GREEN BAY, Wis. – Mike McCarthy Way was Bourbon Street with a curfew.
Thousands of Packers fans flooded the industrial neighborhood last Sunday, dancing to a cover band in one parking-lot tent and a DJ in another. A sports restaurant pushed capacity. The Tundra Line pounded drums and clashed cymbals down a sidewalk.
Then, the crowd scattered, trotting for 15 minutes in 15-degree wind chill to a 5:40 p.m. postseason kickoff at Lambeau Field. Like the man for whom it is named, the street knows a hard truth.
No party lasts forever.
Mike McCarthy won a Super Bowl, achieved nine playoff berths and claimed six division titles in 13 seasons as Packers coach. His tenure concluded when he was fired during the 2018 season. After a year out of the NFL, this month he became the ninth head coach in Cowboys history.
Dallas added more than a coach, several people close to McCarthy say.
His legacy in northeast Wisconsin extended off the field with various charitable contributions and engagement with community members.
The totality of McCarthy’s impact helps answer a question his 9-year-old daughter once asked while McCarthy drove through the village of Ashwaubenon, a Green Bay suburb. She read aloud each street sign they passed until reaching one whose name she recognized: Mike McCarthy Way.
Her father explained why the street was named after him, citing the Packers’ wins over the years.
She wondered about the third word.
Not street. Not avenue. Not road.
“What’s a way?” she asked.
Jerry Jones purchased the Cowboys in 1989.
That year, at age 25, McCarthy made a sales pitch.
Mike Gottfried recalls a quiet July 30 evening in the University of Pittsburgh football office. As head coach of the Division I program, he gave his staff a few weeks off before summer practices, usually spending some of that period himself at Cowboys camp with friends in the organization.
Gottfried just returned to town.
Ring. Ring. …
Ring. Ring. …
“I thought about, ‘Should I answer this phone call or not?'” Gottfried said. “Usually, good news doesn’t come after 10:30. …I thought about not answering this phone, but I answered it. I said, ‘Hello?’ And the voice on the other end said, ‘Hello. I’m looking for Mike Gottfried.’ And I’m thinking to myself, who would be looking for me at 10:30 on a Sunday night?”
McCarthy introduced himself.
He grew up in a blue-collar family in the Greenfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. He told Gottfried he wanted to coach on his staff. He was eager to work. He had just earned a master’s degree from Fort Hays State following undergraduate work at Baker University in Kansas. He was working a summer job, collecting tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Gottfried, without an opening, encouraged McCarthy to mail his resume.
McCarthy showed up the next day instead.
Linebackers coach Sal Sunseri introduced him to Gottfried, but the staff situation hadn’t changed. No jobs were available. Days later, however, a young assistant accepted a career opportunity elsewhere.
Gottfried had an unpaid position to offer someone.
He recalled the young coach who demonstrated initiative.
“I saw a guy that was hungry,” Gottfried said. “He was going to uncover any avenue he could to get a job, and I liked that about him. Probably, if he sent (the resume) in, I would have talked to all the coaches and said, ‘Hey, anybody got a guy?’ But he brought it in the next day. So, you’ve got to give him credit for really working.”
McCarthy was underway.
In the summer of 2009, Mike and Jessica McCarthy politely excused themselves.
The Packers coach and his wife needed five minutes to discuss this.
They had traveled to Madison, Wis., to learn more about American Family Children’s Hospital. Mike McCarthy golfed with a few hospital representatives, including director of development Jim Gilmore. They ate lunch and took an extensive tour.
Mike and Jessica, chatting alone in the lobby, quickly reached a consensus.
They were all-in.
Be it Pittsburgh, Wisconsin or abroad, the McCarthy family has been philanthropically active. A major focus is American Family Children’s Hospital. From 2010 to 2017, the McCarthy Family Foundation hosted an annual golf tournament to benefit the facility, raising more than $2 million that was allocated toward an expansion project and improved medical equipment, Gilmore said.
He called the timing “very fortuitous.”
Not long after the site’s 2007 opening, hospital leadership believed an expansion was necessary to meet increased demand. With the backdrop of an economic recession, a campaign called “Sick Kids Can’t Wait” was launched.
“Central to this expansion campaign was the building of our Surgical Neonatal Intensive Care Unit,” Gilmore said. “This is where we’re taking care of the sickest kids literally right out of the womb. We built our (unit) on the eighth floor. You can imagine how this resonated with Jessica. They’ve got those two little girls between the two of them now (five children total). This project was very, very close to Jessica’s heart as well as Coach’s heart.”
In 2016, Andrew Smith had a $63,000 problem.
The new Green Bay police chief was underwhelmed by the department’s equipment inventory. Officers possessed neither ballistic helmets nor body armor to protect against rifle rounds. They were vulnerable, he felt.
Resources weren’t available from the city.
He would need to fundraise.
The Green Bay Police Foundation was created, and money trickled in here and there.
“All a sudden, I got a phone call: ‘Oh, by the way, Coach McCarthy is donating $100,000 to the foundation,'” Smith said. “I had no idea it was coming. … I was shocked.”
The Packers organization matched the amount.
Smith said that the McCarthy donation supplied the desired protective equipment. A partial remainder was used to fly in nationally-recognized experts to instruct officers in the greater region how to be aware of and guard against implicit bias. The rest went to outreach programs between police and the Green Bay community.
McCarthy said Thursday that he “absolutely” wants to apply the same community focus to Dallas.
“I’m proud of what my wife and I have established there with our McCarthy Foundation,” he said. “We’ve done work in Rwanda with the Seven Loaves Project over there, building a bakery. And a generous family also gave an excellent contribution. They actually built a basketball court that they named after my brother Joe.
“It’s really the way we were raised. My parents were always very involved in the community back in Pittsburgh. I think it’s really the focus of giving back.”
Brody was 4 when diagnosed with kidney cancer on Oct. 9, 2017.
His mother, Katie, is co-host of Murphy in the Morning, a 101 WIXX radio program in Wisconsin. McCarthy, a regular weekly guest during his seasons as Packers coach, learned of the medical situation.
“He is so involved with his daughters that I think it hit him even harder because Brody is around the age of his daughters,” Katie said. “When (Brody) got diagnosed, I just remember (McCarthy’s) first words. He said, ‘We are just going to get this right. We’re going to do whatever we need to, and Brody is going to be fine.’ Then he would follow through every week.”
When radio interviews began with off-air small talk, McCarthy asked about Brody. When Katie returned from a work absence, he delivered coffee to the station and visited about an hour. When it seemed like other people started to forget her family’s ordeal, his family sent flowers.
McCarthy also checked in with lead host Murphy.
How’s her family doing really? Are they OK, really? How did the surgery go?
Many of these check-ins came during a season in which Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers dealt with a fractured collarbone and missed nine games. NBC’s Cris Collinsworth mentioned during a national TV broadcast that McCarthy’s mother lit a candle in church for Rodgers. McCarthy texted Murphy that she lit a candle for Brody, too.
“That’s just who he is, and that’s who his family is,” Katie said. “We’re so jealous of (people in Dallas) because that’s what you’re getting. He’s such an amazing person off of the field that what he brings on the field, it just accentuates it. It’s really emotional for us because he has so much going on. To put Brody even in his thoughts … he’s an amazing person. He’s an amazing coach. You guys are going to see it. Big time.”
Today, Brody is in remission.
His seventh birthday is approaching. He asked for a Cowboys helmet.
McCarthy left for Dallas, but Mike McCarthy Way remains.
What was once “Potts Avenue” sits within earshot of Lambeau Field just southeast of the stadium. Businesses such as Williams Auto Body, Soap Products and Green Bay Distillery share the road. Last weekend, crowd roars from Lambeau were faintly audible here, as the Packers downed the Seattle Seahawks to advance to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers.
A Super Bowl appearance would be the Packers’ first since a McCarthy-guided team won the title to close the 2010 season. Jim Schmitt, as Green Bay mayor at the time, announced days afterward that “McCarthy’s Way” would be created.
The name was adjusted before signage posted in 2015.
“Everyone knows coaches don’t stay forever, yet the streets do,” Schmitt said. “He was very touched by that. He’s an emotional guy. As tough as he is, little things like that mean a lot to him.”
Vince Lombardi. Mike Holmgren. Mike McCarthy.
All Super Bowl-winning Packers coaches have street names in the Green Bay area. The honor is perhaps especially appropriate for McCarthy, given that he and his family made the region their home. Jessica is from the area originally. McCarthy, too, wove himself into the town’s fabric.
Catch him on the Packers’ sideline on Sunday and then Margarita’s of Green Bay restaurant Tuesday evening or a Starbucks on a weekday morning or cheering his children at sporting events or hosting their friends at the house for basketball practice.
Soon after the Packers hired McCarthy in 2006, Schmitt said, the coach’s secretary reached out to the mayor’s office.
McCarthy wanted to meet over lunch.
He expressed interest in learning about homeless shelters in the area, Schmitt said, and the economic landscape of certain public services in need. As McCarthy and his family settle into Dallas in the coming months and years, these are the sorts of conversations that people in Green Bay believe will naturally occur between McCarthy and North Texas community leaders.
“Mike McCarthy Way, I’ll weigh in on naming it that,” Schmitt said. “Not boulevard or street. With Mike McCarthy Way, there’s a double meaning to that. ‘Way’ is obviously a passage of a street or boulevard, but his way, he’s just like a Wisconsin guy. …He’s from Pittsburgh. His dad was a (police officer and) firefighter. He wasn’t the most polished. He was just a good, hard-working human being, a good dad. He’d make the pancakes for the kids.
“His way was, ‘Let’s everybody roll up our sleeves, and let’s work hard.’ That’s what Green Bay is. That’s like the Green Bay way. We don’t have any super high-tech things, but we get everything done. We get it done because we all work together. … I just really like his whole management style. I like the way he works. I like the way he acts.
“I think his way is the right way.”
AT A GLANCE
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy
Family: Married to Jessica Kress in 2008; five children in blended family
Coaching highlights: One of four head coaches in NFL history to lead a franchise to at least eight consecutive playoff berths (Tom Landry, Chuck Noll and Bill Belichick). In 1990, at the University of Pittsburgh, he was on staff with future NFL head coaches Jon Gruden and Marvin Lewis. Lewis was the only other candidate whom the Cowboys interviewed for head coach before McCarthy was hired.
Past coaching stops: Fort Hays State, assistant, 1987-88. Pitt, assistant/WR coach, 1989-92. Kansas City Chiefs, assistant/QB coach, 1993-98. Green Bay Packers, QB coach, 1999. New Orleans Saints, offensive coordinator 2000-04. San Francisco 49ers, offensive coordinator, 2005. Packers, head coach, 2006-18.