Quite a while back, I posted a piece that said if Ted Thompson is ever unhappy with Mike McCarthy’s use of the players Thompson supplies him with, all he has to do is overrule the coach, as he’s McCarthy’s boss. I might have been wrong about that assumption.
Yes, the norm in the NFL is that the GM is in charge of everything under him, including hiring and firing of the head coach. In poking around, however, I see that the contract terms of GMs vary widely. In some cases, the GM’s job is pretty much confined to being the leader of the scouting department.
What is the contractual relationship between Thompson and McCarthy? We don’t know, and the Packers are determined to keep the terms of the Thompson agreement a highly classified secret.
It was reported that former CEO Bob Harlan changed the organizational structure in 1991, giving new GM Ron Wolf “total control of the football operation, including the authority to hire the coach and fire the coach.” Wolf quickly proceeded to fire Coach Lindy Infante and hire Mike Holmgren. When Wolf retired in 2001 at only age 62, coach Mike Sherman absorbed the GM’s duties. When Thompson was named GM by Harlan in January 2005, he initially retained Sherman as coach, but fired him after one season and hired McCarthy.
At least that’s how the Journal Sentinel described these events in a May 2014 story. Interestingly, even back then reporter Bob McGinn sounded this ominous note: “(S)ome of those in attendance at a pre-draft briefing didn’t think Thompson looked particularly vibrant.” How’s that for understatement?
While the multiyear extension of McCarthy’s contract was reported in 2014, it was “the Packers,” not Ted Thompson, who issued the press release. I’m pretty sure it was president Mark Murphy who works out the financial details of such contracts, and probably presided over the negotiations as well.
Packers’ Current Chain of Command
Thompson and McCarthy are the longest-tenured general manager-head coach tandem in the NFL (Bill Belichick doesn’t count). My strong suspicion is that McCarthy now reports directly to CEO Mark Murphy – a guy who’s more interested in corporate affairs than football operations.
Think about the personalities and styles of Big Mike and Little Ted. McCarthy is physically imposing, he has a domineering side to him, and he doesn’t take well to being questioned or second-guessed. He’s a self-proclaimed “highly successful NFL coach,” a big name in the game, and is tied for third on the list of longest-tenured head coaches in the league (Patriots’ Belichick, 2000; Bengals’ Marvin Lewis, 2003, McCarthy and Saints’ Sean Payton, 2006).
Thompson is the sixth longest-tenured GM in the league. He only comes out of the shadows a few times a year, wearing his hoodie and looking like a deer caught in the headlights. His personality is all but non-existent. His love is scouting. He doesn’t seem fit for, or interested in, making executive decisions other than those involving player acquisitions. Whenever I comment on a player being released, I always assume that was primarily or exclusively a coach’s decision, not one made by Thompson.
I don’t think Thompson at this stage in his career would want to be in charge of the head coach. I can’t imagine that McCarthy would be happy being an underling, and serving at the will and whim, of Thompson. Finally, I doubt that Mark Murphy would want to assign that responsibility to someone like Thompson.
Whenever the relationship of Thompson and McCarthy is discussed, it seems to be one of equals, not employer and employee. When speculation came out in early 2016 that Big Mike was fed up with Thompson’s reluctance to acquire players through free agency, McCarthy avoided giving a direct answer, instead saying: “I think the program that Ted and I built, it speaks for itself… Ted and I need to keep looking forward and build this team to be the best team we possibly can.” Equals.
Whatever kind of employment relationship these guys have, it’s fair to say it’s a cozy and secure setup for all three.
And therein lies the problem. There is such a thing as being too secure in one’s job. Within the Packers’ corporate organization, when have you ever heard of any criticism, suggestions from higher-ups (including the board of directors) that any of the three need to make some improvements, or that they as individuals have made mistakes that need to be corrected.
It’s hard to imagine a more dog-eat-dog business than the NFL – and that goes for most players, coaches and front office personnel. While fan complaints have risen, the organization itself seems quite content with its CEO, GM, and head coach. Within the organization, you never see any demands made, goals that must be met, no pay incentives that we know of, etc. – heck, we aren’t even sure of how much these guys get paid. But they hold the players accountable – just ask Tim Masthey, Mason Crosby, Eddie Lacy, or Brandon Bostick. When have you ever heard anyone within the corporation utter any criticism of Murphy, Thompson, or McCarthy?
How do you get better at your job in such an atmosphere?
Maybe this helps to account for why the team isn’t getting better – and until some accountability is demanded of Murphy, Thompson, and McCarthy, it probably won’t.