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Harlan’s regret illustrates importance of coach-G.M. relationship

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Though the Packers currently have one of the smoothest-running organizations in all of sports, they went through a little chaos to get there.

Former Packers president Bob Harlan recently explained to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com the events that resulted in the decision to make Mike Sherman head coach and G.M., the decision to hire a G.M., and the eventual decision to fire Sherman.

Harlan called the decision to make Sherman the head coach and the G.M. “the worst decision I made.”

When G.M. Ron Wolf retired after the 2001 season, Harlan gave Sherman, who had only one year on the job as head coach, Wolf’s job.  The decision made sense; former Packers coach Mike Holmgren was performing both jobs in Seattle, and former Packers assistant Andy Reid wore both hats in Philly, albeit without the formal G.M. title.

Harlan attributes the move not to the trend that existed at the time, but to his fear that Sherman wouldn’t mesh with a G.M. who didn’t hire him.

“I was concerned that if a new man came in from the outside, Mike might have trouble getting along with him, [or] the new man might want to come in and want to totally change the scouting staff, which I thought was a capable young scouting staff,” Harlan said.  “And so I decided to do something that I don’t like to do — give one man both jobs. And he didn’t hurt us on the field — we went 12-4, 12-4, 10-6, 10-6.  [Sherman] did a great job of coaching. But it got to the point when we started having problems with players that he almost seemed to be ignoring the team.”

The straw that broke the camel’s back came in 2004, when Harlan sensed that Sherman was preoccupied by former Packers cornerback Mike McKenzie’s holdout.  “That following Tuesday, we had our regular monthly meeting of the executive committee and I asked the committee for permission at the end of the season — this was in early October — if I could take the general manager duties away from Mike Sherman and hire Ted Thompson,” Harlan said.  “And they gave me permission to do that, and I sat on that for four months.”

Sherman wasn’t happy about the plan, Harlan said.  “I’d go to practice, and I’d watch Ted and Mike on the field — I didn’t even watch the team, I wanted to watch those two gentlemen — Ted would be talking to Mike, and Mike would be looking off in the distance, like he didn’t even listen to him.  It was a very cold relationship.  And Ted came into me at the end of the year and said, ‘I’ve got to make a coaching change.  I can’t go on like this.’  And we made the change.”

And the change paid off, because Thompson and subsequent coach Mike McCarthy have enjoyed a strong working relationship.  The team has been among the elite in the NFL for the past several seasons.

It’s not enough to attribute the success to the fact that the G.M. hired the current head coach.  G.M. Scott Pioli hired Todd Haley in Kansas City, and their relationship disintegrated within three years.

The point is that, regardless of gets there first, the head coach and the guy who runs the front office need to be on the same page.  And if the head coach also runs the front office, he needs to have people in the front office to whom he can and will delegate issues, so that the head coach won’t lose sight of the most important part of his job duties.

Given the intense pressure and heavy lifting of a football season, it’s critical for teams to have people in these jobs who can work together.  Though success isn’t impossible without such cooperation, it’s a lot easier to thrive when everyone is on the same page.

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36 Responses to “Harlan’s regret illustrates importance of coach-G.M. relationship”
  1. steelerchicken says: Jul 4, 2012 8:57 PM

    It also helps to have a future Hall of Fame QB in Mr. Rodgers

  2. bryanwenzel says: Jul 4, 2012 9:27 PM

    Is it counting or reading that is difficult for you?

    Mike McKenzies’ holdout was in the offseason. As in, when A-Rod was drafted.

    The whole issue came to a head, and the decision was made, long before Aaron ever played a live down in the NFL.

    DO try to keep up.

  3. acdc84 says: Jul 4, 2012 9:41 PM

    It’ll probly never happen but I hope TT writes a book at some point. It’d be so fascinating to hear about all the behind the scenes stuff that went on with one of the NFLs storied franchises.

  4. funktron2x says: Jul 4, 2012 9:50 PM

    It is no coincidence that the Lions have found their way for the first time in decades. Mayhew/Lewand/Schwartz have phenomenal chemistry.

  5. binkystevens says: Jul 4, 2012 10:05 PM

    Bob Harlan was an incredible President for the Pack. And he’s exactly right – giving Mike Sherman both titles was his biggest mistake. Still, what an asset he was for Green Bay.

  6. zn0rseman says: Jul 4, 2012 10:19 PM

    Seldom does it work out to hire the employees before the boss no matter how good those employees are. Every boss wants to be surrounded by “his” people. The second they hired Ted Thompson, Thompson was looking to fire Mike Sherman, and Mike Sherman knew it. Sherman was a fantastic coach with a record to prove it.

    So, let me ask you this? Would you work well with a new boss that took over your major responsibilities that you also knew was gunning to fire you at the first chance he got? Heck no. The only way you can stick around is for him to be gone, and Sherman knew that wasn’t going to happen even if Sherman won a Super Bowl.

  7. madnova says: Jul 4, 2012 10:19 PM

    The tone of this article had me thinking MDS wrote it. But it was Florio. I’m impressed.

  8. zn0rseman says: Jul 4, 2012 10:20 PM

    Oh, and Rogers has a LONG way to go before becoming a lock for the hall of fame.

  9. thegreatgabbert says: Jul 4, 2012 10:29 PM

    Ted’s mother looks off into the distance when he is talking to her. Tell us something surprising.

  10. queenlivekillers says: Jul 4, 2012 10:43 PM

    Interesting article and a revealing look inside.

  11. lbpackfan says: Jul 4, 2012 11:05 PM

    Sherman was NOT a fantastic coach at all. Majority of draft picks were awful…good regular season records with only 2 playoff wins from 2000-2005…not acceptable in “Titletown”.

    A likeable guy, but not a good coach unfortunately.

  12. schmitty2 says: Jul 4, 2012 11:19 PM

    funktron2x says: Jul 4, 2012 9:50 PM

    It is no coincidence that the Lions have found their way for the first time in decades. Mayhew/Lewand/Schwartz have phenomenal chemistry.

    That has nothing to do with this story

  13. woodyg says: Jul 4, 2012 11:21 PM

    TT’s earliest mistake as the Pack’s GM was to give Sherman another year as HC. Sherman should have been fired 30 minutes after TT was hired as GM. It was obvious to all PackFans that 2005 was going to be a lost season & that Sherman was a ‘dead man walking’ all season long. By 2005, the starting QB was basically running the team anyway so to retain Sherman was ridiculous.

    The Pack didn’t really become the Pack again until after 2007. Sherman gone. BF gone. It’s called addition by subtraction. Today most PackFans can chuckle at the disarray of 2005-07 but it really was a sour part of Packer history.

    Fortunately, the norm is once again the Pack and the other 31. The way it should be.

  14. chi01town says: Jul 4, 2012 11:35 PM

    Sherman was a good coach.. he was just another person green bay turned there backs on, just like they did sterling sharp, desmond howard, mark chamur, andre rison, an BRETT FARVE, an donald driver is next. Ted thompson an that whole team is known for turning there backs on good players an coaches, Ray Roads had a terible packers team for one year an he went 8/8 an they fired him

  15. jimmysee says: Jul 4, 2012 11:46 PM

    Don’t forget that Ted Thompson’s first pick to coach the Packers when Sherman left was Ray Rhodes.

    Fortunately TT realized the error of that selection and after one quick year Rhodes was out.

  16. bowmanj35 says: Jul 4, 2012 11:59 PM

    if Rodgers had a career ending injury next year, I think there’s a good shot he’d still get in the HOF. super bowl title and record so far, stats and the insane qb rating. don’t quote me but I’m pretty sure he holds the highest qb rating career wise of any qb, he just set the single season rating, and he hit 100 td’s with fewest int’s in nfl history.

  17. puntonfirstdown says: Jul 5, 2012 12:02 AM

    What I really want to read about is exactly what went on in that room with Thompson, McCarthy, and Favre in August 2008…

  18. leroysbutler says: Jul 5, 2012 12:04 AM

    Ron Wolf hired and fired Ray Rhodes not Ted Thompson.

  19. zn0rseman says: Jul 5, 2012 12:05 AM

    The guy went 12-4, 12-4, 10-6, 10-6 and Pack fans are saying he wasn’t a good coach?!?

    Seriously, maybe he wasn’t a good GM but the guy was an outstanding coach. The Pack fans I know would agree with that, but it seems like on these boards there are a lot of freshly minted Packer fans who don’t know their history prior to their last Super Bowl.

  20. funktron2x says: Jul 5, 2012 1:13 AM

    Lions comment is incredibly relevant to this conversation about gms and coaches being on the same page. It might make the Det/GB series become a decade-long rivalry with great coaching and offenses – built by the aforementioned combons.

  21. funktron2x says: Jul 5, 2012 1:14 AM

    Oh, and A-Rod is not a HoFer if he were to stop playing now. Terrell Davis showed us how that works…

  22. jimbo75025 says: Jul 5, 2012 1:34 AM

    bowmanj35 says:Jul 4, 2012 11:59 PM

    if Rodgers had a career ending injury next year, I think there’s a good shot he’d still get in the HOF. super bowl title and record so far, stats and the insane qb rating.
    ———-

    You are joking right? No offense to Pack fans but Rodgers still has a long way to go before even being mentioned for the HOF. 4 years as a starter do not a career make. Lets also not forget that Rodgers playoff record right now is 3 wins (all in same season) and 2 losses (one and dones)

  23. kidpresentable says: Jul 5, 2012 1:50 AM

    @chio1town, first of all, the conjunction you are looking for is “and.” Using “an” between each Packer who was allegedly stabbed in the back is baffling.

    Now Sharpe had a neck injury and he retired. Desmond Howard left via free agency when the Raiders overpaid, Chmura had legal problems and a neck injury, Rison was not resigned after his brief run because starter Robert Brooks was returning from injury, Favre had a role in his departure, and Driver was just resigned. Harlan just explained that Sherman was essentially insubordinate, and Rhodes was a pretty terrible coach. Also, it’s a business. Making personnel decisions is part of the job and is not synonymous with stabbing a guy in the back. I’m not sure which sport you have been watching.

  24. emperorzero says: Jul 5, 2012 2:37 AM

    Sherman was a horrible, horrible GM, but a solid coach. I would say his one mistake as coach was letting Favre have his way. I realize it might be hard to be the new guy and tell your best player how it is, but I believe a lot of the problems that came along later were because Sherman couldn’t/wouldn’t tell Favre who was boss.

  25. thehatefulnerd says: Jul 5, 2012 3:15 AM

    Sherman was a likeable guy, but he was more interested in providing employment for his friends like Tom Rossely than he was in promoting the welfare of the franchise.

    He also would not stand up to Favre.

  26. roadbiscuit says: Jul 5, 2012 6:07 AM

    >he was just another person green bay turned there backs on,

    says the fan of the team who’s last good QB was Sid Luckman

  27. billh1947 says: Jul 5, 2012 7:25 AM

    No matter how good you are at your job it is pure stupidity to ignore what your boss is telling you while showing him you dont even care to listen to him by looking into the distance while he is speaking to you,not a good way to try to preserve your job.

  28. teal379 says: Jul 5, 2012 7:44 AM

    If Sherman was such a stellar coach – please point me to the winning franchise that snapped him up the second he was fired in GB.

    What other NFL team who’s business it is to WIN immediately went after him and put him on their side line?

    Usually we see a coach get at least 2 bites at the HC apple with good records.

    Sure he went to the Texans right after – managed to go 6-10 and 8-8 as their OC but without Favre, he didn’t do much – did he?

  29. mattj425 says: Jul 5, 2012 9:05 AM

    One thing to keep in mind with Sherman the GM is that he did have a person in the personnel department that he relied on in Mark Hatley. It’s my opinion that when Hatley died, Sherman never found someone to replace Hatley’s role on the personnel side.

  30. sisqsage says: Jul 5, 2012 9:31 AM

    This is one part of Packers history that is perplexing.
    Holmgren wanted complete control, which he could have gotten with Rolf’s retirement (which happened like a year after he left). Seems like with better communication (like someone high up saying: “Hey Mike, wait a year or two and you will get everything you want”), they could have worked all that out, and Holmgren would have been the longest serving Packers coach ever with Favre as his QB for like 15 years.
    Think of how many more SBs those two would have won. Holmgren was obviously the best-ever coach for Favre, instilling much needed discipline.
    If the proper signal was sent, you think Holmgren would have waited, with his franchise QB and one SB ring already in place at the storied Lambeau Field?
    Sure he would have.
    This would have also avoided that Ray Rhodes disaster, which set the franchise back a few years at least.
    Never understood why they gave all that power to a pretty inexperienced Sherman, who had never been an NFL top executive or head coach in the league before that. He got what Holmgren wanted all along, but didn’t seem to deserve it.
    Sherman had some good records, but you never got the sense he was going to be like Holmgren and win the big one.
    Which, of course, Sherman never did.
    It’s also interesting to note how the league has changed since then. Most teams would never give out that much power now to a new coach (the ill-fated McDaniels ring a bell?).
    Most owners know now you need a strong GM and coach structure like the Packers and Giants have.

  31. jjbadd says: Jul 5, 2012 12:03 PM

    Opinions about coaches are sort of irrelevant nowadays. First I’ll give mine on Sherman as Packers HC, I think he was as good as Brett Favre made him. I feel that way, because it’s the same as Mike Shanahan & John Elway. Think about what he has done since Elway retired? Too much emphasis is put on 1 guy, when it is ultimately a team process in order to succeed. 1 guy never has or never will make a complete difference. Better yet, hold off and see how Sherman does in Miami. Personally I think it more to do with several things happening at the same time. Good coaching, good players, a bit of good luck.

  32. lbpackfan says: Jul 5, 2012 12:23 PM

    jjbadd says:
    Jul 5, 2012 12:03 PM
    Opinions about coaches are sort of irrelevant nowadays. First I’ll give mine on Sherman as Packers HC, I think he was as good as Brett Favre made him. I feel that way, because it’s the same as Mike Shanahan & John Elway. Think about what he has done since Elway retired? Too much emphasis is put on 1 guy, when it is ultimately a team process in order to succeed. 1 guy never has or never will make a complete difference. Better yet, hold off and see how Sherman does in Miami. Personally I think it more to do with several things happening at the same time. Good coaching, good players, a bit of good luck.

    ——————————–

    Couldn’t agree with you more – good breakdown here. For me, I hated the Sherman playcalling (hand off 1st down everytime) … and the awful playoff record and blowouts we encountered… (wins in 2001 vs SF and 2003 vs Seattle…blown out by Rams, Falcons, Vikings and then there’s 4th and 26…ouch)

  33. chi01town says: Jul 5, 2012 1:29 PM

    @kidpresentable Sterling Sharp broke his neak playing the game an before he was out of danger the packers brought him a PINK SLIP on his hospital bed, Desmond Howard was the MVP of the Super bowl…an the team didnt want him to go to the White house with them so they mailed him his SB ring, Andre Rison caught the first pass in the SB an took it all the way, his ring was mailed to him an he threw it in the river, an dont get me started on FARVE

  34. stavreafavre says: Jul 5, 2012 3:50 PM

    Everyone makes mistakes. Recognizing, admitting, and correcting them is much less common.

  35. majikman7 says: Jul 5, 2012 3:52 PM

    @chi01town
    Please learn how to put together a complete sentence before posting again. You could not sound anymore dumb.

  36. beerbratscheese says: Jul 5, 2012 9:41 PM

    @chi01town I’m sure a person with your integrity and impeccable knowledge of the game will have no trouble backing up your claims with links to credible news articles.

    I’ll be waiting.

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