Those Green Bay Packers fans hoping that president Mark Murphy would choose a player evaluator and not an executive without player evaluating experience had their wishes granted. This past week, Murphy promoted director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst to the general manager position. Gutekunst beat out fellow internal candidates Russ Ball and Eliot Wolf as well as former Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley. If the reports are correct that Whaley truly interviewed, the Packers are very private about how they do business. He would be the only external candidate to interview for the position. The Gutekunst hire didn’t come as much of a surprise. He interviewed for other general manager openings before and was one of the leading candidates in replacing former general manager Ted Thompson. However, the surprise came when Murphy announced how the Packers front office would be aligned and who would report to who. The hiring of a new general manager also brings change to the Green Bay Packers front office.
The Hiring of a New General Manager Also Brings Change to the Green Bay Packers Front Office
Since former Packers president Bob Harlan hired Ron Wolf as the Packers general manager in 1991, the general manager has had total control of the football operations for the Packers. That lasted with head coach/general manager Mike Sherman, and most recently Thompson, who began his tenure as the general manager in 2005 when he took over general manager duties for Sherman, who struggled with the dual role. But that structure which vaulted the Packers to two Super Bowl victories during that time came to a screeching halt this past week when Murphy announced the reorganization of the front office.
Gutekunst, a long time scout and personnel executive for the Packers, will have total control of the Packers roster. However, he won’t have the power to hire or fire the head coach. Instead, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy will now report directly to Murphy. Also, recently promoted executive vice president/director of football Russ Ball will also report to Murphy. This structure allows Murphy to act more like an owner (the Packers are a publicly owned team, technically, the Packers are owned by fans who own “shares of stock” in the team, Murphy reports to an executive committee). To better understand how this will work, Josh Moser, sports director of Fox 11 news out of Green Bay, posted this flow chart on his Twitter account this past week.
The move by Murphy is a curious one, especially since he said prior to hiring Gutekunst that the new general manager would have full control, including the ability to hire and fire a coach. There are several theories to why Murphy might have changed his mind. The most prominent theory, or rumor, is that McCarthy didn’t want to see Ball, a non-football evaluator, get the general manager job and if Ball did, there was a possibility McCarthy would walk away from being the head coach of the Packers.
If that was the case, it was a bold but very calculating move by McCarthy, especially coming off a 7-9 season, but a calculation that worked. Not only did Ball, who was reportedly the leading candidate to be the next general manager, not get the job, but McCarthy is now allowed to report to Murphy instead of the newly hired Gutekunst. The way the Packers are now set up, it appears that Gutekunst isn’t a true general manager, but instead, more of a director of player personnel, a job he held before he got his so called promotion.
New Structure a Big Risk
As Pete Dougherty of Packersnews.com discussed this past week, the new structure comes with some major risks. The way it is set up, it could lead to some major bickering in the front office of the Packers. For example, if McCarthy doesn’t like what Gutekunst is doing with the roster, instead of the buck stopping with Gutekunst, the way it is now set up, McCarthy could go right over Gutekunst’s head and go directly to Murphy. The same can be said with Gutekunst in relation to working with Ball, who oversees contract negotiations. If Ball says no to Gutekunst signing a free agent because Ball thinks that player will cost too much and it isn’t in their budget, Gutekunst can go over Ball’s head right to Murphy.
At the Gutekunst press conference, Murphy discussed if something like that were to happen, he would be the mediator and try to work it out with each party. But it leads a lot of people to ask, why would you even take the chance? The Packers have been successful with the standard set up, as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There is no doubt that the Packers had a disappointing season, but to change how they are set up seems like a knee jerk reaction. This setup very well might turn out great for the Packers, but the Minnesota Vikings tried it not too long ago, when it was called the “Triangle of Authority,” and it turned out to be a disaster. If history proves right, the chances of this ending well for the Packers are very slim.
With the hiring of Gutekunst as the general manager, and Ball overtaking his job title with the restructuring, it left Eliot Wolf out in the cold. Wolf, the son of Hall of Fame general manager Ron, was passed over for a position that seemed he was destined for. Wolf had been with the Packers since 2004 and during that time, he was promoted five different times and recently held the position of director of football operations, a job title that was given to Ball while Wolf still held it. In 2016, Wolf was a candidate for the open general manager position for the Detroit Lions, a position that he was rumored to be the top candidate for. When the Lions asked the Packers permission to interview Wolf, the Packers and Thompson denied the interview request. Now with being passed over for the Packers general manager, that move of blocking the Lions can be considered a pretty classless move by the Packers.
With being passed over and most likely the move of blocking him to interview with the Lions gave Wolf no other choice than to move on from the Packers. As much as Gutekunst claimed that he wanted to keep Wolf, Wolf really had no other choice, in regards to furthering his career, than to leave the Packers. This past week, Wolf was reunited with former Packers front office executive and now general manager John Dorsey in Cleveland, where he was hired as the assistant general manager for the Cleveland Browns.
Losing Wolf is a big hit to the Packers scouting department. Besides the bloodlines Wolf has, he was also one of the longer tenured front office employees who worked in the personnel department. Not only did the Packers lose Wolf, but they also lost former senior executive Alonzo Highsmith, who was also hired by the Browns as their new vice president of player personnel.
Results Expected Right Away
With getting away from how the Packers conducted business for so long, and so successfully, results on the field will be needed and needed immediately. Murphy and McCarthy have put themselves out on a limb. Not only will they need to propel the Packers back to the playoffs, but anything short of a Super Bowl appearance will be considered a failure. That isn’t an overstatement, with Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback, and playing in a league that is driven by elite quarterbacks, that shouldn’t be too much to ask. The hiring of Gutekunst keeps the scouting department stable, to a point, but without the same power that Wolf, Sherman, and Thompson had, it handicaps him. He will need to do his part, but it will be up to McCarthy to make sure the results were worth the change. If not, McCarthy’s one year contract extension won’t be worth the paper it was written on and he will be shown the door. For Murphy, if next season is another disappointment, he might be sliding down Ariens Hill as a spectator and not the president of the Packers.