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01-31-2011, 07:15 AM
Green Bay coach, raised in Greenfield, delights in being one of us
By Bob Cohn
Monday, January 31, 2011

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- At 3:30 a.m. Saturday, with the most important football game of his life barely a week away, the head coach of the NFC champion Green Bay Packers got dressed, went outside into the frigid darkness and addressed a more urgent task -- shoveling snow. A lot of it.

Super Bowl XLV and the Steelers would still be waiting for him and his Packers in Arlington, Texas.

"I couldn't wait," Pittsburgh native Mike McCarthy said. "I love it."

McCarthy is wired for hard work -- not just the endless hours NFL coaches spend preparing for their next opponent, but the taxing, physical, down-and-dirty stuff. He is propelled by an attitude and spirit derived from who he is and where he is from.

He is the son of Joe and Ellen McCarthy, from the close-knit, working-class neighborhood of Greenfield, a few miles east of Downtown. One of five kids, he grew up a typical -- that is, die-hard -- Steelers fan in a house his dad has owned for 41 years. It sits along the main drag, Greenfield Avenue, with everything important -- St. Rosalia's Catholic Church and elementary school, ballfields, friends, family, even his dad's old bar -- within easy reach.

"It's a huge part of who I am," McCarthy said. "It's my foundation. It really starts with my parents."

Joe McCarthy once owned a bar and worked as a Pittsburgh police officer and firefighter. Those were jobs. Joe's passion is simply doing -- tearing down and building up, fixing, tinkering, working. It is a perpetual state of mind that his son inherited.

"We were always working," said Mike McCarthy, whose accent assumes more of a Yinzer brogue while talking about the old neighborhood than reading the daily injury report. "He was always painting, sidewalks were always being built, walls torn down.

"He had a dump truck," McCarthy said. "We did hauling jobs. My buddies would come over and see a project, and they'd run the other way. It was nothing for him to stick a shovel in their hand and put them to work. But that's my father. He's remodeling one of his apartments right now. For a guy who's never been in a gymnasium, he's stayed in excellent shape."

Joe McCarthy has "probably ripped up the backyard and put it together a few times," said his 47-year-old son. "That's just his nature. And it's funny. Now I look at myself and the mannerisms you pick up. ... I love shoveling snow. To me, it's peace of mind."

Kids everywhere

It wasn't all work. Like a lot of Greenfield kids, McCarthy practically lived at Magee Field, an athletic complex with an array of facilities, including a pool. He likes to describe it as the "epicenter" of the community.

"You got up in the morning, and you ran down to the park, and you went home for lunch, and you went back," he said.

Growing up in the 1970s, "there were kids everywhere," McCarthy said. "A lot of big families, a lot of activity. You never really left Greenfield. When you grow up, you assume that's how it is everywhere. It was really interesting once you leave the city and go off to college, you find out how unique and special it is."

McCarthy donates $100,000 annually to several Greenfield entities, including St. Rosalia's school for tuition assistance.

"He never forgot where he came from," said Jim Gregg, his former sixth-grade basketball coach at St. Rosalia. "I'm a Steelers fan, but when they're playing the Green Bay Packers, I'm a Packers fan."

He apparently is not alone. Many in Greenfield are rallying around McCarthy, forsaking for one day their beloved Steelers.

"It's win-win," Gregg said. "We really appreciate what Mike McCarthy has done for the community."

A bright future

As a matter of pride, McCarthy points out that he and his four siblings went to college without needing a student loan. "I think that tells you how my father approached his responsibility," he said. "You grow up, you think that's the way it's supposed to be."

McCarthy wasn't "supposed" to be an NFL head coach, much less the head coach of perhaps the most storied franchise in league history, one aiming for its 13th championship. No one can plan for that. But those who knew him anticipated a bright future.

"He was a good kid," said Tim Kelly, a Greenfield resident and McCarthy's assistant football coach at Bishop Boyle High School in Homestead, long since shuttered. "No matter what he would do with his life, you knew he'd turn out to be successful. Just because of the way he was. He wasn't a goof-off like a lot of kids in high school can be. He was very respectful and well-liked."

After attending two other colleges, McCarthy graduated from Baker University in Kansas as an all-conference tight end, earned his master's degree and became a graduate assistant at Fort Hays State University in Kansas for a year.

Then he returned home to work as an unpaid volunteer assistant at the University of Pittsburgh under coach Mike Gottfried. There he hooked up with offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, who became his mentor.

McCarthy worked all hours, doing everything for a staff that included future NFL head coaches Jon Gruden and Marvin Lewis. His compensation was more valuable than the money.

"I can't tell you how much I learned from those guys," said McCarthy, who eventually became a full-time assistant at Pitt, launching a long, dues-paying career that led him to his first head coaching job in Green Bay in 2006.

McCarthy's lack of capital in his early years prompted his dad to help get him a summer job working the midnight shift in a toll booth on the Pennsylvania Turnpike off the old Exit 5 by Harmar. This has been played up so much that McCarthy plays it down. "When you're young, nothin's hard," he said. "I enjoyed it."

He tries to get back to Greenfield at least once a year, although time is precious. In addition to the demands of the job, McCarthy has three young children and a daughter from his first marriage who is attending the University of Kansas. But he is never far away.

Life in Greenfield "was awesome," he said. "I wouldn't trade my upbringing for nothing.

"When you grow up in Greenfield, you have everything. You had parents who cared about their kids. They watched out for everybody. You had excellent youth influences because of the coaches. We had all these coaches because everybody was so involved in sports.

"You learned how to compete," McCarthy said. "You had the work ethic coming from your parents. Your dad was either in the mill, or there were just a lot of blue-collar jobs out there. You had St. Rosalia, so you had a strong Catholic presence in the community. I love going back there."

Bob Cohn can be reached at rcohn@tribweb.com or 412-320-7810.

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