Are Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy Accountable to Anyone?

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Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy

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.

About The Author

Rob is currently twiddling his thumbs on Whidbey Island in Washington. He likes to do research, although he has no shortage of opinions. He saw his first live Packers game in 1958, the only win of the year.

9 Comments on "Are Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy Accountable to Anyone?"

  1. Ferris

    Make me GM for a day, on the first day of free agency, 1st minute on the job…Cut Clay Matthews and save $11M per year for 2 years, he’s getting like $500,000 per tackle or $2M per sack at this point. Use that to resign Lang. Then cut the punter, I can’t even say his name, the latest scrub and bring 5 punters into camp, someone is better. After that re-sign Jared Cook.
    That would be in my first 15 minutes on the job. Then I’d bring Brandon Marshall in for a look and tire kick and if the price was right I’d sign him. He’s better than Cobb at this point.
    By noon I’d be shopping Brett Hundley, if Rodgers goes down the team is fucked anyway, plus Callahan looked good to me, so take advantage of a QB needy team during a QB light draft. Then trade HaHa since he has a contract that a team could take on, after his joke pro bowl and sign Tony Jefferson from Arizona. There are 10 or so moves like this. I’d be busy for that one day but the roster would look better.

  2. Zwoeger

    I think high of Brett Hundley. I don’t think we can keep him long enough so yeah trade him.
    He will shine somewhere else.

    • PF4L

      Hundley’s cheap, he has no high trade value because he’s unproven. Please don’t tell me he was the MVP in pre-season…thanks.

      Teams don’t give up decent draft picks based a couple pre-season games 2 years ago. C’MON MAN!!

  3. Kato

    “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.

    While that may be spoken in such a way that they are equals in the hierarchy, I don’t agree that that is the case. I think that MM said that more in the context trying to deflect all the blame from his boss. Think about it, when you hear that your boss is facing scrutiny, and you are answering a question about your “frustration with him”, how do you answer that question. To me, his answer was more about sharing some of the responsibility while taking the high road about what he actually thought. Also, in the last interview at the combine, in response to AR’s statement about “being all in,” he gave one of his typical beat around the bush anwers when questioned about something that isn’t about himself, where he tends to get defensive.

    While I obviously don’t know, IMO I think there is some frustration on MM’s part over his boss.

  4. PF4L

    I remember a Packer fan whose brought these issues up for years. I forget his name. But it wasn’t Johnny come lately.

    I think it’s a serious reach to think McCarthy reports to Mark Murphy. Murphy wants nothing to do with the football operations, as have been clearly evident with his own words. Also, doing so would be going over Ted’s head which would destroy his ego, and which would most likely entail a negative relationship between Ted and Fat Mike.

    Yes, there is no accountability. Yes, i think everyone feels safe in their own cacoon. Yes it is more likely than not..that nobody, including the Executive Committee or the Board of Directors is voicing any concern over anything. The system is broken.

    I don’t know how often i have posted this same shit, or for how many years. But i guess i take solace in the fact that maybe many of you are beginning to see reality as i’ve seen it.

    Cozy was an apt word for Rob to use describing the positions of power in the Packer hierarchy. Cozy is also the word to describe the hierarchy of the 70’s and 80’s Packer team structure.

    The only difference between the 70’s and 80’s right now, is the 70’s and 80’s didn’t have Aaron fucking Rodgers.

    Take all that as negativity or however the hell you desire, because i give no fuck.

    What i give a fuck about is what i’ve been seeing with my Packer team, and the inept management the last 6 years that pisses me the fuck off.

    Our defense dropped from 5th in 2010, to 32nd in 2011. Look back at the shit i said then. Same shit i say today. That was the big red flag no one acknowledged back then. No team, i repeat…NO TEAM in NFL history drops that far in 1 season. It just doesn’t happen!! But it happens under Ted Thompson. And Capers didn’t give a fuck, because he said it didn’t matter, because we had Aaron Rodgers. That was another big red flag.

    Which all, might explain why i didn’t give a shit if they finished 6-10 last season and missed the playoffs. And i got news for you, i’m not real excited heading into next season, to have us get in the playoffs, and give up another 500 yards and 44 points.

    Then maybe i’ll read another article how this teams needs to draft a 1st round fucking wide receiver.

    The team needs a a top 10 scoring defense, and then we might have ourselves a team after week 17, that we feel has a realistic shot at a Super Bowl, not because were hoping for a miracle, but because we have a complete team that can compete. Like we had in 96 and 2010.

    Thank you for letting me vent.

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