As Titletown Turns

It turns out that Packer fans didn’t have to wait long to find out who the new general manager is. The Packers announced today:

The Green Bay Packers have named Brian Gutekunst general manager and Russ Ball executive vice president/director of football operations. The promotions were announced Monday by President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Murphy.

“We could not be more excited to elevate Brian to the position of general manager,” said Murphy. “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. His 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.”

“First, I’d like to thank my mentor, Ted Thompson, for his friendship, and I am happy that we will continue to have the chance to work together,” Gutekunst said. “I want to thank Ron Wolf for giving me my first opportunity with the Packers, and of course Mark Murphy for the faith and trust he has placed in me moving forward. And finally, I must thank my wife, Jen, and our children for their constant sacrifice and unwavering support despite all of the time I have spent on the road and away from home. 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.”

Gutekunst (GOO-tuh-kunst), the 10th person to hold the title of general manager for the Packers, will have complete control over all roster decisions, including the NFL draft and free agency, while leading Green Bay’s scouting department. Ball will continue to manage the Packers’ salary cap and serve as the chief contract negotiator while continuing to oversee several areas in football operations.

“Since joining the Packers in 2008, Russ has proven to be invaluable,” said Murphy. “His salary-cap management and negotiating abilities are well known, but he has also provided tremendous leadership throughout football operations and served as a valuable liaison between the football and business sides of the organization. His diverse skills will remain important to our success moving forward, and I look forward to working with him even more closely in his new role.”

Additionally, Murphy announced a change in the Packers’ organizational structure as Gutekunst, Ball and Head Coach Mike McCarthy will all report directly to Murphy.

“The process of identifying our next general manager gave us the opportunity to analyze our entire football operation,” said Murphy. “While we have enjoyed a lot of success, we need to improve. With that in mind, the head coach, general manager and executive vice president/director of football operations will report to me moving forward. While I understand this is a departure from the Packers’ current structure, it will serve to increase the breadth and frequency of communication and collaboration. Ultimately, it will make the Packers better.”

Gutekunst, who is entering his 20th season with the organization, has spent the past two seasons as the director of player personnel after serving as the director of college scouting for four years. He previously worked 11 seasons as a college scout in the Southeast region. Prior to that, Gutekunst served as a scout for the East Coast region from 1999-2000. Before joining the Packers full-time, he was a scouting assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1998, a scouting intern for Green Bay in the summer of 1997 and assisted the New Orleans Saints’ coaching staff in training camp in 1995.

Gutekunst played football for two years at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and served as an assistant coach during his final two years at the school (1995-96) after a shoulder injury cut short his playing career. In 1995, he coached the linebackers as the Eagles finished 14-0 and won the Division III national championship.

Ball enters his 30th season in the NFL and 11th season in Green Bay. Since joining the Packers in 2008, he has worked in the role of the vice president of football administration/player finance. Prior to coming to Green Bay, Ball spent six seasons (2002-07) with the New Orleans Saints, serving as senior football administrator for four seasons and as vice president of football administration for the final two years. In 2001, he was the director of football administration for the Washington Redskins. From 1999-2000, Ball served as senior football administrator for the Minnesota Vikings. He began working in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he spent 10 seasons (1989-98), the final two in football operations as administrative assistant to then-head coach Marty Schottenheimer. He began his career with the Chiefs as an assistant strength and conditioning coach.

A 1981 graduate of Central Missouri State, Ball was a four-year letterman at center for the Mules. He served as head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Missouri from 1982-89 and earned his master’s degree from Missouri in 1990.

(Side note that will interest only me, but since this is my blog I’m going to tell you about it anyway: It turns out that Ball and I were in the same building once. During his aforementioned term as Missouri’s head strength and conditioning coach, Missouri played Wisconsin twice, my freshman and sophomore years. The first game, the second I ever marched in the UW Marching Band, was won by the Badgers 21–20 thanks to a muffed punt that turned into a touchdown pass from Randy Wright to Al Toooooooooon, and a fumbled kickoff recovered in the end zone for a touchdown by center Dan Turk. One year later, the Badgers, wearing red pants for the first time since the 1950s, came from behind — a comeback started by a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown by Bobby Taylor — to beat the Tigers in Columbia 35–34. Flashback over.)

What does this mean? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

It deviates from how the Packers have been structured for almost three decades. Since Ron Wolf arrived in Green Bay in 1991, the general manager has directly reported to the team president, which acts as the Packers’ owner. All other employees in the team’s football operation have reported directly to the general manager, not the president. …

A byproduct of the new structure will be removing the GM’s power to fire a head coach. While Gutekunst will be able to recommend coaching changes — and presumably those recommendations will carry much weight, if not being outright followed — the decision will now be Murphy’s to make.

Gutekunst will have final say on all roster matters, the same authority Thompson wielded in personnel decisions. Ball will remain as the Packers’ chief contract negotiator.

Thompson will also remain with the organization as Gutekunst’s senior adviser. …

The Packers are hardly setting an NFL precedent with their new structure. Several teams around the league have the same structure, including perennial contenders Seattle and Pittsburgh.

That is, however, an interesting change given this past weekend’s reported friction between Ball and McCarthy. One could look at this and suggest that Ball is being groomed to replace Murphy as president (which, as I wrote Friday, would make some sense).

Total Packers adds:

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has known director of player finance Russ Ball since 1993. In years past, McCarthy has praised Ball and talked about what a great general manager he would make.

Things have apparently soured in that relationship. Former Packers beat writer Bob McGinn wrote a lengthy piece on Friday detailing the relationship. In it, he suggests that if Ball is hired as the Packers’ general manager, McCarthy may consider leaving the Packers.

The point of contention seems to be that McCarthy believes Ball has stood in the way — and will continue to do so — of the Packers’ player acquisition efforts. That like Ted Thompson, Ball is adverse to free agency and McCarthy feels he hasn’t been given the right players to succeed.

Yet, everything we hear points toward Ball replacing Ted Thompson as the Packers’ general manager.

Now, we are going to take this with a grain of salt. McGinn is angry at the Packers for not giving him media credentials. Like us, McGinn now operates a strictly online news outlet. And like us, when we asked for media credentials, McGinn was told the Packers do not accredit online outlets. Only TV, radio and newspapers. So like us, McGinn will say whatever the hell he wants about the Packers because he doesn’t have to massage any egos.

(If I had the ability, I’d hire McGinn in a second, by the way. Letting McGinn go was the second stupidest thing Journal Communications did, next to getting rid of Marketplace Magazine.)

The lack of mention of director of football operations Eliot Wolf , arguably the fans’ choice to replace Thompson, in all that might suggest the term “former” is about to be added to that title. And how does Eliot’s father feel about that? NBC Sports reports:

By hiring in-house candidate Brian Gutekunst to replace Ted Thompson, the Packers may have lost another one, as director of football operations Eliot Wolf was passed over for the job.

Wolf’s father, Hall of Fame G.M. Ron Wolf, suggested as much to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.

“At least he had the opportunity to interview for it,” Ron Wolf said. “Obviously the people up there don’t think he’s worthy or they would’ve hired him. End of discussion.”

It leaves a big question hanging out there for the Packers, as they rebuild their front office after a rare change. …

The Packers have already lost another long-time personnel man, as Alonzo Highsmith just left to go to Cleveland with John Dorsey. Demovsky reports that Dorsey has interest in the younger Wolf as well.

Wolf has interviewed for G.M. jobs in the past, but he’s still under contract to the Packers.

Bob McGinn, who covered the Packers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and who now operates his own media outlet, suggests that the final configuration in the new front office will consist of Russ Ball as General Manager, and Brian Gutekunst as executive V.P. of football operations. Then, per McGinn, McCarthy will have to decide whether he wants to stay.

Putting it a different way (i.e., the way we’ve heard it), Ball and McCarthy don’t have a good relationship. It’s a topic that was addressed on Thursday’s PFT PM podcast, as I tried to digest and understand McCarthy’s remarks.

“It has to fit,” McCarthy said Thursday. “I have the best job in pro football, and no disrespect to the other 31 clubs. I love it here, I want to be here, but it has to fit for me, too. I’ve done this job long enough, I wouldn’t want the G.M. to hire me or partner with me if we don’t fit together. Because you’re on a path for, in the short term and long term, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to get to where you’re going to go. It has to be a partnership.” …

Murphy is smart enough to know the consequences of giving Ball the G.M. job. And the consequences quite likely will include the Packers needing a new head coach, either this year or next year.

One wonders if maybe Murphy changed his mind from what McGinn reported and flipped Ball’s and Gutekunst’s jobs. How many seconds do you think it would have taken the Lions to name McCarthy their head coach?

Instead, Florio later reported:

Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn’t want Russ Ball to be the team’s next G.M. Quarterback Aaron Rodgersalso reportedly wasn’t a fan of the franchise’s V.P. of football administration getting the ultimate in-house promotion.

They win.

With Brian Gutekunst securing the job, only five days after it officially was open, Ball’s candidacy has collapsed. Many believed he was the frontrunner for the job, based in part on a close relationship with CEO Mark Murphy.

The prospect of losing Gutekunst to the Texans apparently provided the nudge to hire him. Some had suggested that, if Ball had gotten the G.M. gig, Gutekunst would have received a title like “executive V.P. of player personnel.” …

Chances are that someone (perhaps Bob McGinn) will have a detailed story regarding things done behind the scenes to help Gutekunst get the job, and things that will happen behind the scenes now that the Packers have a new football boss.

This was more interesting to watch than the selection of the next pope, wasn’t it?

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