GREEN BAY – It’s one of Joe Philbin’s coaching tenets, one he believes so wholeheartedly that the Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator himself admits he repeats often.
“As I've said many times,” Philbin was telling a reporter just the other day, “as a coach, you believe in the value of practice in terms of the preparation aspect. And, hopefully you believe in the correlation between practice and performance on the field.”
When the Packers return to work Wednesday in preparation for Sunday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game against the New York Giants, they will do so with heavy hearts and without Philbin, whose 21-year-old son Michael was found dead in the Fox River near the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh campus Monday. Oshkosh Police officially confirmed Tuesday that the body was indeed that of Michael Philbin, who was the second-oldest of Joe and Diane Philbin’s six children.
It is unclear when Philbin will return to work, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on ESPN Milwaukee and ESPN Madison Tuesday that the team is not expecting Philbin back this week, in advance of Sunday’s game. And if Philbin does not work on the offensive game plan this week, the best way for his players to show their support for him, Rodgers said, is to prepare for the Giants the way Philbin would want them to.
“Just doing those things that he’s always preaching and talking about is the best way to honor (Michael’s) memory,” Rodgers explained. “Joe is a professional in every sense of the word, as a coach he’s a great human being, a man of integrity and high character and high moral standard. Just honoring him and the family (would be) by preparing the way we’re supposed to prepare, doing the things that he stresses each week – when he talks to us on (a typical) Monday about the previous game and talks to us on (a typical) Wednesday about our game objectives.”
Rodgers later said that if Philbin does not coach this week, he expects head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements to take on Philbin’s game-planning and installation responsibilities. The coaches met Tuesday to put together their game-plan for the Giants, and Wednesday the installation of the game plan will begin. Although Philbin does not call the offensive plays on game day, Rodgers said he is a vital part of the offensive scheme.
“Joe’s very important to our success (with) the day-to-day stuff – all the coaching responsibilities he has, installing plays and explaining plays, his role in those meetings, the way that he helps get practice run the right way. He does a ton for us,” Rodgers said. “As players we probably don’t even see half the stuff he does to get us ready during the week. So we’re going to miss him, we really are.
“I think as a player you love to play, you love the games, you love the preparation, but the thing that’s going to stick with you long after you’re done playing is the guys, is the relationships. That’s player-to-player, player-to-coach, player-to-support staff, player-to-personnel staff, player-to-fan. But the player-to-coach relationship is very special, to me it always has been. Joe has been a large part of my success as a player and growth as a person. I really enjoy our conversations together. (We) make sure we spend some time every Friday catching up, talking about things. (It’s) just really hard to see a good friend like that going through this.”
Philbin released a statement through the team Tuesday, saying: “We love Michael so much and will miss him dearly. He loved his family, friends and life. His memory will live on in the hearts and minds of all who knew him. We are appreciative of the prayers and the support of our family, friends and the Packers family. We ask for continued respect and privacy for our family as we deal with our loss.
“Our family also wants to thank the Oshkosh Police Department, Winnebago County Dive/Rescue/Recovery Team and the Winnebago County Coroner’s office for their efforts and compassion during this difficult ordeal.”
Speaking on The Herd with Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio Tuesday, Packers Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews said the team plans to dedicate Sunday’s game to Michael Philbin and the Philbin family.
"A terrible tragedy," Matthews said. "Being that the Packers organization is truly a family-first environment, we feel for the Philbin family. And I think it goes without saying this game and how we approach it and how we play will definitely be dedicated to him. Hopefully we do it the right way."
As Rodgers pointed out, Michael Philbin’s death was the second loss suffered by a member of the Packers family in less than a week. Last Thursday, left guard T.J. Lang’s father, Tom, died after a brief illness
“It’s been tough, it’s been tough. It’s like a family, our team, coaching staff, support staff. It’s hard to try and describe the feelings,” Rodgers said. “We all love Joe, me probably as much or more than anybody in here just how much he’s meant to me and my development. Just how important it is, the time we get to spend each week, how he gets us prepared and just his presence around here, it’s just tough to see him and Diane and the family dealing with this.
“We’ve all just been really upset. There’s been a lot of it this year actually with T.J.’s father passing on Thursday and other offensive linemen dealing with family stuff. It’s been tough. It always kind of gives you perspective on, as much fun as we have playing ball, there are some bigger issues that we deal with each day.”
Rodgers said a number of his teammates have visited Joe Philbin since the news broke. He said he has spoken with Philbin and that he was at a loss for words. Rodgers also knows that while it will be difficult at times to focus on the task at hand this week, the Packers must do so.
“We’re all professionals, and you have to be able to separate the off-the-field from the on-field-stuff and make sure when you’re at work it’s your main focus, but we’re human as well,” Rodgers said. “The human element in this is that it’s on your mind, you’re thinking about it, you’re thinking about Joe, you’re going to miss Joe.
“If he’s not in this week, which nobody is expecting him to be in here, we want to make sure him and his wife and the family can have their time to go through their mourning and dealing with this knowing that we’re supporting him, praying for him and there. … But I think once we get in here on Wednesday, it’s going to be about beating the Giants and making sure we’re doing everything to be ready to play our best game.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.