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GREEN BAY – In rebuilding his coaching staff, the one thing Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy seems to covet most is experience.
McCarthy has given many young coaches an opportunity to work their way up the ranks, from Ben McAdoo to James Campen to Kevin Greene to Luke Getsy to Scott McCurley.
But in sifting through his entire staff and keeping only a few select parts, McCarthy has filled the gaps with former head coaches and coordinators with years of NFL experience.
His latest move was to retain cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt and elevate him to a new position of defensive passing game coordinator, according to an NFL source. Whitt was a finalist for the defensive coordinator position and McCarthy badly wanted to keep him on the staff.
Whitt essentially will be an assistant defensive coordinator, given he will be in charge of the most important aspect of an NFL defense. It should be a stepping-stone to being a defensive coordinator in the NFL if the Packers improve under new coordinator Mike Pettine.
Though the cornerbacks did not have a good season, Whitt will be coaching a different system that requires the cornerbacks to play press coverage a good portion of the time. Whitt won’t be coaching the cornerbacks next season and will play a big-picture role on defense.
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Hired in 2008, the 39-year-old Whitt has worked his way up the ladder on McCarthy’s staff, serving under defensive coordinators Dom Capers and Bob Sanders.
With the addition of Joe Philbin and Pettine, McCarthy has two former head coaches on his staff. Philbin, who is expected to be named offensive coordinator, was head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2012-15. Pettine, who will be defensive coordinator, was head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 2014-’15.
McCarthy continued to interview candidates and make hires Wednesday and was getting close to completing his staff.
Hired Wednesday was Frank Cignetti, quarterbacks coach with the New York Giants last season and offensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams in 2015. Cignetti, who also was an offensive coordinator at five Division I programs, will coach quarterbacks, replacing the departed Alex Van Pelt.
Late last week, McCarthy reportedly hired Indianapolis Colts wide receivers coach Jim Hostler, who has 17 years of NFL coaching experience, including one year in San Francisco (2007), replacing McCarthy after the latter became Packers head coach.
Cignetti’s hiring means McCarthy seemingly has filled all the openings he created with the firing of offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett and the departure of receivers coach Getsy (Mississippi State) and Van Pelt.
On defense, McCarthy still was putting pieces together after surprising many people with the hiring of Pettine, who last season was a consultant with the Seattle Seahawks.
Pettine brings with him a complex but very successful system that will require a lot of teaching, both for the assistant coaches and players who are new to it.
One logical hire Pettine might be considering is former Browns and 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, who did not work in the NFL last year. O’Neil coached the defense under Pettine in Cleveland and was an assistant with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets when Pettine was there.
If he decides to hire O’Neil, possibly for the inside linebackers position created when McCarthy fired McCurley, it would give him yet another coordinator among his ranks.
McCarthy could be replacing most of the assistants on the defensive side, but some of it will depend on the status of safeties coach Darren Perry and associate head coach/linebackers Winston Moss.
McCarthy fired coordinator Capers, McCurley and defensive line coach Mike Trgovac the day after the season ended and lost quality control assistant Tim McGarigle to Northwestern a short while later.
One potential newcomer McCarthy is pursuing hard is Giants defensive line coach Patrick Graham. After growing up in the New England Patriots system, Graham took a job with McAdoo in 2016 coaching the defensive line.
McAdoo was fired in December and after the season Graham has been free to talk to other teams and came with a strong recommendation from McAdoo. Graham has coached both linebackers and defensive line, but considers himself a linebackers coach and prefers to work there.
Graham was a defensive coaching assistant for Bill Belichick in 2009 and a defensive assistant coach in 2010. He was promoted to linebackers coach in 2011 and then moved to the defensive line from 2012-13. He returned to coach linebackers in ’14 and ’15.
Graham interviewed with McCarthy on Wednesday but as of the evening, no decision had been made on his future.
McCarthy interviewed Perry, Whitt and Moss for the defensive coordinator job Sunday and Monday, but chose Pettine after reportedly interviewing him Tuesday.
The three internal candidates are all under contract so McCarthy has the option of denying permission for them to coach somewhere else and making them serve under Pettine. It’s well-known that he likes Perry and Whitt, as evidenced by his decision to deny multiple requests from other teams to interview them over the past few years.
If he were allowing the three to interview elsewhere, there’s a chance he could lose all of them. Whitt received a promotion to help him get over not being named coordinator and it’s still unclear what will happen with Perry and Moss.