Missed playoffs spelled big changes for Packers

You can’t shoo away the memories of a lousy season with a swipe of the hand.

Assistant coaches and front office staff, however, are not quite a protected species.

Embroiled in a crisis of mediocrity after their worst season in nine years, the Green Bay Packers addressed their troubles the old-fashioned way. They fired people.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ firing was sure to sit well with the gaggle of fans who’d been calling for his ouster for the past several years. The Packers haven’t had a top 10 defense since their Super Bowl-winning 2010 season, a stretch during which their unavailing pass rush has been an Achilles heel.

Capers may or may not have changed his approach from that which he used seven years ago, when he was hailed as the man with the plan on the other side of the ball. For certain, though, the players aren’t the same ones.

A bigger move than the Capers firing was the relieving of Ted Thompson’s duties as GM. Thompson will always be remembered as the one with the foresight to draft Aaron Rodgers, but of late too many of his draft picks haven’t delivered as hoped.

And here, to some extent, the Packers are victims of their own success. Making the playoffs every year means selecting further down in the draft.

But Thompson’s picks weren’t bearing enough immediate fruit, and when he did make a rare move in the free agent market, it didn’t always work out. Tight end Jared Cook was let go, and Martellus Bennett was brought in to drop passes at a very expensive rate. This $21 million boondoggle – which included a $6.3 million signing bonus – may have been Thompson’s undoing.

It’s a bad year anytime that quarterback Aaron Rodgers gets hurt. For Capers and Thompson, it was a bad year to miss the playoffs.

Speaking of playoffs, college football’s semifinal invitation tournament brought one great game and one clunker.

It will be an all Southeast Conference final between Alabama and Georgia – two of the schools from the SEC that did not lay a postseason egg. Teams from the SEC went 4-4 in bowl games, while the Big Ten went 7-1, which prompted silly musings about whether Alabama and Georgia even deserved to be in the playoffs.

Of course those two teams belong in the tournament. So did about eight others, including Wisconsin.

Central Florida finished its undefeated season after beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Auburn, one of the powerhouse programs in the Southeast Conference, beat both finalists Georgia and Alabama.

Wisconsin’s win over Miami was even more impressive than Central Florida’s win because the Badgers pulled it off in the Orange Bowl, Miami’s backyard. A solitary six-point loss in the conference title game stood between Wisconsin and a perfect season. The Badgers and Central Florida are this year’s poster children for why a four-team playoff needs to be expanded.

Worse than producing an incomplete outcome, the tournament in its present form is having a negative ripple on the overall product.

Notre Dame has said that it will reconsider its scheduling process to better target today’s overarching goal of reaching the playoffs.

Asked whether he thought Notre Dame fans would object to the more ambitious, gutless approach to scheduling, Irish coach Brian Kelly said, “I know this – the fans are mad because we didn’t make the playoffs.”

In other words, the end justifies the means, and the quality of regular-season games for Division I contenders is likely to undergo a change for the worse. So, for Notre Dame and every other Division I football program looking to make the grade from here on in, it’s goodbye, Georgia and Miami; hello, Furman and Rice.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. He can be contacted at sports@wolfrivermedia.com.