Archive for Thursday, January 27, 2011

Super Bowl bound Wildcat

January 27, 2011

In his short time as the Green Bay Packers head coach, Mike McCarthy has helped put Baker University on the map.

When he was hired in 2006, national media discovered where Baker University was located after learning McCarthy graduated from Baker in 1987. He was inducted in the Baker Athletic Hall of Fame in October 2007.

McCarthy has also donated $300,000, half of which was donated by the Packers’ organization, to Baker University’s football program. The deal is scheduled to last two more years, bringing an additional $200,000 to his alma mater.

He’s now gone one step further. On Sunday, McCarthy and the Packers won the National Football Conference Championship, earning a spot in Super Bowl XLV.

“He’s now played in two NFC championship games,” said Mike Grossner, Baker’s head football coach and teammate of McCarthy’s at Scottsdale Community College (Ariz.). “He’s done a great job, especially with all of the transition. It’s been a hall of fame quarterback leaving and a new quarterback in. The team had a losing record the year before he came in. He’s gotten to the top quickly.”

Since Sunday’s victory, several area and national media sources have contacted Grossner and Dan Harris, Baker’s former athletic director and assistant football coach when McCarthy played at Baker. Harris has talked to reporters at the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

“It’s difficult, because I’m thinking, ‘what am I going to say?’” Harris said jokingly. “This is nerve racking. It’s unbelievable.”

All kidding aside, Harris, who has kept in touch with McCarthy since his playing days as a Wildcat, tried to keep McCarthy’s accomplishment in perspective with the rest of the world, not just in the world of sports.

“It really puts Baker on the map,” Harris said. “I was asked if I’ve ever had anyone at Baker more famous than Mike McCarthy. I like to keep it in perspective. Has Mike McCarthy reached the pinnacle of NFL coaching? Yes.

“Is it anymore important than when students went over to Haiti to help in the relief after the tragedy over there? Or is it anymore important that students who have become teachers or doctors and make impacts on people’s lives? You have to keep it in perspective, because we’ve had a lot of people from Baker making a difference. That’s important to remember.”

Harris and Grossner have both kept in touch with McCarthy for many years and during his tenure as the Packers’ coach. They’ve both made trips to Green Bay to visit McCarthy and his team. Being friends with McCarthy and having ties to his former days as a collegiate player, Harris and Grossner speak highly of the Packer’s fifth-year head coach.

“It’s so fitting that he’s the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, because he embodies everything that Vince Lombardi was as a coach,” Harris said. “Vince Lombardi was so famous with his quotes and his attitude toward winning. Mike McCarthy is the same way. He’s a tough guy and he’s always been known for that. He’s disciplined. His team is one of the lowest penalized teams in the NFL, and he’s got one of the highest red-flag challenge rates of any coach.

“He really embodies the team over the individual and that’s been really important to him. That’s a significant issue he dealt with when they made the transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. He’s also all about winning. I honestly believe this is not Mike McCarthy’s last trip to the Super Bowl. This is not just a fluke. He’s worked hard to be here.”

McCarthy’s former teammate at Scottsdale Community College spoke highly of his ability, along with the Packers, to draft and develop players.

“If you look at their drafts since Mike and Ted Thompson have been there, they’ve done a great job,” Grossner said. “They’re aren’t trading and bringing in free agents. Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews were top picks. Greg Jennings is a guy that everybody questioned why they took him so early and look what he’s done? Then there’s also Jordy Nelson out of K-State. He’s a big part of what they’re doing. To me, what they’ve done in the draft and developing their guys is atypical of the NFL and free agency, which says a lot for their whole organization.”

Of course, Grossner and Harris have been cheering for the Packers since McCarthy took over the helm in 2006. They were both at home watching Sunday evening’s game.

“Watching the game was almost like I was there,” Harris said. “It was intense. I was excited and nervous. When they finally won, it was like a magical moment. It was a neat feeling and actually pretty emotional, because it’s amazing that a guy I coached has made it this far. He’s remained a lifelong friend. He’s so deserving of this. He’s a humble guy. He’s a great one.”

Grossner, who has text messaged McCarthy during the season, was reluctant to congratulate his former teammate too early Sunday. Although the Packers controlled their game against the Chicago Bears, his wife kept him in check before he could jinx the green and gold.

“Normally I hit him with a text right when I know they are going to win,” Grossner said. “I started to text him during the game Sunday, but my wife’s really superstitious about jinxes. I’ll give my opinion about some team and she thinks I put the kiss of death on that team.

“So I was cheering loudly early and felt like they were in control the whole game, because defensively they were playing so well. I felt comfortable with about six minutes left, but my wife said, ‘don’t you dare.’ Then I slowly typed the message, and I felt like their defense was going to make a play. By the time they went to a knee after the last interception, I pushed send.”

Now, McCarthy and the Packers will be headed to Arlington, Texas, for Super Bowl XLV. They will face the Pittsburgh Steelers in a battle of two famed NFL franchises. Harris will be in Cowboys Stadium with his wife, Peggy, after receiving tickets from his former player. You can bet the Harrises and Grossner will be pulling for McCarthy to bring home the famed Lombardi Trophy.

“I think it’s a great match up,” Grossner said. “It’s got the underlying story of Mike facing his hometown team, too. That’s the team he grew up cheering for. You know some of his family and friends who grew up Steelers fans are going to be torn watching that game. It’s an interesting angle of the game from a fan’s perspective.”

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