a downward spiral that reverts Green Bay back to the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s.

Extra Point: Virginia's national title win a championship for Wisconsin

Virginia's run from punchline to national champion cannot be understated. But something else needs to be considered when considering how Tony Bennett's Cavaliers went from being the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 in NCAA Tournament history, to cutting down the nets as national champions in Minneapolis one year later - there's plenty of Wisconsin ties to the success.

Tony was a standout first at Green Bay Preble High School, this at UW-Green Bay. His father, Dick, led Wisconsin to the Final Four back in 2000, using the same, stifling defense that Virginia has used to become a national power over the last decade.

But the Bennett coaching tree has deeper roots than that, roots that trace all the way back to the Hodag city. Before leading UW-Stevens Point to back-to-back NCAA Division III men's basketball titles in 2004 and 2005, Jack Bennett - Tony's uncle - was the head coach of the Rhinelander Hodags.

Jack Bennett coached at RHS from 1990 to 1996. Back in 2014, Jack Bennett ran a camp in Rhinelander with a message that can be traced from Rhinelander to Stevens Point to Madison and all the way to Charlottesville, Va.

"There's a great tradition of excellent basketball (in Rhinelander) and my message to those players is just do things right, do things with quality, learn the game the right way and, you know what, the wins, the losses, the expectations will take care of itself," Jack Bennett told the River News at the time. "Too often (with) players, and sometimes fans and parents, the pressure is to win. I believe that winning is the result of doing things with quality instead of worrying about the quantity."

Look up quality in the dictionary - in terms of doing things the right way both on and off the court - and you are bound to find a picture of Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers.

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at jeremy@rivernewsonline.com.





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