When one goes back and tries to piece together all that’s happened in the first 10 days of the year, what just transpired comes into better focus.
The last half of the 2017 season laid bare for everyone to see the state of disrepair the Green Bay Packers were in. Even without Aaron Rodgers, it should not have required a remarkable comeback for the Packers to force overtime, and eke out a win against the winless Browns.
Calls for the removal of coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson had increased with each passing disappointing year. As the 2017 season wound down, even the team’s CEO and members of the board of directors were becoming the targets of blame and ridicule. Something had to be done.
On January 1, coach McCarthy starts things off by sacking people right and left. The offensive and defensive coordinators were let go, along with several assistant coaches. This was not the first time McCarthy has played the blame game – firing members of his coaching staff after disappointing seasons.
On January 2, CEO and president Mark Murphy began putting the scam into place. He called a press conference and announced that general manager Ted Thompson was being reassigned. We all know the reassignment was smoke and mirrors. Murphy wanted to keep playing the good guy, and didn’t want to alienate those docile fans who accepted the company line that the GM was a great guy in full command of his faculties.
Thompson wasn’t even on hand for the announcement. It appears Ted mercifully won’t be subjected to any further media exposure. We weren’t told how many millions of dollars Thompson was paid to agree to step down before the end of his contract, but the way the Packers have been throwing money around…
In the Q&A session, Murphy was unequivocal that the new GM would have authority over draft, free agency, and roster matters – and over the head coach. When asked a second time if the GM had hiring and firing power over Big Mike, Murphy stated, “Absolutely.”
Toward the end, Murphy slipped in an added tidbit: sometime during the 2017 season McCarthy’s contract had been secretly extended through the 2019 season. This served to quiet any fans who were still pushing to oust McCarthy right now – since he is in fact under contract for two more years.
Fans were exultant – many of their complaints about Thompson and McCarthy appeared to have been addressed, and a bunch of new coaches were being brought in to replace those under-performing bastards.
The euphoria was short lived. On January 4, Big Mike took to the podium to give his season-ending press conference. It was all about… Big Mike. He indicated that he needed to play a big role in the GM selection process, that the relationship between the new GM and himself “had to fit,” and he repeatedly referred to the relationship as needing to be a “partnership.” The warier fans among us started to smell a rat. It seemed a barely-behind-the-scenes power struggle was being waged.
Murphy didn’t wait long before making his next move. He had previously said he was going to search high and low, far and wide, internally and externally, to find the best possible GM candidate. He even added that he would be using consultant Jed Hughes of the Korn Ferry search firm, to help him in this massive endeavor.
Hughes apparently is a fast worker, for by January 7 the word was out that Brian Gutekunst, Packers director of player personnel, had the job. On January 8 it was confirmed that Gutekunst had agreed to a five-year deal.
There was a bit of intrigue involved in this hiring. Gutekunst was actually in Houston on Saturday, preparing to interview on Sunday to become the Texans’ new GM.
As Murphy tells it…
“(A) group of us sat down and pretty quickly we all agreed that Brian was the top candidate… I didn’t want him to have the full interview with Houston… we wanted to try to wrap things up that evening and get him back on a plane Sunday as soon as possible.”
So much for the promise of an exhaustive search. I’d say that Gutekunst handily out-maneuvered the CEO.
Gutekunst’s hiring was well received by Packers fans. He impressed nearly everyone when introduced at a press conference on Monday, both with his demeanor and his comments.
Also on Monday, the team announced that Russ Ball, one of the internal GM candidates, was promoted to executive vice president/director of football operations. Ball will continue to manage the Packers’ salary cap and serve as the team’s chief contract negotiator. It had been reported that Big Mike opposed Ball being named GM, so this can be viewed as another successful effort by the coach to consolidate his power and increase his job security.
Bait and Switch
A final bit of news emerged on Monday. Buried near the bottom of that day’s news release was this:
“Additionally, Murphy announced a change in the Packers’ organizational structure as Gutekunst, Ball and head coach Mike McCarthy will all report directly to Murphy.”
And there you have it fans, the big scam, the big lie revealed: McCarthy will not be reporting to Gutekunst, despite what Murphy had promised just days before. Nor will Russ Ball continue to report to the GM.
Had Murphy been upfront from the start, I assure you there would have been an uproar regarding the fact that Big Mike would no work under the supervision and authority of the GM. Given that Murphy over 11 years has shown little interest in the football operations side of the corporation’s affairs, it seems unlikely that he’ll interfere with, or even question, McCarthy’s coaching decisions.
In sum, Murphy orchestrated and manipulated the events of the last 10 days so as to have a minimum of outrage and controversy over his dramatic organizational makeover.
The New Power Structure
Some gained, and some lost, power in the upheaval: (1) the head coach has more power, less oversight, and less accountability than ever, though he is more fire-proof than ever; (2) the GM’s role has been reduced essentially to that of head of scouting; (3) Russ Ball, already the team’s primary negotiator, salary cap guru, and finance guy, has also become the “director of football operations,” so his influence has grown – at the expense of the GM; (4) Murphy, in a dictator-like power grab, has anointed himself to oversee every substantial aspect of the team’s affairs.
As for that fourth shift in power, these are some of the matters Murphy now presides over:
- He’s the top man, over 14 others, in administration.
- He directly supervises Russ Ball, who now heads up the 16-person football operations staff.
- He directly supervises McCarthy, who heads up the 16-person coaching staff, the roster players, and the practice squad.
- He now directly supervises Gutekunst, the top man in the 15-person player personnel department.
- I’m uncertain whether he or Gutekunst supervises the director of public relations and the director of public affairs, though Murphy has always immersed himself in such matters.
- I’m unsure who the director of brand and marketing, who oversees 11 employees, reports to, though Murphy has been hands-on in such affairs ever since coming to Green Bay.
- According to the team’s website, Murphy directs the organization’s master plan involving Lambeau Field, the Lambeau Field Atrium, and the practice facilities.
- He directed the Packers’ fifth stock sale, which netted $64 million which will largely go toward stadium improvements.
- Another of his pet projects is Titletown, a development just west of the stadium that consists of a public plaza, Lodge Kohler, Hinterland restaurant and brewery, and the famous tubing hill and ice-skating rink.
- The team website says he directed the enhancement of the organization’s retail operations, and brought concerts and other outside events to Lambeau Field.
- The site also credits him with growing the team’s human resources, including installing a leadership development program for employees.
- He’s also credited for donating approximately $8 million to local charities in the past year alone.
It’s safe to assume that Murphy also involves himself in team legal matters, as he has a law degree. He also has an MBA, so he would feel right at home in most of the team’s business and corporate dealings. And all along he’s acted in an owner-like capacity regarding league matters and representation.
Introducing the 2018 Green Bay Packers – brought to you by Mark H. Murphy!