Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and his wife Diane suffered an unspeakable loss yesterday. Their 21 year-old son Michael -- missing since early Sunday morning -- was feared to be submerged in the Fox River in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Packer employees and players were told yesterday that the body that was found was indeed that of Michael Philbin. Joe and Diane's -- and every parent's -- worst fears were realized.
It is hard to imagine the loss of a son. I feel so sad for Joe and Diane, two solid people who have made a life, a home and a circle of close and caring friends in Green Bay.
I worked with Joe in Green Bay from 2003-2008 -- he has been part of both the coaching staffs of Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy -- and grew to truly appreciate him. I didn't know Michael or any of his five siblings but they would show up en masse to Packer functions, quite a sight as someone would inevitably call out, "Here come the Philbins!"
Joe is as humble and honest as can be. With New England roots and many years in the Midwest -- he coached at Harvard and Iowa, among other places -- Joe has traits of both areas. He has a dry wit, a wry and sometimes sarcastic sense of humor along with a no-ego kindness that becomes clear in the first few moments of knowing him. We would talk about topics far beyond football, as he possesses a large and diverse world-view.
Joe is the antithesis of the stereotype of a screaming, red-faced coach. He is cerebral in his approach, open to suggestions and willing to adapt. Joe is a skilled offensive mind who adds great value to the prolific Packer offense, yet speaks only of how lucky he is to have the talent he has playing for him, often referring to "the thrower," Aaron Rodgers, as "special".
Beyond the rigors of the coaching lifestyle, I saw Joe as a dedicated family man. He talked about his kids often and, when we spoke this fall, we talked about his son attending the University of Pennsylvania, where I teach. Joe also spoke very appreciatively about McCarthy allowing his staff plenty of time with their families, especially the multiple weeks off in the offseason.
For some coaches, it is a cliché to say they truly enjoy time with their families. They are often not present even when they are with their families, with their head thinking about schemes or players. For Joe, however, when he was with his family, he was truly with his family.
The extended Packer family
Joe and Diane will be enveloped in warmth from the team and the community during this terrible tragedy.
During my time with the Packers there was always a sense of "we're in this thing together" from working there. Players, coaches and staff are almost all from somewhere else in the country, thrown together in this small town in Northeastern Wisconsin.
With the community wrapping itself around the team like perhaps no other in professional sports, coaches and players become adopted members of the local Green Bay community. They are as accessible as any group of coaches and players; there may be half the team at the city's one movie theater on a Friday night.
Joe and Diane will obviously find it hard to breathe for a while -- I can't imagine the depth of their loss -- but being in the cocoon of the Green Bay community and the vast Packer Nation will certainly console them.
Prayers to Joe and Diane Philbin for comfort during this tragedy....