Special to Page 2
A made man has privileges that extend beyond mere status. A made man doesn't have to campaign too much. A made man doesn't have to kiss ass, or make a case for why you should give him an audience. A made man doesn't have to try that hard.
An NFL head coach is a made man. Once he assumes that gig, he is virtually assured of future employment in said league. It may not be another head coaching job, but anyone who reaches the big office can always count on at least a position-coach job. That pays too. Maybe not as well as a head coaching gig, but his family still eats.
So this time of year, when a generous number of folks get pink-slipped, it's a time for empathy, but not weeping. Just look at the lots of Marty Mornhinweg, Jim Fassel and Norv Turner.
After two tough years in the hot seat with the Lions, Mornhinweg still got a job with the Eagles. Now he's their new offensive coordinator. After being relieved from his seven-year stint with the Giants, Fassel was named the Ravens' QB consultant. This past year he moved up to be the Ravens' offensive coordinator, and he's currently a candidate for several of the head-coaching openings. Norv Turner, in between leading the Redskins and Raiders, was an offensive coordinator with the Chargers and Dolphins. And he was just hired as the 49ers' new offensive coordinator
I wonder if Sherman Lewis will ever be hired again.
In February of 1998, Lewis, the Green Bay offensive coordinator at the time, walked through the lobby of the Crown Plaza Hotel. It was the NFL Combine, and when not checking out talent, that's what coaches do at the combine -- mingle with other coaches and football people. That's the best way to stay in the professional mix. That year's head coaching vacancies had all already been filled: Wade Phillips was hired in Buffalo, Jim Mora took over the Colts, Jon Gruden got the job in Oakland and Chan Gailey succeeded Barry Switzer in Dallas. Lewis had been mentioned as a candidate for each of those jobs, but by the time mid-February rolled around, he remained Green Bay's offensive coordinator.
In the lobby that night, another coach asked Lewis if he'd try again for a head coaching job the following year.
"Nah," sighed Lewis. "I'm too old now."
As a proven coordinator, Lewis managed to remain employed. He had been the offensive coordinator when the Packers won the Super Bowl in 1996. And after his stint in Green Bay, he spent two years in Minnesota as its offensive coordinator, and then another couple years in Detroit in the same capacity. But he never became a head coach and, thus, never a made man. When I heard that Lewis was a color commentator on the Michigan State football radio network, I wondered if he was done trying.
Back in Green Bay, Brett Favre isn't a coach, yet he's still what you'd call a made man. He too has certain privileges. The worst season of his illustrious career was still fresh in the tundra air when Favre told Packers GM Ted Thompson that he wanted Steve Mariucci to be his next coach. And Thompson listened. Brett Favre is, after all, the franchise player. And it is just and wise to placate the man who's due the lion's share of the Packers' place in contemporary lore. Favre's first choice was former Packers QB coach Steve Mariucci. But apparently Mariucci is persona non grata around Green Bay so he wasn't even offered an interview.
Word has it that Maruicci wasn't all that interested in the gig anyway. See, in addition to guaranteed future employment, Mariucci is currently enjoying that other perk afforded the deposed NFL head coach -- leisure time with pay. The Lions still owe him $5 million. With Maruicci no longer an option, Ted Thompson did the next best thing. He selected Niners offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy.
The next best thing? Really?
Well, yeah. See, McCarthy also had served once as the Packers' QB coach, so there was some familiarity. He may not have been Favre's first choice, but he was certainly Thompson's. And so, McCarthy is now a made man.
The problem is, his appointment comes a month removed from not just a 4-12 season in San Francisco, but a seemingly uninspired one. True, McCarthy didn't have the luxury of Hall of Fame talent. But there were times when the Niners' offense looked downright lethargic and void of a clear purpose.
So let's assume McCarthy was selected to appease Brett Favre. I'm cool with that. But at what price? I mean, how much longer will Favre play? One more year, maybe two? What if, in the next couple years, the Packers fail to become world-beaters? Mike McCarthy will have gained his coaching tenure under less than ideal circumstances.
Now, I don't want to cast aspersions on the Green Bay Packers, especially on matters of that pesky black coach issue.
(Oh, you knew I was gonna get there eventually!)
In 1999, then-Packers GM Ron Wolf hired current Seahawks defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes as the first black coach in Packers history. Moreover, the hire came after Rhodes had been fired by the Philadelphia Eagles. And by hiring him, Wolf and the Packers made it clear that the rules of made men applied as much to black coaches as their white counterparts.
Git down, 'Pack.
That Rhodes was fired after just one .500 season is a discussion for another time. But, as a bonus question for you, and some delicious irony for me, name the Packers QB coach that disastrous season, a season so bad the head coach had to be fired.
Yep. Mike McCarthy: Made man.
Alan Grant is a regular contributor to ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is a former NFL defensive back who played college football at Stanford.