No scouting background required for next Packers general manager
GREEN BAY - Saying he will keep an open mind while selecting Ted Thompson’s replacement as Green Bay Packers general manager, president Mark Murphy made it clear Tuesday that candidates don’t need to have a scouting background to be considered.
It was a public acknowledgment that Russ Ball, the Packers’ vice president of football operations/finance — whom many people in the organization expect to get the job — won’t be hindered by the fact he has held only administrative positions.
The Packers have never had a general manager who wasn’t a player, on-field coach or scout and their last two, Thompson and Ron Wolf, had decades of experience evaluating talent before taking over the job.
The only thing Murphy will require of his hire is that he accept Mike McCarthy as his head coach.
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On the same day Murphy addressed reporters on his decision to move Thompson to an advisory position and begin the search for a successor, he confirmed McCarthy had been signed to a one-year contract extension during the season.
The deal means McCarthy won’t be a lame-duck coach going into 2018. He will have two years remaining on his contract, although the new general manager will have the authority to fire him after the ’18 season.
“Mike is our man,” Murphy said. “He is our coach. We have obviously, kind of like Ted, the two of them together have had a great run. We have all the confidence in the world in Mike. We're going to have great success moving forward.”
Just exactly who will be supplying the talent for McCarthy will depend on a search Murphy will conduct with consultation from Jed Hughes of Korn Ferry, a headhunting agency that paired Murphy with the Packers back in 2007.
Murphy said he expects to interview candidates from within and outside the organization, starting as soon as possible. He said there is no rush to find the new general manager but he doesn’t want to waste any time.
Murphy said Thompson won’t be involved in the interview process and the final decision would be his. It is the biggest football-related decision Murphy has had to make in his 10 seasons as president.
“This is going to be my hire,” Murphy said. “It was my decision to move the way we have.”
The next move is to decide whether he wants to end the string of 26 straight years in which Wolf or one of his protégés oversaw the football operation. Wolf served from 1991-‘00, Mike Sherman from 2000-’04 and Thompson from 2005-’17.
Only nine people in the history of the franchise have carried the title general manager and only three did not double as the head coach — Thompson, Wolf and Verne Lewellen (’54-’58). All the general managers had long NFL careers scouting, playing or coaching.
By comparison, Ball has 29 years in the NFL, mostly in administrative jobs in which he negotiated contracts, oversaw operations and managed the salary cap. He came into the league in 1989 with Kansas City as a strength and conditioning assistant.
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Ball, 58, and Thompson have worked closely together on managing the roster and deciding which players they can afford to sign. He supervises departments such as athletic training, equipment, video, corporate travel and public relations.
Around the league, Ball has a solid reputation as a tireless worker and shrewd manager, as well as a well-liked individual. He has shared the same unwillingness to talk to the media as Thompson, but he has never been out front of an organization before.
“I don’t want to limit myself,” Murphy said of choosing those with scouting experience. “It certainly has worked, people from the (Wolf) tree have gone on and had success at other places, so obviously you give some weight to that.
“There are a lot of good people that have done things different ways. I’m not going to limit myself, but it’s certainly something I’m cognizant of.”
If Murphy does choose Ball, as many in the organization think will happen, he risks losing director of football operations Eliot Wolf — Ron Wolf’s son — and director of player personnel, Brian Gutekunst.
Murphy lost senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith on Tuesday. Highsmith accepted a job offer from Cleveland Browns general manager and former Packers college scouting director John Dorsey. If Ball or someone without previous ties to the Packers is hired, it’s possible Wolf and Gutekunst would seek jobs there also.
Both Wolf, 35, and Gutekunst, 44, have interviewed for general manager jobs with other teams in previous years, but there are only a couple of openings around the NFL this year and they may go another year without advancing.
If Ball or someone from outside were hired, both men would know it would be a while before they would be candidates for the Packers' job.
Murphy has an interview scheduled with Wolf on Thursday and will speak with Ball and Gutekunst this week also.
“I think it goes back to just getting the best man, best person for the job,” Murphy said. “We’ve got some good people here and you don’t want to lose them, but I also think the most important thing is getting the right person.”
The Packers wouldn’t be the first team to hire a general manager with mostly administrative experience.
Philadelphia, New Orleans, Carolina, Cincinnati, Dallas and Washington all have general managers who did not come up through the scouting or coaching ranks. The Eagles, Saints and Panthers are all in the playoffs and Cincinnati went to the playoffs every year from 2011-’15.
If Ball were general manager, he undoubtedly would have several high-ranking personnel officials such as Wolf and Gutekunst around him to handle the draft, free agency and roster management.
Murphy made it clear the next general manager would have the same power as Thompson over the entire football operation and would be free to employ whatever form of player acquisition he favored.
“I'm not going to say, 'Well, we have to have somebody who believes in this or that,’” Murphy said. “You want the person that is going to be able to come in and put a plan together to get us back to competing and winning Super Bowls.”
Murphy said he met with Thompson on Monday for their regular postseason get-together and mutually agreed that it was time for Thompson to step down and serve as a bridge to the next general manager.
However, a source said there had been questions from the board of directors about Thompson's and McCarthy’s performance, which may have solidified Murphy’s thoughts on how to proceed. Murphy said it was untrue that the board of directors ordered him to remove Thompson from the general manager’s position.
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Following a 7-9 season, the first losing record and non-playoff year the Packers have had since 2008, there was enormous external pressure to make changes. McCarthy started it off by firing defensive coordinator Dom Capers and some of his assistants and Murphy made the tough call of removing the architect of a team that won four division titles, played in four NFC Championship games and won Super Bowl XLV.
“He and I talked about different options, and kept coming back to, he’s a scout at heart, he loves it, it’s what he loves to do,” Murphy said. “So, that really kind of moved us towards transitioning to a different role, a senior adviser position.
“As a GM -- and I’m sensitive to this and people that work in our business -- it’s a grind. It’s every day of the week, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. And I think in Ted’s perspective, this was a chance to still do what he loves, and still help us win championships. As I looked at it, I thought this is something that’s good for the organization as well as Ted.”
Murphy said Thompson was the one who had initiated a contract extension with McCarthy and that he signed off on it. McCarthy would have had a hard time convincing a defensive coordinator to come to the Packers if he knew McCarthy was under a one-year deal.
TED THOMPSON BY THE NUMBERS
13 Years as Packers' general manager.
135 Total victories.
90 Total losses.
9 Playoff appearances.
1 Super Bowl victory.
4 NFC Championship Games.
10 Postseason victories.
8 Postseason losses.
4 Fewest wins in a season (2005).
15 Most wins in a season (2011).