Green Bay Coach's Game Plan Began In Kansas

Mike McCarthy guided the Green Bay Packers in their transition from quarterback Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. In college at Baker University — a small college in Baldwin City, Kan. — McCarthy was a tight end. But it was there where he learned a lot about football and much about himself as he entered the coaching profession. Now McCarthy has the Packers in the Super Bowl for the first time since the end of the Brett Favre era in Green Bay.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

This Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday, and the Green Bay Packers will try to win their second championship since the end of the Vince Lombardi era. Their opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, will try to win their third Super Bowl in just the last six years.

Green Bay's head coach Mike McCarthy grew up in Pittsburgh, and he's now trying to map out a plan to beat the team he once idolized. Greg Echlin has this profile.

GREG EICHLIN: Before the Green Bay Packers promoted Mike McCarthy five years ago, he had never been a head coach. But Dan Harris says that doesn't mean he was unprepared. Harris was an assistant coach when McCarthy played college football at tiny Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas. Harris says even then, Mike McCarthy was a young man who knew the importance of laying out a plan.

Mr. DAN HARRIS: He was organized. He knew his direction and where he was going. And every decision he made, he consulted people, he thought it through, he looked at trends, at what people were doing, and he had a plan. And I think he stuck with that plan that got him where he is today.

EICHLIN: After the Packers beat the Chicago Bears to win the NFC Championship, McCarthy said he traced his coaching success to his days as a player at Baker.

Mr. MIKE McCARTHY (Football Coach): When you took the field, you felt like you were the best prepared team, so those two years there we had two very good football teams.

EICHLIN: McCarthy spent his early years in the NFL as a quarterbacks coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. One of the quarterbacks he worked with was Rich Gannon, who later led the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl.

Gannon works as a TV sports commentator these days. He says McCarthy has the uncanny ability of seeing a football game through the eyes of a quarterback.

Mr. RICH GANNON (Sports Commentator): Even in this day and age, I think there's certain people that do a better job preparing a quarterback on a weekly basis to go out and play and compete as opposed to others.

And I think Mike at that point was well on his way to being a very good one and, of course, in my opinion developed into one of the best play callers in the business.

EICHLIN: In Baldwin City, Kansas, Baker University students are getting a new education about Mike McCarthy. John Petty, a transfer student here from Las Vegas, is gingerly walking on the campus' icy sidewalk with two of his Vegas buddies. He signed a best wishes card posted in the school's cafeteria a few days ago, though he didn't know the story behind the Packers' head coach.

Mr. JOHN PETTY (Student, Baker University): I knew that he was their coach. I was like, ah, good luck. Why not? I didn't know he went to Baker, though.

EICHLIN: Petty and most of the other 900 students here have learned a lot more lately about the Packers' coach who graduated from Baker in 1986, before most of them were born. After McCarthy left Baker, he learned about defensive play from the coaching staff at Fort Hays State, another small Kansas college.

Mr. McCARTHY: They gave us a lot of responsibilities as graduate assistants. That was a very good experience for me personally to coach defense.

EICHLIN: Now, McCarthy has molded the Packers into a Super Bowl team. But his biggest success seems to be how he managed the dicey Packers quarterback transition. Maybe that's because of his experience at Baker and as a quarterbacks coach.

Mike McCarthy has helped the team successfully turned the page on the era of future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. He's handed over the team's leadership to its present quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.

For NPR news, I'm Greg Echlin.

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