There’s a song from the 1980s that pretty much everybody has heard, even if they don’t know who it’s by. It’s called ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’, and whenever it’s played at a party, everyone does a strange dance where they put their hands up and their elbows out, and moves like the Ancient Egyptians apparently used to, according to their hieroglyphs. (In case anyone was wondering, the song was by the Bangles).
For the best part of thirty years, the only meaning the phrase ‘walk like an Egyptian’ ever had was as the title of that song. Then, in 2011, the Arab Spring happened. There was a people’s political uprising in Egypt, the long-standing leader of the country was toppled, and a new regime took its place. The song ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ was a popular choice among demonstrators. The song’s title appeared on placards. The name of the song took on a new meaning. It’s no longer just a catchy little ditty from years ago; to ‘Walk like an Egyptian’ means to win a battle, overcome a challenge, or more specifically to overthrow a powerful figure.
In that sense, with Mike McCarthy consigned to the trash can after thirteen years, we think it’s fair to say that Joe Philbin walks like an Egyptian.
Revolution from within
That’s not to say that this was a planned uprising from Philbin, nor that he considers himself to be a revolutionary. We have no evidence to suggest that he’d be aware of what we meant even if we asked him whether he walks like an Egyptian. Egyptian mythology might not even be all that helpful in exploring this argument after all; it’s been used to make cultural references far and wide beyond pop songs, and these days you’re more likely to find it at slots sites as a background to a series of online slot games than you are in the charts. Philbin might want to pay the site a visit and find out how his luck is before the final games of the season, but we’re positive that’s as close as he’d want to get to any form of comparison.
Despite that, the fact remains that this is an uprising that came from within, and resulted in the toppling of a man who only recently seemed invulnerable.
Philbin’s connection to the Packers goes back almost as far as McCarthy’s own does. Whereas McCarthy originally arrived as a quarterbacks coach in 1999, Philbin first came through the doors three years later to coach offence. When McCarthy took on the top job in 2006, Philbin was kept on, and promoted to offensive coordinator a year later; a position he filled until 2011. McCarthy’s first five years in the role of head coach of the Green Bay Packers were spent with Joe Philbin at his side. When the tide seemed to be turning against him in 2018, he reached out and brought Philbin back. It seemed like the logical thing to do; he knew him, he trusted him, and the two had won a Superbowl together.
What McCarthy had crucially overlooked was the fact that Philbin had racked up a little more coaching experience between the time he left, and the time he came back. Specifically, he’d been the head coach at the Miami Dolphins. And once you’ve been a head coach once, and liked it, you’re always looking for a way to hold that position again. After spending almost his entire professional coaching career with the Packers, where else would Philbin be likely to have in mind for that ambition, other than here?
Not a sure thing
There is, of course, no guarantee that Philbin will land the job full time. That’s likely to depend heavily on how he and his side perform during the final four games of the campaign if he’s even given that long to prove himself before a new appointment has made. He hasn’t walked away from the team in solidarity with his long-time boss, though, and his acceptance of the position suggests that he’d have an interest in making this a full-time job. For the Packers, too, there’s an element of convenience. There’s an experienced head coach already within the ranks, with a passion for the team, ready to assume the reins.
So is Philbin the man to take the Green Bay Packers forward? That’s difficult to say. His passion or the Packers cannot be doubted, but his pedigree as a coach can. He spent three and a half years with the Dolphins. Three of those years brought solid – but unspectacular – performances. The third was an utter disaster that saw him dismissed from the position. Bad seasons come around to everyone; as McCarthy just found out; but more was expected of someone in the position of head coach at the Dolphins. More will be expected of the head coach of the Packers, too. In the year between leaving the Dolphins and rejoining the Packers, Philbin was the assistant head coach at the Indianapolis Colts. His arrival there didn’t negatively impact the team’s form, but nor did it seem to make it better. He left there during a time that all members of the coaching staff were free to pursue new options; it’s unclear whether he’d have been kept on by a new head coach. In short, his isn’t a track record that inspires the reader, but nor is it one that gives cause to worry. Plus, given the Packers’ recent form, it’s not like things could get much worse.
When Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in Egypt in 2011, chances are that the process took him by surprise. When someone has held power for a long time, they imagine that they can see all challenges coming; they know what to expect and when, and they expect that when they do go out, they’ll go on their own terms. When Mubarak turned on his television and saw the streets of his capital full of people demanding he stepped down, that was probably a great shock. The people- the ones who had been under his nose the entire time – turned out to be the force that would usher him out.
When Mike McCarthy was told his time at the helm was over, we wonder if he had similar feelings. We wonder if he saw Joe Philbin, or was told that Philbin would be appointed into the head coach role, and reflected on how he’d never seen it coming. We wonder whether he thought about how, when he opened the door to Philbin, he was also opening the exit door for himself.
Philbin walked in like an Egyptian. McCarthy walked out. Whether this is a true revolution, time will tell.