Green Bay Packers’ assistant head coach Tom Clements slipped out of Green Bay with barely a tip of the cap a few weeks ago. On January 26, coach Mike McCarthy announced that Clements’ contract had expired and would not be renewed. There are several nuances to this news that deserve more exploration and contemplation.
Promoted Out of a Job
As we reported at the time, Clements’ position had become a redundancy. Here’s how that came about. Clements went through the typical NFL coaching journey: after playing quarterback for four Canadian pro teams and the Kansas City Chiefs from 1975 through 1987, Clements coached on the Saints, Chiefs, Steelers, and Bills from 1997 through 2005.
What about that gap in the late 80s and early 90s? He graduated magna cum laude from Notre Dame law school, and spent five years thereafter practicing law in Chicago. Smart guy — I’d guess there aren’t a lot of other attorneys coaching in the NFL.
Less than three weeks after McCarthy was hired by Green Bay, he selected Clements to be his quarterbacks coach. A year later, Clements guided 38-year-old Brett Favre to perhaps his best season in Green Bay: 4,155 passing yards, 66.5 completion percentage, 28 TDs, and a 13-3 record. It was Brett’s final year with the team.
Clements then turned his attention to the new starting quarterback. In the four years Clements was his quarterbacks coach, Aaron Rodgers saw his quarterback rating go from 93.8 to the NFL’s all-time mark of 122.5 – and the team went from a 6-10 record to 15-1.
In 2012, McCarthy promoted Clements to offensive coordinator. In 2015, McCarthy gave Clements the title of assistant head coach (for the offense), along with passing on the offensive play calling responsibilities to him. In week 14, however, McCarthy reclaimed the play calling duties. Let the record show that in 2015 McCarthy’s play calling proved slightly less effective than Clements’ had been.
Everyone was predicting Clements would not be back in 2016. He lost face when McCarthy reversed himself and in effect demoted him. Clements, however, remained loyal to the team and stayed on for the 2016 campaign.
On January 26, McCarthy announced he was letting Clements go, saying, “I’d like to take this moment to thank Tom for an incredible 11 years here.” For all his loyalty and expertise, Clements got this “moment” of thanks. It wasn’t the first time McCarthy and the rest of the organization gave an employee such an inadequate sendoff.
McCarthy promoted Clements right out of a job. It appears there will be no replacement, and that offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett will assume Clements’ duties.
The Clements-Rodgers Bond
During their 11 years of working together, QB Rodgers routinely referred to Clements as his “close” friend, an adjective he’s never used when referring to his head coach.
Curiously, Rodgers made no comment upon the departure of Clements. Instead, McCarthy relayed that Rodgers much appreciated Clements’ help.
The ending of such a close relationships reminds me all too much of Favre’s final years in Green Bay. One by one his old teammates left the team, until he had no one of his own era to pal around with. Frank Winters, his teammate of 11 years, left after the 2002 season. Brett’s father died in December of 2003. Favre had a serious concussion in 2004. By 2005, he was contemplating retirement, and the game had clearly lost a good deal of its luster for the aging 35-year-old. He was 38 when he bitterly parted ways with the Packers.
What Does the Future Hold?
Under Clements’ watch, Rodgers won two league MVP awards. Not only has Rodgers’ friend departed, if Julius Peppers doesn’t return, Aaron will become the oldest player on the team. It’s reasonable to expect that Rodgers will face similar changes and challenges over his next five years to those that Brett faced.
The upcoming season will be the first time as a starting quarterback that Aaron Rodgers will not have Clements at his back. I’m not worried about Rodgers declining physically. I am worried that the burdens of the job and pressure from being in the spotlight are going to take a toll on Aaron – just like they did on Brett. Who would have thought, when Brett was 33, that he would ever be wearing another team’s jersey?
Big Mike offered up no reason why Clements was let go. My question for the coach: how can your decision to dismiss Tom Clements be viewed as a positive development for the Green Bay Packers?