By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – When asked if I liked the Packers’ decision to promote director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst to general manager, I replied, “Do you trust Packers president Mark Murphy to make the right call?”
Long-time Packers’ personnel man to replace reassigned Ted Thompson; Murphy exerts greater control
Get Your Tickets to the Super Bowl! Buy Tickets Now >>
If you trust, then you must.
Frankly, this hire is as much about Murphy as it is Gutekunst.
From now on they are inexorably tied at the hip, the Packers’ president hiring his first GM, and the 19-year scout/director of player personnel taking on a momentous challenge.
“We could not be more excited to elevate Brian to the position of general manager,” Murphy said in a statement today. “He has earned this opportunity throughout his 19 years with the Packers, proving to not only be a skilled talent evaluator, but a trusted and collaborative leader.”
Clearly, the collaboration includes working closely with the head coach, which is something Mike McCarthy said he appreciated about his relationship with Thompson.
Gutekunst and McCarthy reportedly have a really healthy working relationship already. That is going to be key going forward for the Packers.
Murphy’s predecessor, Bob Harlan, went 2-for-3 in GM hires. He hit home runs with Ron Wolf and Thompson, both of whom built Super Bowl champions and maintained excellence. Harlan’s promotion of Mike Sherman from head coach to the dual role of head coach/GM was a mistake, proving even the best of team presidents isn’t perfect. Although, Harlan relied on the recommendation of Ron Wolf, the outgoing GM, when he tagged Sherman. So, Wolf wasn’t perfect either.
Now it was Murphy’s at-bat.
Entering his 11th year at the Packers’ helm, Murphy has presided over the franchise success on and off the field, but more so off.
The Packers are 109-66-1 with eight straight playoff appearances before 2017 during Murphy’s tenure, but he inherited Thompson and McCarthy, who have guided the team to that record. Off the field, the Packers are financially strong and remain one of the NFL’s treasures.
Going forward, Murphy’s reign as Packers’ president will be largely defined by the team’s success under its new GM, the only significant football decision he has had to make. Add to that, Murphy has restructured the front office so the head coach and GM now answer directly to him. And Murphy has assumed the authority to hire and fire, something for over 25 years in Green Bay has been up to the GM, since Ron Wolf was hired and Bob Harlan, in his wisdom, adopted a “football hands off” as President.
Murphy said: “(Gutekunst’s) time under the direction of former Packers general managers Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson will undoubtedly serve him well as we work toward our next Super Bowl championship. I am confident that he is the man that will help get us there.”
Gutekunst, 44, seems like the right call for the right reasons.
Gutekunst (pronounced GOO-tuh-kunst) is a football guy. He knows the Packers’ personnel inside and out. He also reportedly has the full support of McCarthy, who made it clear at last week’s season-ending news conference that he needed a good “fit” with the new GM.
This would appear to be that.
The low-key Gutekunst’s bio occupies a whole five paragraphs on page 28 of the Packers’ 2017 media guide. Still, it would be impossible for him to be as inconspicuous as Thompson.
Gutekunst’s personality will come through at the forefront of the football operation. There won’t be any gnashing of the teeth regarding media availability, or a lack thereof.
Most of all, Gutekunst is a football man at heart.
His father, John, coached the University of Minnesota from 1985-1991. He comes from a football background and is focused on one thing: Trying to make the Packers a championship team.
Gutekunst was hired as a college scout in 1998 by Wolf. He was named director of player personnel in 2016. He is respected at 1265 Lombardi Avenue for his ability as a talent evaluator.
Although he learned at Thompson’s hand, he likely will have his own ideas about being more aggressive in terms of signing veteran free agents.
That has to be appealing to McCarthy, his staff and his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
Gutekunst sounded eager to get to work.
“I look forward to getting to work with the rest of our talented personnel department and using every avenue available to build the Packers into a championship team again,” he said.
There were other strong candidates both in-house and out.
Eliot Wolf, the director of football operations, was highly regarded. The 35-year-old son of Pro Football Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf has had five promotions within the organization.
It will be interesting to see Wolf remains in Green Bay, but all signs point toward him leaving. You have to think that whichever of the two personnel-oriented candidates Murphy selected for GM, the other was going out the door, either as a GM elsewhere, or in a lateral move to another team. The Packers will not stand in the way of such a move.
Russ Ball, the team’s VP of football administration/player finance, also was interviewed by Murphy. While Ball was considered the early favorite, mostly due to his close relationship with Murphy, there is speculation that McCarthy was not keen on that, perhaps influencing the decision not to head in that direction.
The perception inside the organization had been that Murphy might break with tradition and hire a “non-scout” as GM.
While Wolf’s future in Green Bay are in question – there are reports that Browns GM John Dorsey will seek to hire Wolf – it appears Ball will be inclined to stay.
That’s good news because Ball has been masterful in terms of negotiating contracts and managing the salary cap.
The Packers also sought to interview two former employees. They contacted the Seahawks for permission to interview John Schneider, but were rebuked. They asked the Raiders’ Reggie McKenzie to interview but McKenzie declined.
They also interviewed former Buffalo GM Doug Whaley.
Murphy settled on Gutekunst, who was scheduled to interview with the Houston Texans Sunday night for their vacant GM job. Gutekunst is expected to sign a five-year deal with Green Bay at an approximate salary of $2.5 Million.
For my part, these moves require a “wait-and-see” approach, as usual, but if Murphy was going to stay in-house for his new GM, I think he made the right call. Word is that Gutekunst signaled to Murphy that he had his own fresh ideas about the GM job.
Whether or not what some have characterized as a power grab by Murphy to exert control by the President over football operations will play out that way, and hurt the franchise. Visions of the 1970’s – 1980’s with a meddling Executive branch in Green Bay arise concern. Perhaps the Harlan-Ron Wolf formula that has worked so well is preferred. As I said, time will tell.
Whether an outside GM candidate such as John Schneider or Reggie McKenzie would have come to Green Bay without the power to select their own head coach is debatable.
Next, the Packers need to hire a defensive coordinator and fill out the many openings on the coaching staff. Kudos to McCarthy for bringing back Joe Philbin, as either OC or Assistant Head Coach, as Philbin piloted the Packers offense to consistently great success during his tenure here.
Then it’s time to get to work building the roster for hopefully resurgent 2018 season.