Frank Cignetti Jr. has never worked with Aaron Rodgers, but with all his connections to the Green Bay Packers and their offense, the team’s new quarterbacks coach probably feels like he has.
The longtime assistant spent the past two seasons coaching the New York Giants’ quarterbacks under Ben McAdoo, the former Packers assistant who coached Rodgers in 2012 and 2013. McAdoo’s version of the West coast offense was rooted in Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s system.
Cignetti, 52, goes even further back with McCarthy than McAdoo, who served under the Packers coach from 2006 until he left for the Giants in 2014. They were graduate assistants together in 1989 at the University of Pittsburgh and were reunited in New Orleans, where Cignetti coached quarterbacks in 2000 and 2001 in an offense that McCarthy coordinated.
It doesn’t matter, however, how familiar Cignetti is with the offense that Rodgers runs if he and the quarterback don’t hit it off. And after the way Rodgers reacted to losing his last position coach, Alex Van Pelt, who parted ways with the Packers last month, that might be more difficult than first thought. Rodgers said last week on ESPN Radio’s Golic and Wingo show that he “thought that was an interesting change, really without consulting me. There’s a close connection between quarterback and quarterback coach, and that was an interesting decision.”
Van Pelt was the only one of Rodgers’ first four quarterback coaches who played in the NFL. That was something Rodgers was vocal about wanting after Tom Clements was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2012, but instead McCarthy hired McAdoo for that job. Van Pelt, a nine-year NFL veteran, mostly as a backup quarterback for the Bills, replaced McAdoo and formed a bond with Rodgers.
Cignetti’s work with Rodgers won’t begin until the offseason program starts in April, but it will be an important spring and summer for the 34-year-old quarterback.
“I don’t think it’s difficult at all,” Cignetti said last month of coaching Rodgers. “Because one, coaching’s teaching. And getting in that quarterback classroom, you build a relationship and you understand that, hey, we’re an extension of each other. And it’s so exciting to go out on that field whether it’s the practice field or game field and see these guys execute and make plays, I’m really looking forward to it.”
The corps of coaches around Rodgers has been overhauled. Joe Philbin has returned as offensive coordinator, a move that should make Rodgers happy considering how productive the offense was during his previous stint in that job, which included Rodgers’ first MVP season of 2011. In addition to Cignetti and Philbin, new assistant Jim Hostler, with the title of pass-game coordinator, will work closely with the quarterbacks and the receivers — even if it’s not yet exactly clear how the revamped coaching staff will work.
“My vision of it is really how Mike wants me to fit in to helping him put the game plan together, helping him coordinate the perimeter,” Hostler said. “Those are thoughts that I have that we have sort of thrown around. But how that all fits with Joe and all that will be done through the process. I think what Mike was interested in when he looked at me in this capacity was, one, I’ve coached the quarterbacks for him; two, I’ve been in the system with him although systems change and evolve; three, I think he understands that I’ve coached in other rooms, I’ve been in every room, I’ve coordinated. So those are things that will help me to do whatever they need me to do to help them.”
Like Cignetti, Hostler has previous experience with McCarthy. He was the quarterback coach in San Francisco in 2005, when McCarthy was the 49ers offensive coordinator.
Although the offense has evolved since then, the core of it remains intact.
“Very similar,” Cignetti said. “I look back when we were together in 2000 in New Orleans, the foundation of the system is in place from back in 2000. Now, through time, things change. So the last two years in New York, a lot of it was similar to what we’re doing here, but both sides also grow and change. Very familiar.”
Before he left, Van Pelt said he expected a big year in 2018 from Rodgers after the lost season this past year because of the broken collarbone. The last time Rodgers broke his collarbone (in 2013), he came back the next season to win his second MVP.
The task of helping Rodgers do that again now belongs to Cignetti.
“I love to coach,” he said, “and I believe part of being a successful coach is building trust and relationships.”