GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy's name wasn't on everybody's list of "hot" assistant coaches when the Green Bay Packers hired him two years ago.
Even now that McCarthy has led the Packers to a 13-3 record and a playoff game against Seattle at Lambeau Field on Saturday, people still don't know very much about him.
That's no accident. In a profession where some strive to become the next media-anointed mastermind, McCarthy prefers to have the public eye focus on his players.
"I don't need to have my name in lights," McCarthy said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "I do have a great respect for the NFL professional football player. I was not blessed to play at this level, and I have a tremendous respect for the players. And if it comes between me and a player getting an award, the award's going to the player 100 percent of the time."
Take, for example, what McCarthy has accomplished with Brett Favre. McCarthy helped talk the three-time MVP out of retirement two years in a row, and now has revived his career by getting him to play with more discipline.
Some coaches would sprain an ankle tripping over themselves to take credit for that. Not McCarthy.
"I'm not being critical of anyone, I just think that that's a testament to insecurity," McCarthy said. "I don't need to wear my label on my sleeve."
The labels applied most frequently to McCarthy in the Packers' Lambeau Field offices are "smart" and "tough." But even those who work closely with him say they don't really know him that well.
"I can't tell you zero," Packers assistant head coach Winston Moss said. "I'm not even going to get into that. You hit it head-on: There's not too many angles that you can hit Mike on. He does not open up from that standpoint. If he has, I'm not one of those persons. He's very professional."
But there's plenty to know beneath the straightforward, all-business persona McCarthy projects.
Professionally, McCarthy, 44, got into coaching almost as an afterthought; after playing tight end at Baker University, an NAIA school in Baldwin City, Kan., he took a job as a graduate assistant at nearby Fort Hays State mostly because he wanted to work on an MBA.
Personally, McCarthy is fiercely proud of his blue-collar Pittsburgh roots, where his father, Joe, was a firefighter, bar owner, landlord -- and role model.
"He just was always on the go, trying to make things better for his family," McCarthy said.
Now it's McCarthy who is always on the go, a reality of life as an NFL head coach that complicates one of his biggest personal challenges: maintaining a close relationship with his 16-year-old daughter, Alex.
Since 1996, McCarthy's daughter has lived with her mother in Austin, Texas. McCarthy said he and his ex-wife, Christine, still have a good relationship and are committed to sharing parental duties.
"Her mother and I have known each other since we were 15, 16 years old, so we have a lot of history with each other," McCarthy said. "I think she does a tremendous job being a mother for a teenager, especially being down there by herself with her. We just work at it. We co-parent. It's a challenge at times, but I think she does a tremendous job. She's always done a very good job of not letting Alex and I go more than a month without seeing each other."
But even that is getting more difficult now that Alex is a sophomore on her high school basketball team, adding a whole new set of time commitments.
"It's a challenge, but we do the best we can," McCarthy said.
McCarthy used to sleep on office couches as an assistant, and still gets up at 4:50 a.m. every day to face the rigors of being an NFL head coach. But he doesn't wear that exhausting schedule as a badge of honor.
To his players and assistants, he emphasizes smart time management because he knows firsthand that life in the NFL can fray relationships.
"If things aren't right at home, they're not going to be right at work," McCarthy said. "And I've gone through a divorce. I don't want to see people make mistakes that I made."
McCarthy's other main emphasis as a head coach is a schedule that allows players time to rest and rehab without nurturing a country club atmosphere.
"He's all about rest and recovery and getting guys healthy and making sure that you're ready to play," Favre said. "And then there are no excuses as far as, 'Well, he's working us to death.' But we do get our work done."
McCarthy's coaching philosophies are a hodgepodge of ideas he picked up from the coaches and players he was around as a young assistant, especially Paul Hackett, who brought McCarthy from the University of Pittsburgh to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993.
After climbing up the ladder to become the Chiefs' quarterbacks coach, McCarthy went to Green Bay for one year as quarterbacks coach in 1999. From there, McCarthy went on to a successful five-year stint as the offensive coordinator in New Orleans.
But the Packers hired McCarthy after a forgettable first season as the offensive coordinator for an undermanned San Francisco team in 2005. McCarthy knew he would face skepticism.
"I knew damn well when they brought me in here, I wasn't going to win the press conference, just coming off the year that I was part of in San Francisco," McCarthy said. "But I've always had a big-picture idea and mentality."
Still, after an 8-8 season in 2006, did McCarthy really expect his team to become a contender this year? Yes, he insists.
"I've never walked on an athletic field where I didn't feel that I was going to be successful, whether it was playing or coaching, and I think that's important, because that's why you're out there," McCarthy said. "I think sports is a great training environment for life experiences, and I wish I'd have a much more practical, simple mind-set in my personal life as I do in my profession."
As for not being on reporters' lists of hot head coaching candidates two years ago, McCarthy delivers a good-natured jab: "Well, I think you guys need to do a better job of evaluating."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press