One of the more stunning, albeit under-noticed, developments from January came when the Packers nudged G.M. Ted Thompson out of his job with the express intent of replacing him. And then didn’t.
Less than a week after announcing that Thompson is out — and emphasizing that the new G.M. will have hiring and firing authority over the head coach — the Packers unveiled a far different configuration of the revamped front office. Brian Gutekunst became the new G.M., Russ Ball became the new director of football operations, and CEO Mark Murphy became directly responsible for coach Mike McCarthy.
“A key factor in my thought process was to improve communication within football,” Murphy explains in the latest installment of his periodic fan question-and-answer column. “I felt that, over time, silos had developed within football operations and communication had suffered. Also, I wanted to create a structure that gave Brian the best chance to succeed. By narrowing his responsibilities (several of the G.M.’s responsibilities were shifted to Russ Ball, including salary cap management and contract negotiations), it allows him to focus on the most important aspects of his job, the draft and determining the 90- and 53-man rosters. As I came to the end of the search process, I realized how important it was to keep both Brian and Russ with us. I determined that having both of them (as well as Mike) report to me would help us achieve this objective. Finally, all organizations evolve over time and I believe this change will help us improve as we move forward.”
The last part of Murphy’s explanation hints strongly at the dynamics that caused the Packers to quickly and drastically change the scope and significance of the G.M. job. Many thought Ball would be getting the gig, and storm clouds already were gathering regarding whether McCarthy would want out if that happened. But giving the full thing to Gutekunst may have resulted in Ball moving on. So Murphy split it up, carving out and keeping responsibility for McCarthy — and in turn ensuring that McCarthy wouldn’t choose to leave, either.
With so many skilled executives swirling under Thompson (while also hovering for the chance to pounce when he exited the job), it made sense for the Packers to find a way to expand the position to multiple people, even if it still meant that guys like Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith chose to do what possibly even more would have done if Murphy had given Thompson’s title and responsibilities fully and completely to one person.
The end result continues to be that Murphy and McCarthy emerge with greater significance in the operation. With that comes greater accountability, however, if the team doesn’t achieve its expectations.