GREEN BAY – Russ Ball remains one of the most important anonymous people in the National Football League as he begins his ninth season with the Green Bay Packers.
In a recent interview, general manager Ted Thompson answered affirmatively when asked if Ball was capable of running an NFL organization both as a general manager and as a president.
“Sure,” Thompson replied. “He’s a good hand. He’s a people person. Came to us from New Orleans. Well thought of there.”
Ball replaced Andrew Brandt in February 2008 as vice president of football administration. In that role, he has negotiated almost every player contract and served as the liaison between Thompson and team president Mark Murphy.
Five years ago, Murphy said Ball had what it took to be an NFL GM. Thompson, 63, seems to have what in effect is almost a lifetime contract in Green Bay.
With an equally broad background in salary cap and finance, Ball also would have the experience to contend for a president’s job in Green Bay or elsewhere. Murphy, 61, has expressed satisfaction with his position.
The 56-year-old Ball never has been interviewed for either position by an NFL team. Thompson is believed to have placed him off-limits to reporters as a condition of employment.
Ball, who has worked for five NFL teams, spent eight seasons (1989-'96) as the assistant strength coach in Kansas City before moving into front-office jobs with the Chiefs, Vikings, Redskins, Saints and Packers. Schedule permitting, Thompson has used him in every personnel meeting.
“He’s always been involved (in personnel),” Thompson said. “There are certain times when time doesn’t allow him to sit in the draft room and watch tape, but when he can he’s always sitting at the tail end of the table as involved as any of the scouts.”
Thompson said Ball was able to evaluate players as well as a full-time personnel man.
Ball enjoys an extremely close relationship with coach Mike McCarthy. They have worked together for 18 years in Kansas City, New Orleans and Green Bay.
“He does a ton of work that would normally come off my desk,” Thompson said. “Human resources stuff. Vice president’s stuff. Mark Murphy knows that Russ is going to handle that part of it.
“If I’m going to be in draft meetings or free-agent meetings or roster meetings or maybe the Detroit Lions, I’ll get involved in that and Russ does some of that other stuff. It’s not that I don’t want to, but he’s better at it in some respects.”
If Ball is classified in the personnel department, the Packers’ scouting staff has 17 members. The only change from last season is Charlie Peprah replacing pro scout Glenn Cook, who departed for Cleveland in June as assistant director of college scouting.
Thompson said his chief aide in personnel was Eliot Wolf, who in March was promoted to director of football operations. He coordinates college and pro scouting.
“He does both, and depending on the time of year it changes,” Thompson said. “If you had 365 days he’d probably lean more toward the pro. He’s very valuable on both ends.”
Thompson said his staff is loaded with candidates having potential to be general managers.
“Oh, sure, most of the people that work here are in that category,” he said. “Depending on their development they’re capable of doing that.
“As time goes on, if I stay in this job long enough, they’re all going to go be general managers around the league … if we win.”
In July, the Seattle Seahawks announced that GM John Schneider had been signed to a five-year contract extension. Sources with knowledge of his contract said it no longer contained out-clause language enabling him to take the GM job in Green Bay.
The 45-year-old Schneider, a native of De Pere, scouted for the Packers from 1994-'97 and again from 2002-'10. He told people over the years that his dream was returning to Green Bay as the next GM.
The Packers’ personnel staff averages 40.7 years of age and 13.2 years of NFL front-office experience. Four of the six area college scouts have been hired in the last five years.