Silverstein: Gutekunst puts Packers' priority in proper perspective

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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GREEN BAY – Now that all the jet fuel has been burned, the hotel rooms made up and the aspiring head coaches where the NFL’s hierarchy decided they should be, the Green Bay Packers can get back to the business of playing football.

It means president/CEO Mark Murphy can go back to the Packers’ other operation, which is to find ways to grow the business and make gobs of money so that if in the unlikely event NFL revenue-sharing comes to an end, the Packers can squeeze out two years before folding.

Unfortunately for the football side of things, Murphy has decided to maintain a presence and stay in control of the day-to-day operation. He confirmed Wednesday that new coach Matt LaFleur would report to him instead of general manager Brian Gutekunst, guaranteeing that the old Bob Harlan-Ron Wolf structure would remain closeted.

New Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, right, laughs with general manager Brian Gutekunst as LaFleur is introduced during a press conference in the Lambeau Field media auditorium Wednesday, January 9, 2019 in Green Bay, Wis.

If ever there was a time for Murphy to back away and hand the football operation over to Gutekunst it was right then, after the hiring of LaFleur.

Murphy has hired two of the three on the organizational chart’s power triangle beneath him. He chose Gutekunst as his general manager after going through a similar search process to replace Ted Thompson last year and has chosen LaFleur. Only director of football operations Russ Ball was inherited.

If you’re confident in the people you hired, you put one of them in charge and let them do their job. You put the general manager in charge of the coach, personnel and football operations and have regular meetings to make sure everything is OK.

You address problems in the organization with your No. 1 in charge and investigate further down the pipeline only if you’re not satisfied with the answers.

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If you want to sit in on the occasional meeting just to see how things are going, you do it. If the team heads in a direction you don’t like, then you rely on your leadership evaluations and your personal observations to decide what changes need to be made.

If anything stood out at the news conference last Wednesday introducing LaFleur, it was the way Gutekunst was marginalized and hardly a part of the hiring celebration. The truth is he did the most important work of all, which is the thorough research on all the possible candidates done with the help of his top personnel people.

During the 13-minute Murphy Show that opened the news conference, everything was covered. It was a refreshingly transparent accounting of the search, and Murphy should be commended for sharing the experience of his first NFL coaching hire with Packers fans. It showed a connection to the public that is important for someone in his position.

But in the 1,800 words or so it took for Murphy to introduce LaFleur – who should have been the star of the show – he couldn’t summarize what the search was about as succinctly as Gutekunst. In the few words Gutekunst was allowed, he captured the essence of what this search should be all about.


In all those minutes of introduction, Murphy never referenced winning championships. Gutekunst was the first to say it and he said it almost immediately. He prefaced it by saying that you try to make the search as simple as possible: Find someone who can win.

“I think we’ve got the perfect candidate to lead us to where we want to go,” Gutekunst said “There’s one goal – always has been one goal – and that’s to win world championships.”

Yes, that is the goal.

Murphy’s top two priorities were that the candidate was a good fit and was excited to be there. Those are the characteristics you want in an advertising manager or a vice president of finance, both of whom are going to work behind the scenes and not garner a lot of attention.

Being a good fit is important, but if every team hired based on how well their coach or GM gets along with people, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, Sean Payton, Mike Zimmer, John Elway and Tom Coughlin wouldn’t have jobs.

Of course, LaFleur is going to be excited to be there. It’s his first head-coaching job. That’s not a reason to hire someone as much as it is a check mark on a list of things you expect of every candidate.

Murphy is about presentation, community relations, corporate operations (someone from human relations was on the search committee for a football coach? Really?), financial solvency and football.

Gutekunst is about football, football, football and football.

When Thompson made the choice to hire Mike McCarthy in 2006, hardly anybody had heard of the guy. McCarthy had a great vision for how he wanted to run things, but he was far from a smooth talker and didn’t come off as well as some of the other candidates.

But here’s how Thompson described his process for determining whom he should hire.

“I studied his record,” Thompson said during McCarthy’s introductory news conference. “I talked to a lot of people. I talked to a lot of head coaches. I talked to a lot of general managers going through this process and Mike’s name was one that kept coming up. The fact that I knew him from before, I knew his work ethic. Everyone who ever worked with him spoke glowingly of him.

“I thought I’d bring him in. I didn’t bring him in thinking ‘This is going to be the next head coach.’ I tried to have no preconceived ideas. I’m very glad I did.”

When Gutekunst was asked about the process of vetting candidates he had a very similar response. He talked about how many people he spoke with throughout the league and how he looked at the many different quarterbacks LaFleur had tutored and what he was looking for in a head coach.

“Just when we got in the room with him, the presence that he had in front of us, it just made me feel like he could coach our whole team, that he could drive our team to where it needed to be,” Gutekunst said. “We need to get better. And we need to play harder. And I thought he could do that for us.”

If LaFleur is the wrong choice and the Packers fail to make the playoffs next season and show little improvement the year after, Murphy and Gutekunst could very well be part of the next organizational house cleaning. Murphy has put himself smack dab in the middle of it and for good or bad his future is tied with LaFleur’s.

Maybe he creates a legacy on the football side with this hire, but the chances of that happening are better if he steps away and lets Gutekunst handle it from here. The football operation doesn’t need any more influence from the corporate side, it needs a football guy like Gutekunst to be in charge.

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