Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers said fans should thank former head coach Mike McCarthy for the memories and "show him the respect that he deserves".
McCarthy coached the Packers for 13 seasons and led Green Bay to a Super Bowl title, but he was fired in December after the NFL franchise dropped to 4-7-1 — they finished 6-9-1.
There were reports Rodgers – who had spent his entire career playing for McCarthy – wanted him out, allegations the seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback denied.
But speculation about their relationship took a bizarre twist last week when a report alleged McCarthy would skip team meetings to have massages in his office.
"This was a smear attack by a writer looking to advance his career talking with mostly irrelevant, bitter players who all have an agenda whether they’re advancing their own careers or just trying to stir old stuff up," Rodgers told ESPN.
The 35-year-old quarterback admitted that he and McCarthy "had issues," but said the former coach deserves thanks for what he did in Green Bay.
"I think we need to honor Mike and respect him the right way," Rodgers told ESPN. "We had a hell of a run. We had 13 years, four NFC championships, one Super Bowl, eight straight playoffs, 19 straight wins. ... So, instead of trashing this guy on the way out, let's remember the amazing times that we had together."
McCarthy, who posted a 125-77-2 mark in Green Bay, told NFL Media last week that the allegation he would skip a team meeting to have a massage is "utterly absurd."
Rodgers urged Packers fans to honour McCarthy for the good times.
"Packer fans, remember this, especially those of you who live in Green Bay: Mike lives here. Mike has young kids here," Rodgers said. "So Mike has to be here. Think about how difficult it is for him. My favour that I would ask of you, strongly, is if you see Mike, shake his hand. Tell him thanks for the memories. Tell him thanks for the coaching job that he did. Tell him how much you appreciate him being a part of what we built here.
"Let's honour him and his legacy as the second-winningest coach in Packers history. If you see him, please, just show him the respect that he deserves. Not only does he have to live in Green Bay, he wants to. He loves it here. He's going to be here. So, if you see him, do him that favour and show him the respect that he deserves."
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