During training camp, the Packers dress in their Lambeau Field
locker room and then make their way--on foot, on bikes borrowed
from fans or in cars--the quarter mile across Oneida Street to
the Don Hutson Center practice facility. On one warm August day,
defensive end Vonnie Holliday had begun the trek when he heard
someone say, "You want a ride?" The voice belonged to first-year
coach Ray Rhodes. The gesture was unusual because Green Bay
coaches just don't give players rides. At least they hadn't
"But that wasn't the biggest thing," says Packers strong safety
LeRoy Butler. "Ray was in the passenger seat. It was a two-door
car. And he got out of the car, flipped the seat forward and
moved into the back. Vonnie sat in front! Can you believe that?
We're all watching this happen, and no one can believe it. That's
the kind of stuff that builds camaraderie."
Meaningful? Maybe. Symbolic? Absolutely. Last January, Rhodes
returned to Green Bay as coach, replacing Mike Holmgren, who had
left to become the coach and general manager of the Seahawks.
Rhodes, who had been the Packers' defensive coordinator in 1992
and '93, returned to Green Bay with a reputation for dictatorial
behavior during four roller-coaster years in charge of the
Eagles. But heading into a pressure-packed year with an aging
team trying to make one last run at greatness, Rhodes has been
light on the Vince Lombardi blowups and heavy on the Willie
Stargell We Are Family approach. Oh, he'll get out the whip when
he has to. That's also how he approached his job in
Philadelphia. The difference is that because of the Eagles' poor
play and attitude, Rhodes felt he needed to be volcanic on a
regular basis. In Green Bay, he says, "guys worked hard this
off-season, came in committed. This is a good team, with good
leadership. They know what needs to be done to contend."
That's not to say that Rhodes won't make changes. He knew
Butler, a frequent pass rusher in the mid-'90s, was unhappy with
his increasingly passive role in the secondary, so Rhodes has
put more Butler blitzes back in the playbook. He's going to let
Brett Favre air it out more, though little in the West Coast
scheme will change now that offensive coordinator Sherm Lewis
finally gets his chance to design, script and call the plays,
duties that Holmgren reserved for himself.
Rhodes will still blister players, but quietly and most often
out of the earshot of others. His trademark speeches won't
change--he told the Eagles that if they wanted to play for him,
they'd have to play like they had a loaded .38 against their
temples--but he'll most likely need to use them less. Also,
impassioned talks seem to work better when they fall on the ears
of talented players.
After winning the NFC Central the previous three seasons, Green
Bay finished 11-5 in 1998, four games back of the Vikings. With
its starting lineup virtually intact, Minnesota doesn't figure
to take any steps back this season. Knowing that these Packers
had but a year or two left to contend for the Super Bowl,
general manger Ron Wolf settled on Rhodes because he wanted a
coach who would ride Pro Bowl players if need be, yet still have
the enduring respect of every man in the locker room. "When Ray
came in, he licked our wounds, which we needed," says Butler.
"Last year we were a distracted team, because we all knew Mike
wanted to be a general manager. This year we know we're all
pointed in one direction."
That all sounds great, but Green Bay's time is fading rapidly.
Defensive end Reggie White has retired, leaving a gaping hole in
the pass rush. Wideout and locker room leader Robert Brooks had
to quit because of knee and back injuries. The offensive line,
particularly left tackle Ross Verba, sprang some leaks; the
pressure rained on Favre, and four of the same five blockers are
Though Green Bay ranked 10th in the league in pass defense last
year, Minnesota exploited the secondary in a pair of victories,
piling up 706 yards through the air. Craig Newsome and Tyrone
Williams return at cornerback, but Wolf used his first three
picks in last April's draft on defensive backs: Antwan Edwards of
Clemson, Fred Vinson of Vanderbilt and Mike McKenzie of Memphis.
McKenzie has been impressive in camp and might push for a
Still, the Packers decidedly trail the Vikings in the Central.
Rhodes was the right man for this job, but he can't cover Randy
Sept. 12 OAKLAND
19 at Detroit
Oct. 3 Open date
10 TAMPA BAY
17 at Denver
24 at San Diego
Nov. 1 SEATTLE (Mon.)
14 at Dallas
29 at San Francisco (Mon.)
Dec. 5 at Chicago
20 at Minnesota (Mon.)
26 at Tampa Bay
Jan. 2 ARIZONA
1998 Record 11-5 (2nd in NFC Central) NFL rank
(rush/pass/total): offense 25/3/5; defense 4/10/4
1999 Schedule strength NFL rank: 7 (tie)
Opponents' 1998 winning percentage: .523
Games against playoff teams: 6
Ray Rhodes is only the fourth coach in the last 50 years to win
as few as three games in a full season and be hired by another
team as coach for the start of the next season. Two of his
predecessors in that regard, Sid Gillman and Curly Lambeau, are
enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Coach Team W-L team W-L How fared
Ray Rhodes 1998 3-13 1999 ? ?
Sam Wyche 1991 3-13 1992 5-11 Four losing
Bengals Buccaneers seasons with
Sid Gillman 1959 2-10 1960 10-4 Led Chargers
Rams Chargers to five
Curly Lambeau 1949 2-10 1950 5-7 Went 7-15 in
Packers Cardinals two years in
PLAYER TO WATCH
Keith McKenzie may be the biggest beneficiary of the Packers'
coaching change. Unlike his predecessor, Mike Holmgren, new
Green Bay coach Ray Rhodes believes that his right defensive end
doesn't have to be a 300-pound run stopper. As a cat-quick
situational pass rusher, McKenzie had eight sacks playing about
40% of the defensive downs last year. When Reggie White retired,
Rhodes switched Vonnie Holliday from right to left end and told
McKenzie to go get the quarterback from the other side. "It's
the chance I've waited for," says McKenzie, a 6'3", 266-pound
seventh-round pick from Ball State in 1996. Though left tackles
figure to handle him on running plays, McKenzie says, "I'm a
high-intensity guy, and when I've played end, I've held up
against the run well." Now he'll get his chance to show he can
do it full time.
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1998 STATISTICS
Coach: Ray Rhodes
First season with Packers (29-34-1 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Brett Favre 6
551 att. 347 comp. 63.0% 4,212 yds. 31 TDs 23 int. 87.8 rtg.
RB Dorsey Levens 56
115 att. 378 yds. 3.3 avg. 27 rec. 162 yds. 6.0 avg. 1 TD
RB De'Mond Parker (R) 270
204 att. 1,077 yds. 5.3 avg. 14 rec. 176 yds. 12.6 avg. 6 TDs
FB William Henderson 284
23 att. 70 yds. 3.0 avg. 37 rec. 241 yds. 6.5 avg. 3 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Antonio Freeman 12 84 rec. 1,424 yds. 14 TDs
WR Bill Schroeder 133 31 rec. 452 yds. 1 TD
WR Corey Bradford 143 3 rec. 27 yds. 0 TDs
TE Mark Chmura 111 47 rec. 554 yds. 4 TDs
K Ryan Longwell 70 41/43 XPs 29/33 FGs 128 pts.
PR Desmond Howard 237 45 ret. 12.0 avg. 2 TDs
KR Desmond Howard 237 49 ret. 21.2 avg. 0 TDs
LT Ross Verba 6'4" 302 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Raleigh McKenzie 6'2" 283 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Frank Winters 6'3" 300 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
RG Marco Rivera 6'4" 305 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
RT Earl Dotson 6'4" 315 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Vonnie Holliday 52 tackles 8 sacks
LT Santana Dotson 50 tackles 3 sacks
RT Gilbert Brown 26 tackles 0 sacks
RE Keith McKenzie 31 tackles 8 sacks
OLB George Koonce 58 tackles 1 sack
MLB Bernardo Harris 105 tackles 0 int.
OLB Brian Williams 108 tackles 2 sacks
CB Craig Newsome 57 tackles 1 int.
SS LeRoy Butler 88 tackles 3 int.
FS Darren Sharper 73 tackles 0 int.
CB Tyrone Williams 70 tackles 5 int.
P Josh Bidwell (R) 47 punts 45.8 avg.
 New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 122)