Category: Packers

100 years ago today

Today in 1919, the Green Bay Packers were created.

Tom Oates:

When you grow up in Wisconsin, it’s not if you become a Green Bay Packers fan, it’s when.

For me, the when came the day after Christmas in 1960.

That was when the Packers, two seasons removed from a 1-10-1 record that was the low point in the franchise’s 100-year history, lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL championship game at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. It was the only playoff game a Vince Lombardi-coached team ever lost and it was the very first football game I remember watching on television.

I was only 8 at the time and even though the Packers lost to the Eagles after Chuck Bednarik, the NFL’s last two-way regular, tackled Jim Taylor inside the 10-yard line on the final play, I still have vivid memories of the game.

Norm Van Brocklin hitting Tommy McDonald on a corner route to give the Eagles a 7-6 lead. Bednarik and Tom Brookshier hitting Paul Hornung and knocking the Packers star out of the game with a pinched nerve in his neck. Max McGee defying Lombardi’s orders and running 35 yards from punt formation, setting up his own go-ahead touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Ted Dean taking the ensuing kickoff back 58 yards, putting the Eagles in position for the game-winning touchdown. And finally, Bednarik dropping Taylor at the 8, preserving the Eagles’ 17-13 victory by sitting on the Packers fullback until time expired.

That’s all it took — one game — and I was hooked for life. An unbreakable bond with the Packers was formed that day.

Of course, my story is similar to millions of others who grew up in Wisconsin and fell in love with the most unique franchise in professional sports, a state treasure that has survived — and thrived — in the NFL’s smallest city. Only my story has a slight twist.

You see, I lived in the Chicago area until 1959, when my dad packed up the family and moved us to Appleton, some 30 miles from Lambeau Field (then known as City Stadium). Talk about serendipitous: We arrived in Packerland two months before Lombardi coached his first game for the franchise he would make famous by winning an unprecedented five NFL titles in seven years.

By the end of Lombardi’s second season, the Packers were in the NFL title game and I was captivated by their players, their coach, their winning ways. So, it seems, was everyone else in Wisconsin. And, thanks to the wisdom of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, football fans across the nation also adopted the small-town team with the rich history as their own.

It was Rozelle who married the NFL and network television in 1961, leading to six decades of wedded bliss in which the league became the colossus of American sports. With legends such as Lombardi, Hornung, Taylor, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke and Willie Davis helping the Packers win five NFL championships (and the first two Super Bowls) from 1961 through 1967, the Packers were the first dynasty of the television era and Green Bay became known, justifiably, as Titletown.

Almost 60 years later, with the tradition carried on by superstars such as Brett Favre, Reggie White and Aaron Rodgers, the Packers remain one of the NFL’s most-storied franchises and Lambeau Field one of its most-cherished shrines.

Indeed, the Packers are the universal language of Wisconsin. No matter what divides us socially, politically or geographically, residents of the state always have the Packers in common. From one end of Wisconsin to the other, the Packers are a sure-fire conversation starter, a source of great angst at times, great joy at other times and great pride forever.

Other major sports entities in the state have had their days in the sun but the Packers are a clear-cut No. 1 in Wisconsin. The reason is simple. The Brewers, Bucks and Badgers have all had stretches where they garner national attention and sell out their stadiums and arenas, but the Packers are the only team in the state that commands our attention whether they go 12-4 or 4-12.

Proof of that lies in two of the most magical words in Wisconsin: season tickets.

Starting with Lombardi’s second season in 1960, the Packers have sold out every game they’ve played at Lambeau Field despite its capacity rising from 32,154 when it opened in 1957 to its present-day 81,441. Even during the dismal 24-season stretch from 1968 through 1991 when the Packers were a dysfunctional organization and their on-field fortunes predictably sagged, the fans kept showing up — at Lambeau and, until 1994, at Milwaukee County Stadium. Packers fans kept believing right on up to the time Favre, White, Mike Holmgren, Ron Wolf and Bob Harlan joined forces and showed the franchise how to win again.

Perhaps the most amazing sign of the fans’ devotion is the Packers’ season-ticket waiting list, which has kept growing even though the stadium and the ticket prices have, too. A year ago, there were more than 135,000 names on the list. With the stadium’s capacity essentially maxed out and season tickets being passed from generation to generation, someone at the bottom of that list might get tickets in, oh, 100 years or so.

Another sign of the unmatched loyalty of Packers fans are the stock sales that have bailed out the franchise from various financial situations. There have been five sales of Packers stock over the years, the first in 1923, the most recent in 2011. Though Packers stock carries no monetary value and only extremely limited voting power, there were 361,169 proud stockholders as of 2018.

Therein lies the reason for the unwavering devotion of Packers fans all over Wisconsin. While billionaire owners in all professional sports treat their franchises like toys, the Packers are community-owned. Everyone has a stake. And there is an intimacy with the franchise that could never happen in major metropolitan areas. With only 105,000 people in Green Bay, fans often run into their heroes at the grocery store or the gas pump.

Like so many in Wisconsin, I learned this at a young age. The first expansion — an additional 6,519 seats — at then-City Stadium took place in 1961. My father drove to Green Bay and secured eight season tickets from the new supply, another example of good timing because the waiting list was started that same year. Thus began the Sunday football memories of my youth.

Watching 13 future Hall of Famers play for Lombardi. Getting autographs outside the locker rooms when both were at the south end of the stadium (a new home locker room on the north end opened in 1963). Tailgating with a large contingent of Appleton people in Don Terrien’s parking lot across Valley View Road from the stadium (the Packers bought the property in 2007 and it’s now part of Lot 9). The 13-10 playoff victory over the Baltimore Colts in 1965 when Don Chandler tied the game with a disputed late field goal (sorry, I didn’t have a good view of from Section 28, row 47) and won it with another field goal in overtime. The NFL title game a week later when the Packers beat the Cleveland Browns (Jim Brown’s last NFL game). The Ice Bowl victory over the Dallas Cowboys for the 1967 NFL title, the coldest and most-famous game in league history (OK, so I left at halftime).

Those remain some of the fondest memories of my youth. If you grew up in Wisconsin, you undoubtedly have your own. No matter how different our Packers experiences are, however, they all end up in the same place, a life-long love affair with the greatest franchise in sports.

It’s funny for me to realize that every Packers Super Bowl win has been during my lifetime. I have told the story here of picking up a book called, I think, Greatest Sports Legends in my elementary school library and reading with amazement the description of the Packers’ winning the first two Super Bowls (when I was 1½ and 2½ years old, respectively), given my father’s autumnal watching of and swearing at the perpetually poorly performing Packers. (Except for 1972, when the Pack won the NFC Central, only to get literally stuffed by Washington in the playoffs.)

It took 20 years after that, including the 1982 playoff team and a few .500 seasons, but most other seasons of play that ranged from mediocre to abysmal, for the Packers to start getting it right. (The nadir of Wisconsin football was 1988, when the pACKers were 4–12, but the BADgers were 1–10.) The genesis was 1987, when Bob Harlan was on the track to becoming the Packers’ president and was genuinely bothered by the perception that the Packers didn’t care about winning because they sold out games regardless of record.

Harlan focused on the business end of the franchise, while breaking the previous mold of general manager/coaches by hiring Tom Braatz to be the GM, with complete football authority. Braatz produced only one winning team, so Harlan fired him in 1991 and hired Ron Wolf. Wolf hired Mike Holmgren to coach and traded for quarterback Brett Favre, and you know how that turned out.

And then Ted Thompson replaced Mike Sherman, and Thompson hired Mike McCarthy and drafted Aaron Rodgers, and you know how that turned out.

And now the Packers are in the Brian Gutekunst/Matt LaFleur era, and we will all see how that turns out.

 

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Presty the DJ for Aug. 11

We begin with a non-musical anniversary, though we can certainly add music:

On Aug. 11, 1919, Green Bay Press–Gazette sports editor George Calhoun and Indian Packing Co. employee Earl “Curly” Lambeau, a former Notre Dame football player, organized a pro football team that would be called the Green Bay Packers:

(Clearly the photo was not taken on this day in 1919. Measurable snow has never fallen in Wisconsin in August … so far.)

Today in 1964, the Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night” opened in New York:

Two years later, the Beatles opened their last American concert tour on the same day that John Lennon apologized for saying that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus. … Look, I wasn’t saying The Beatles are better than God or Jesus, I said ‘Beatles’ because it’s easy for me to talk about The Beatles. I could have said ‘TV’ or ‘Cinema’, ‘Motorcars’ or anything popular and would have got away with it…”

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 11”

Starr, Favre and A-Rodg

This season marks 100 years since the creation of the Green Bay Packers, who have won more National Football League titles than any other team in the NFL.

One of the Packers’ greatest traditions is its quality quarterback play, at least when they’ve had that. (And they have not always had that.) The Packers have three NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks — Arnie Herber, Bart Starr and Brett Favre — and undoubtedly will have a fourth after Aaron Rodgers retires.

Elsewhere in the NFC North, Detroit has two, Earl Clarke and Bobby Layne, but neither spent most of their careers with the Lions. Chicago has four, Jimmy Conzelman, John Driscoll, Sid Luckman and George Blanda, but only Luckman spent most of his career (all of it, in fact) with Da Bears. (In essence the Bears have been trying to replace Luckman ever since he retired in 1950. Da Bears might have won more than zero NFL titles with Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus on the roster had they not let Blanda go to the American Football League.) Minnesota has two, Fran Tarkenton and Warren Moon, and Moon didn’t play long with the Vikings. (And, for that matter, the Vikings traded away Tarkenton, and then traded to get him back.)

Other teams have Hall of Fame quarterbacks — for instance, San Diego’s Dan Fouts, Miami’s Dan Marino and Buffalo’s Jim Kelly — who never won Super Bowls. Teams are lucky to have one Hall of Fame QB in their history, let alone more than one. (Miami has Bob Griese and Marino, and Dallas has Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. San Francisco has Y.A. Tittle, Joe Montana and Steve Young. The Cleveland/L.A./St. Louis/L.A. Rams have Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin and Kurt Warner, though Warner also counts as a Giants and Cardinals QB.)

Jason Wilde writes about the three QBs in the headline:

Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers eventually lost count. That’s how often the two Green Bay Packers star quarterbacks received handwritten notes from the man who set the standard — in every possible way — for them in Green Bay: Bart Starr.

“How many he wrote? I mean, hundreds,” Favre recalled this summer, several weeks after attending — and, along with Rodgers, speaking at — a private memorial service for their quarterbacking role model after Starr passed away at age 85. “Not only after good games, not even necessarily after a game. A tough game, a tough loss, maybe I didn’t play too well. …

“One of the letters I got from Bart was after we had won the Super Bowl in New Orleans (after the 1996 season). This letter starts off like basically all of them did from Bart: ‘Hey Brett, congratulations. What a great season, what a great win. I could not be happier for you and your team. …’ So on and so forth.

“But, you know, Bart was a perfectionist in so many ways, and a true gentleman and professional. This is typical Bart. Then he (writes), ‘I am a bit concerned about how you wore your hat during media day.’ I think it was turned backwards or something like that. You couldn’t help but get a chuckle out of it. But that was Bart, he was always quick to congratulate and commend and say all kinds of nice things, but he would also point out things that he felt in his eyes were unprofessional and he just wanted you to be aware of it.”

For the past three decades, Favre and Rodgers have done their best to live up to Starr’s ideals. And while that’s not always the easiest thing to do — as a human being, or as a quarterback — their success has given the Packers something no other NFL team can claim in the past century: three Pro Football Hall of Fame-level quarterbacks.

“Here’s a guy who won more championships than anybody. And people talk about the kind of person he (was),” Rodgers said. “I think there’s no greater compliment than a guy who’s accomplished so much on the field and the first thing people talk about is the kind of person that he is.

“I met him back in 2006 at Fan Fest, and I remember the feeling of excitement meeting him. I used to watch him on an old VHS (tape) — highlights of him from the first couple Super Bowls and knowing the stories.

“He lived a fantastic life. He impacted so many people. He did so much for people that you probably will never know about. I think he taught a lot of us great lessons about what it means to be a Packer.”

Starr, of course, led Vince Lombardi’s legendary Packers teams to five titles in a seven-year span, including victories in the first two Super Bowls — earning Super Bowl MVP honors in each game. His teams were 9-1 in postseason play, and his playoff passer rating of 104.1 remains the best in NFL history. A 17th-round pick from Alabama in the 1956 NFL Draft, he became the starter in 1959 and played 196 regular-season games (153 starts) in 16 seasons in Green Bay.

His playing career, which individually included the 1966 NFL MVP award and four Pro Bowl selections, ended when he retired in February 1972, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

While the Packers weren’t completely devoid of quality quarterbacking during the two decades between Starr’s retirement and Favre’s arrival in a February 1992 trade with the Atlanta Falcons — if not for a host of injuries and a pitiful defense for much of his career, Lynn Dickey might be rightfully mentioned in the same breath as Favre and Rodgers as Starr’s successors — it was Favre’s arrival that led to the 1996 team’s Super Bowl XXXI title, the organization’s first since Starr led the 1967 team to the Super Bowl II championship.

Favre also played 16 seasons in Green Bay before finishing his career with one season with the New York Jets and two with the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings. A three-time NFL MVP and 11-time Pro Bowl pick, Favre started 253 straight games in Green Bay, led the Packers to the playoffs 11 times and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, after he and the franchise reconciled several years after the trade that sent him to New York.

That trade, of course, paved the way for Rodgers, the team’s 2005 first-round draft pick who served a three-year apprenticeship behind Favre until becoming the starter in 2008. In his third season as the starter, Rodgers led the 2010 team to the Super Bowl XLV title, winning the game’s MVP award. He enters his 12th season as the starter with two NFL MVP awards (2011, 2014), seven Pro Bowl selections and the highest career passer rating in NFL history (103.1). The 35-year-old is a shoo-in to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years after he someday retires, although he intends to play into his 40s.

The 2019 season will mark the 28th of the Favre-Rodgers Era, starting with Favre’s first season in Green Bay in 1992. Over the last 27 seasons, the duo started a remarkable 411 of 432 games the Packers played (95.1%). Add in their combined 38 playoff games (including three Super Bowl appearances) and it’s 449 of 470 games.

According to Packers official team historian Cliff Christl, no NFL franchise has had such an extended run of quarterbacking greatness — or can boast three Pro Football Hall of Famers, with Rodgers ticketed for Canton eventually.

The San Francisco 49ers had Joe Montana and Steve Young for 18 years (1981-98). The Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams had back-to-back Pro Football Hall of Famers with Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin for 13 seasons (1945-57) and later had Kurt Warner, who led the franchise to the Super Bowl XXXIV title, won two NFL MVPs and was inducted into the Hall in 2017.

Over their histories, the 49ers had Montana, Young and John Brodie, as well as Y.A. Tittle, although Tittle was better known for his stint with the New York Giants; the Dallas Cowboys had Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, Danny White, Troy Aikman and Tony Romo; the Washington Redskins had Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Theismann and Sammy Baugh; the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts had Johnny Unitas, Bert Jones, Peyton Manning and now Andrew Luck.

But it’s hard to argue that any franchise had a better history at the position than the Packers, who before Starr also had Arnie Herber, a pass-throwing halfback from 1930 to 1940 who entered the Hall in 1966, and Cecil Isbell, who ended his playing career abruptly after five seasons but was still a member of the NFL’s 1930s all-decade team alongside Herber.

“When you live in Green Bay, you know about the Lombardi years and Bart Starr and all the guys that made those teams special, and you’d like to be a part of something special yourself,” Rodgers said. “We have to raise our level of play, obviously. We need to win some more championships.”

The Rodgers/McCarthy/Packers divorce

Tyler Dunne will open your eyes:

There had to be a breaking point. An incident, an argument, a loss, a moment that doomed the football marriage of Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy.

Anyone could see the Packers quarterback and head coach were headed for divorce well before that inconceivable 20-17 loss to the lowly Cardinals in December, the one that finally got McCarthy fired. Death stares and defiance from Rodgers had been constant for years by then.

But how far back do you have to go to find the beginning of the end?

Was it Week 3 of the 2017 season, when cameras caught Rodgers barking“Stupid f–king call!” at his coach?

Or back further, to the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, 2015, when McCarthy coached with the ferocity of a sloth, calling for field goals from the 1-yard line twice in the first half and then running three straight times with five minutes left to infuriate his QB and effectively euthanize a Super Bowl season?

Or even earlier, to 2013, when Rodgers and McCarthy appeared close to throwing haymakers midway through a loss in Cincinnati?

Those who observed this relationship from the beginning say you have to keep going.

Back to the honeymoon period. Even as the Packers went 15-1 in 2011, with Rodgers as league MVP. Even as they won their last Super Bowl title, in the 2010 season, with Rodgers as Super Bowl MVP. Even then, Rodgers was already seething at his coach.

So keep going. All the way to when these two were first brought together. In early 2006.

The worst-kept secret at 1265 Lombardi Avenue was that Rodgers seemed to loathe his coach from the moment McCarthy was hired.

Nobody holds a grudge in any sport like Rodgers. When it comes to Rodgers, grudges do not merrily float away. They stick. They grow. They refuel.

No, Rodgers would not forget that McCarthy had helped perpetuate his four-and-a-half-hour wait in the NFL draft green room the year prior. His nationally televised embarrassment. McCarthy, then the 49ers offensive coordinator, chose Alex Smith No. 1 overall. Not Rodgers.

No, Rodgers would not take it as a funny accident.

“Aaron’s always had a chip on his shoulder with Mike,” says Ryan Grant, the Packers’ starting running back from 2007 to 2012. “The guy who ended up becoming your coach passed on you when he had a chance. Aaron was upset that Mike passed on him—that Mike actually verbally said that Alex Smith was a better quarterback.”

La-la-la-la-la-la-la-LaFleur

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports reaction to new Packers coach Matt LaFleur:

National writers and talking heads had plenty to say when it came to the Packers’ hiring of Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to be the franchise’s next head coach, and while many felt the match with Aaron Rodgers was a good one, many well-known talking heads questioned LaFleur’s experience and recent track record.

Danny Heifitz at The Ringer makes note of the success LaFleur has had with quarterbacks Robert Griffin III, Jared Goff and Matt Ryan and notes the obvious: LaFleur’s success in Green Bay will hinge on his work with Rodgers.

“The Green Bay Packers have hired Aaron Rodgers a new head coach. I mean, the Packers have hired a new head coach. According to reports, Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will lead Green Bay next season, and while he’ll be leading a staff and a 53-man roster, he’ll be graded primarily on how well he does as Rodgers’s boss. Rodgers, the highest-paid player in NFL history and perhaps the most gifted quarterback of all time, needs a Super Bowl win to justify his contract and burnish his legacy, and LaFleur’s job will be facilitating that.” …

Some high-profile sports-opinion personalities question the hire, including Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports.

“Congratulations on hiring somebody who people question whether he has the stature and gravitas to lead a coordinators meeting. Maybe you’ve heard Aaron Rodgers is aging, he ran a Super Bowl-winning coach out of town. Good luck to Matt LaFleur.” — @ColinCowherd

Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless of Undisputed discussed the hire on Fox Sports, with Bayless summarizing by suggesting Aaron Rodgers arranged for a “pushover” to be the next coach. Bayless pointed out that LaFleur was simply a coordinator at unheralded Ashland University as recently as 2007 and doesn’t have any head-coaching experience at any level.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith felt underwhelmed by the hire, as well, again pointing to the recent track record.

“The offensive coordinator chosen to coach Aaron Freaking Rodgers — talent wise, the best, as far as I’m concerned, that I’ve ever seen  …. the offensive coordinator that you hire had the 27th ranked offense? 25th in points? The 29th ranked passing attack? That’s the guy you chose? What am I missing?”

Deion Sanders at the NFL Network was similarly unimpressed, suggesting that the Packers should have looked to hire someone who could address problems on the defensive side of the ball.

“I want the man to get an opportunity, I want his family to be blessed, trust me. But are you kidding me? Tennessee’s offense? So, I’m going to get somebody from Tennessee’s offense and put him with arguably the best quarterback in the national football league? please. the problem isn’t their offense. It’s their defense, isn’t it? … You can put Aaron Rodgers on the field with me, you and Amber, and we’re going to get it into the paint. The problem is, are we going to stop anybody? That seems to be the problem with me.”

“The offensive coordinator chosen to coach Aaron Freaking Rodgers — talent wise, the best, as far as I’m concerned, that I’ve ever seen  …. the offensive coordinator that you hire had the 27th ranked offense? 25th in points? The 29th ranked passing attack? That’s the guy you chose? What am I missing?”

Peter Schrager of the NFL Network disputes the idea that he merely serves at the pleasure of Aaron Rodgers.

“Knowing LaFleur and Rodgers … I think it’s a great mix. I think all Rodgers really probably wants is innovation and something new and a fresh look in the same offense I’ve been running for the past 10 years. LaFleur will bring that. This guy is one of the one’s who will sit in the lab all day long working on X’s and O’s, but he’s not a pushover. … He’s the kind of guy that will push back, and he’s pushed back on (Sean) McVay, he’s pushed back on (Kyle) Shanahan. And I’ll tell you that he and (Titans coach Mike) Vrabel, as great as they got along, he was an equal voice in that room when it came to offense, and he pushed back on Vrabel.”

Turron Davenport of ESPN looks at the past season with LaFleur as Titans offensive coordinator to present a glimpse of what the Packers can expect, and he arrives at a positive conclusion.

“Putting players in position to excel shouldn’t be an issue for LaFleur in Green Bay, as the new coach’s scheme seems like a perfect fit for Rodgers.”

Ryan Phillips of the Big Lead writes that the hire is “exactly what NFL teams are looking for.”

“Is LaFleur going to be successful as a head coach? Time will tell. But the trend in the NFL clearly points towards teams hiring young quarterback whisperers with a history of offensive innovation. Everyone wants the next McVay or Matt Nagy. If they can’t go young, franchises will still go after quarterback coaches/offensive coordinators. They’ve seen Doug Pederson and Frank Reich have success as well.”

Ryan Glasspiegel of The Big Lead also considers the move the “ultimate referendum” on team president Mark Murphy.

“When Murphy relieved Thompson of his duties and installed Brian Gutekunst as GM, he also enacted an odd structure where Gutekunst and McCarthy both reported to him. By all accounts, Murphy had final say over the coaching hire, and it is doubtful that the reporting structure will be any different under LaFleur than with McCarthy last season.

“Therefore, this hire should stick to Murphy. There are eight head coaching openings this offseason and just by the math and the way the NFL works, 1-2 of those new coaches are going to enact an immediate turnaround. Even with a lack of obvious slam dunk candidates in this coach cycle, there will be a unicorn that hastens other organizations’ impatience with fast results like Sean McVay and Matt Nagy have done the last two seasons. Maybe LaFleur is That Guy.”

More reaction comes from the Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein:

LaFleur comes to the Packers with a solid coaching background that includes jobs on the same staffs as San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay. He also has been a coordinator for just two seasons, only one of which included play-calling duties.

Almost all the opinions here solicited from or randomly offered by NFL scouts, former Packers staffers and agents of coaches leaned in the same direction: “Why did they choose him?”

Around league circles, it was not a heavily embraced decision, and many wondered what role Murphy’s influence played in picking a 39-year-old with no head-coaching experience and only one year of play-calling experience.

Time will tell whether it was a good decision, but here are 20 burning questions as the LaFleur era is set to begin:

1. Was this hire made to satisfy quarterback Aaron Rodgers? It smacks of that given the bent toward the McVay offense, so what message does that send to Rodgers? That it’s all about him? Do the other players feel LaFleur is their head coach?

2. Did general manager Brian Gutekunst truly approve of this hire or did Murphy pick the candidate he wanted to coach the team? Who led the search and who was the front man in the interviews?

3. Why did Murphy and Gutekunst move so quickly on LaFleur? Did they get so blown away by his interview Sunday night that they had to hire him Monday, even though no other team sought to interview him? Ted Thompson’s last interview in 2006 was with Jim Bates and it went great, but what did Thompson do? He slept on it and asked himself, ‘Who’s the best candidate?’, instead of who’s the best interview?

4. Along those same lines, why wasn’t LaFleur brought in for a second interview? Shouldn’t he have toured the facility and met with others in the organization so the brass could see how he relates to people? Didn’t they have any follow-up questions that needed to be answered in person?

5. Was the desire to tap into the McVay/Shanahan offensive revolution the primary goal in selecting the next head coach? Do they see that as the future in the NFL and what makes them think it’s not just a fad that defenses will figure out next season?

6. Did the Packers pass over Josh McDaniels and Adam Gase because they thought their personalities were too abrasive? Did they think they might rub Rodgers the wrong way? If they said no to them for that reason, didn’t they just play into Rodgers’ need for control? Wouldn’t hiring either of them send the message that the coach would be in charge?

7. How strongly was consideration given to McDaniels? How much did they weigh his success with Tom Brady and more importantly, did they consider how capable he had been in putting together a coaching staff? Or did they feel he burned all his bridges with his last-second pullout in Indianapolis last year?

8. Was this a Trace Armstrong manipulation? Did Armstrong, who is Mike McCarthy’s agent, orchestrate it all so that LaFleur and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, two other clients, were brought together to replace his first client?

9. And did Armstrong make it seem like there was a mystery team involved with LaFleur, thereby making Murphy panic and pay more than he probably needed to? Why else did Murphy move that quickly to sign a guy who had no other head-coaching options?

10. How much is LaFleur getting paid? Is it anywhere close to the $8 million-to-$9 million McCarthy made last year?

11. Did Murphy require that LaFleur hire Pettine? Or did LaFleur single him out as his favored defensive coordinator?

12. In the month before the season ended, did Murphy put a full-court press on Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and make him feel this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass by? Did he think Fitzgerald was the perfect guy for the job and, if so, why couldn’t he get him to at least interview?

13. And while dealing with Fitzgerald’s agent, Bryan Harlan, the son of former Packers president Bob Harlan and also the agent of Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, did Murphy and Gutekunst try to find out if Harbaugh was a possibility? Did they ever consider offering the Ravens a draft choice for Harbaugh just to see if there might be interest?

14. Why wasn’t Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio interviewed?Was it because he has a reputation as a bit of a curmudgeon or was it because Murphy and Gutekunst were locked in on bringing Pettine back? Wouldn’t you want to talk to one of the best defensive coordinator’s in the game?

15. Did McVay vouch for LaFleur and was it sincere or was he just helping one of his best friends get a job? Has LaFleur been riding the coattails of McVay and Shanahan or is that just the opinion of those who don’t know him well enough?

16. What separated LaFleur from former Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Todd Monken? At age 52, doesn’t Monken has far more experience, including a head-coaching stint at Southern Mississippi?

17. Who will be the voice of experience on the offensive side of the ball? Does LaFleur have plans to hire a veteran quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator to help him learn the head-coaching ropes?

18. Will LaFleur’s easy-going manner be an asset as he becomes the face of the organization and can he maintain it with the criticism that will come if the team struggles? How well is he prepared to deal with the daily media obligations a head coach bears?

19. Should LaFleur be expected to turn things around offensively right away? Or will he need a year to get the system in place, the same way Pettine needed time to get his defense running smoothly?

20. If this works out, will it solidify Murphy’s legacy with the Packers? If it doesn’t work out, will the executive committee clean house? Will McCarthy’s record be the standard by which LaFleur will be judged? And will LaFleur have a street named after him?

The street part depends on a Super Bowl win, of course. As for question 19, history says the Packers are unlikely to make the playoffs next season. In fact, no Packers coach has ever gotten his team into the playoffs in his first season.

The new guy

Dan O’Donnell:

Wisconsin got a bold new leader on Monday; a young, dynamic, charismatic figure who is as innovative as he is likeable and who promises fundamental change through sheer force of will.

To say that the Packers hiring Matt LaFleur to be their new head coach overshadowed Tony Evers’ inauguration would be the understatement of the new year. After news broke late Monday afternoon that the former Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator would be Green Bay’s coach, Evers’ inauguration became an afterthought.

That’s not a dig at a state or a media far too obsessed with football, mind you; it’s an acknowledgement of the reality that LaFleur is likelier to make a more lasting impact than is Evers.

LaFleur, after all, has a mandate to make dramatic change that Evers simply doesn’t and LaFleur, unlike Evers, won’t be rendered politically impotent by a State Legislature and Judiciary unlikely to approve of his more radical instincts.

As different as Wisconsin’s two new leaders may appear—LaFleur is a good-looking 39 year-old with a reputation as a forward thinker while the 67 year-old Evers is a self-described bore—their fates may well be inextricably linked to the same basic theory of management.

The Peter Principle, as defined in Laurence J. Peter’s 1969 book of the same name, is the idea that “every employee tends to rise to the level of his incompetence.” In other words, in a given organization (be it a football team or a state government), an individual who succeeds in—or is merely adequate in—his job, he will be promoted. If he succeeds again, he will be promoted again, and this cycle will continue…until it doesn’t. The Peter Principle dictates that everyone has a level of core competency and, once it is exceeded, failure will result.

Rise one level above your competence, the Peter Principle holds, and the results would be disastrous.

This is why many Packer fans breathed a sigh of relief that Green Bay hired LaFleur instead of Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. A very highly regarded young coordinator in 2009, he was hired as head coach of the Denver Broncos and failed miserably. Almost immediately, he so alienated starting quarterback Jay Cutler that Cutler said he could no longer trust the organization and demanded a trade.

Josh McDaniels thus stands as a grave warning for NFL teams like the Packers who hire first-time head coaches. So too should the people of Wisconsin be leery of a new Governor who seems to have just been sworn in to exactly one level above his abilities.
After a lackluster 8-8 season in 2009, the Broncos cratered in 2010, and McDaniels was fired after they dropped to 3-9 and were fined for illegally taping an opponent’s practice.

The next season, McDaniels returned to his core competency—serving as an offensive coordinator—and he has remained one of the best in football ever since, winning five Super Bowls as the leader of the Patriots’ offense.

According to the Peter Principle, this is where McDaniels should remain since a promotion to head coach exceeded his level of aptitude.

Josh McDaniels thus stands as a grave warning for NFL teams like the Packers who hire first-time head coaches.

So too should the people of Wisconsin be leery of a new Governor who seems to have just been sworn in to exactly one level above his abilities.

If one is a believer in omens, Evers flubbing his Oath of Office—literally the very first thing he did in office—is an ominous one, especially since it seems as though State Superintendent was above Evers’ core competency.

After all, he was wholly unable to perform what is perhaps the primary function of that role—making requests for funding—without resorting to plagiarism. Will he similarly resort to stealing others’ ideas when he presents his State Budget next month? Will he have a staffer swipe an old Obama speech when he delivers his first State of the State Address?

Even before he took office, Evers showed signs that he was not up to the job of Governor. In an embarrassing backtrack last week, he was forced to meekly promise to follow Wisconsin’s laws just a day after defiantly proclaiming that he would have to be sued in order to abide by legislation Republicans passed in extraordinary session last month.

This dithering, combined with Evers’ apparent inability to provide any sort of policy specifics or even articulate a coherent vision for Wisconsin, reveals him to be just as much of a disaster-in-waiting for the state as Josh McDaniels might have been.

There is, after all, a reason Wisconsin rejected him as State Superintendent twice—even relegating him to a third-place finish in the 2001 primary—and there is a reason he has been wholly unremarkable since finally winning the position that the Peter Principle had long denied him.

Even Evers’ most diehard supporters would be hard-pressed to name Evers’ most significant (or, for that matter, any) accomplishments as Superintendent, forcing a serious examination of whether that role, too, eluded his highest level of job skills.

His primary qualification for election, though, was that he is not Scott Walker and thus, despite his rather obvious shortcomings, the people of Wisconsin promoted Evers to Governor.

No wonder the state tuned out his inauguration as soon as the Packers hired a new coach: At least Matt LaFleur offers a glimmer of hope.

The next coach is …?

Packers News:

In a search that lasted for more than a month, the Green Bay Packers have found their next head coach.

Matt LaFleur, 39, is set to become the 15th head coach for the franchise, according to multiple reports and confirmed by PackersNews.

The Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator interviewed initially on Sunday. By Monday morning, the source said, the Packers began preparations to make LaFleur their 15th head coach in franchise history.

ESPN first reported LaFleur was the Packers’ top target.

LaFleur just concluded his first year as the Titans’ offensive coordinator after spending 2017 as Sean McVay’s offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams. Tennessee finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs, ending the year No. 25 in total offense and No. 27 in scoring. The Titans were 29th in passing with quarterback Marcus Mariota but seventh in the league in rushing.,

In 2017 in L.A., the Rams finished eighth in the league in rushing to go with the No. 10 passing attack in football.

Interim head coach Joe Philbin directed the team over the final four games of the regular season and interviewed for the full-time position after going 2-2. The Packers finished third in the NFC North with a 6-9-1 record, missing the playoffs for the second straight year.

The last time the Packers looked for a head coach, Ted Thompson was the general manager and he moved relatively quickly. Thompson settled on McCarthy, then the San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator, just 10 days after the firing of Mike Sherman on Jan. 2, 2006.

Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst met Friday with New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Patriots defensive play caller Brian Flores about their coaching vacancy. On Saturday they huddled with New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. and tight ends coach Dan Campbell, as well as former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken.

On Sunday, they interviewed LaFleur and former Dolphins coach Adam Gase. It’s unclear whether they spoke with Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who was reported to be high on the Denver Broncos’ list.

Matt LaFleur joined the Titans in 2018 with nine previous years of NFL coaching experience. Most recently, he spent the 2017 season as the Rams offensive coordinator and helped Los Angeles rank first in the NFL in scoring and 10th in total offense.

LaFleur spent two seasons (2015-16) as quarterbacks coach for the Atlanta Falcons. While with the Falcons, quarterback Matt Ryan earned NFL MVP honors and the team earned an NFC  Championship title. In 2016, Ryan threw for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns for a 117.1 passer rating.

He spent four seasons (2010-13) as quarterbacks coach for the Washington Redskins and one season coaching quarterbacks for Notre Dame (2014).

Following five seasons coaching in the college ranks, he began his NFL coaching career as an offensive assistant for the Houston Texans (2008-09), where he worked with the quarterbacks and wide receivers.

A native of Mt. Pleasant, Mich., LaFleur was a three-year starting quarterback at Saginaw Valley State where he guided his team to the Division II playoffs each season.

I was correct that the Packers’ coach wouldn’t be coming from the college ranks, and that he wouldn’t be a former head coach, and that he would be coming from the offensive side of the ball. The only recent trend he doesn’t follow is having Mike as his first name (Holmgren, Sherman and McCarthy), but his first name does start with M.

I admit to knowing nothing about him, which concerns me somewhat. People knew who McCarthy was, though his association with losing teams was a concern. One wonders why LaFleur left the Rams (which came out of nowhere to make the 2017 playoffs) for the Titans (which did not make the 2018 playoffs), though the Rams’ departure might be because head coach Sean McVay, not his offensive coordinator, calls plays. One is also concerned that LaFleur ran an offense that was 27th in points and 25th in yards, though that could be blamed on the general manager for not drafting enough offensive talent.

Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press–Gazette reports that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is still under contract, so he and the defensive staff are expected to stay, though who knows.

 

After the Glory Days

While looking for something else I found this:

This is the Bears–Packers game at Lambeau Field Nov. 15, 1970. The Packers still had a few members of their Glory Days teams, including quarterback Bart Starr and running backs Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski. The Bears’ quarterback was Jack Concannon, who later preceded John Hadl (of the infamous Lawrence Welk trade) as the Packers’ quarterback. The Bears also had Dick Butkus, but did not have running back Gale Sayers, who played in just two games that season due to injuries.

The more interesting thing to me is this radio call. Jim Irwin called Packers games for 30 years, but here he is the color guy (while working at WLUK-TV in Green Bay). On play-by-play is Gary Bender, who while working at WKOW-TV in Madison worked both Packers and Badgers games with Irwin on radio. Bender left Wisconsin for CBS-TV, where he announced the NFL (and was John Madden’s first TV partner) and college basketball, and then ABC-TV, and TNT when it had the NFL.

Bender’s career highlight is probably these two games:

(I was an intern at WKOW in college. In the newsroom in those days there was a black-and-white photo that was shot of Bender and other announcers at a WIAA state basketball tournament. Bender was wearing plaid pants and white dress shoes. If you have never seen white dress shoes, think Cousin Eddie in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”)

 

An inside look at Lambeau

Former Packers vice president Andrew Brandt:

As I know so well from my near-decade of living Green Bay and working for the Packers, change is rare there, and when it does happen, it moves at a glacial pace. Not only are the Packers’ headquarters on Lombardi Avenue, but it often felt like as if team and the entire community were still living in an era when Vince Lombardi roamed the Packers sideline, a simpler time with the innocence of a bygone era.

Against that backdrop, the Packers’ firing of Mike McCarthy last week with four games remaining in the 2018 season was antithetical for a franchise and community often loathe to change. Having worked directly with Mike for three years, I will take you behind the Green and Gold curtain.

The Hire

Ted Thompson had come back to Green Bay (he worked there for years before) from the Seahawks in 2005 to become general manager, relegating then-head coach and general manager Mike Sherman to a coach-only role. For that entire season I witnessed a tense relationship between Thompson and Sherman, especially after we took Aaron Rodgers—a player who would not help us short-term—in the first round of the 2005 draft. Sherman’s fears about Thompson wanting “his own guy” to be the head coach were realized following that season, as he and his staff were dismissed.

Thompson led the subsequent head coach search, with input from his trusted personnel assistants John Schneider and Reggie McKenzie and, to a lesser extent, myself. After interviewing a list of candidates that included Ron Rivera, Brad Childress and Wade Phillips, we settled on two finalists: Mike, the 49ers’ offensive coordinator at the time, and Sean Payton, then the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach of the Cowboys. Both had creative offensive minds, leading fascinating schematic conversations that would make a football junkie’s heart skip a beat.

The way out

Bill Huber:

Three days after being fired as the Green Bay Packers’ coach, Mike McCarthy was allowed to return to Lambeau Field to say good-bye.

“He spoke to the team yesterday and that was good,” team President/CEO Mark Murphy told WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee on Thursday. “I think Mike wanted some closure with the players and some of the other coaches to be able to thank them and say good-bye to them, as well.”

McCarthy was fired after Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Murphy had already decided to fire McCarthy, who was in his 13th season on the job, but the listless effort at home against a two-win team spurred Murphy into action.

Joe Philbin, McCarthy’s longtime friend and colleague, was elevated from offensive coordinator to interim head coach for the final four games.

“Mike came by the office, I think Tuesday we all saw him as a staff, which was great,” Philbin said before Thursday’s practice. “Then we talked, and he wanted an opportunity to speak with the team. I was 100 percent, fully supportive of, and he did a fantastic job talking to the team. Not just about football and winning football games, but his passion. His passion for the game, his love for the players was clearly evident. I’m sure it was emotional for him and everybody in the room. It was awesome. I thought he did a great job.”

Philbin left the Packers to become Miami’s coach in 2012. He posted a 24-28 record before being fired four games into the 2015 season. Dan Campbell finished the season. Philbin wasn’t given a chance to say good-bye; he didn’t want that to be the case for McCarthy.

“That’s the Green Bay Packer way, right? This is a first-class organization all the way around. I think it’s been that way for 100 seasons, I would guess. I’m not that old, but I’m guessing it’s been like that for a long time. We do things the right way around here. Mark and Russ (Ball, the executive vice president of football operations) and Brian (Gutekunst, the general manager) were all totally supportive, they think that was the right thing to do, as did I. Hopefully it will help.”

About McCarthy’s firing WTMJ says:

Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy told WTMJ it was a difficult decision, but one he felt needed to be made.

“The way the season had played out, I just felt that we needed a change,” says Murphy. “It wasn’t anything particularly that [McCarthy] did wrong, I just felt that the message had become stale and we needed a new voice.”

Murphy added that he intended to make a change at the end of the season, so he felt it would be better for everyone to do so now rather than wait.

I’m sure in our cynical age no one will believe this:

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