Sean Payton

This could have been the Packers guy.

In 2006, the Green Bay Packers disposed of coach Mike Sherman. The team targeted several potential replacements, two of which are coaching against each other in the NFC Championship game this weekend.

Those men are Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress and New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who were joined by Mike McCarthy, current Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, and then Packers defensive coordinator Jim Bates as candidates for the Packers head job.

With the exception of Bates, who has never been an NFL head coach, that’s a pretty solid list, even with Brad Childress on it.

The question is whether, in hindsight, Packers general manager Ted Thompson choose the best option in McCarthy. So, I decided to take a look at the stats since 2006, when all of these men, with the exception of Phillips, got the head coaching job with their current team. Phillips got the head job in Dallas in 2007, but his previous head coaching stints were ignored for this comparison.

It should be pointed out that none of the four coaches has won an NFC Championship, although that will change on Sunday.

Up to this point, they measure up pretty similarly.

Coach Record Win Pct. Playoffs Playoff App. Div. Titles
Phillips 33-15 .688 1-2 2 2
Payton 38-26 .594 2-1 2 2
McCarthy 38-26 .594 1-2 2 1
Childress 36-28 .563 1-1 2 2

Phillips is the leader in the clubhouse for no other reason than he owns the highest regular-season winning percentage of the bunch since 2006, but this discussion really comes down to the playoffs.

Payton is currently the only member of the group with a winning playoff record, while Phillips’ Cowboys have been miserable in the playoffs. The Cowboys only playoff win came in this season’s wild card round against the Philadelphia Eagles and they were subsequently dominated by Childress’ Vikings the following week.

However, to say Childress is the best of the bunch would be a reach. Not only does he have the worst regular-season record of the group, but he’s won exactly zero playoff games without Brett Favre at quarterback.

That brings us to McCarthy, who, before this season, was the only coach of the four to make the NFC Championship game (2007). Although then-Packers quarterback Favre ultimately threw that game away with a late interception, McCarthy was clearly outcoached by the New York Giants Tom Coughlin. It should be noted that McCarthy is also one division title shy of the other coaches in the mix.

Of course this discussion is premature, since Payton or Childress will become the first coach among the group to win an NFC title this weekend.

If Payton’s Saints win it, that would clearly vault him to the head of the class. In addition to an NFC Championship, he’d also have two more playoff wins than everyone else.

If Childress’ Vikings win it, well… I’m still not sold.

So how did this play out for the Packers?

Well, Childress never got to Green Bay. His agent, Bob LaMonte, used the Packers’ interest as leverage to get a deal done with the Minnesota Vikings and Childress never even interviewed for the job (thank God).

Phillips apparently either didn’t make an impression or was never interviewed. Payton, on the other hand, did make an impression according to Andrew Brandt, who was a vice president with the Packers at the time.

Sean Payton left a lasting impression from his visit. From the moment he walked in, he filled the room with effusive optimism and creative thoughts. I knew Sean from his time with the Giants when he had an interest in my then-client Matt Hasselbeck and saw it then as well. This guy was going places.

The Packers wound up going with McCarthy, whom they liked for several reasons.

McCarthy, of course, was named Packers head coach, partly due to his familiarity with Green Bay (having served as quarterbacks coach in 1999) and partly due to his no-nonsense, Pittsburgh-bred toughness that impressed GM Ted Thompson.

While I’d like to say Thompson made the right choice in hiring McCarthy, it’s hard to overlook Sean Payton and it will be even harder if he gets the Saints to the Super Bowl this season.

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