McGinn: Packers' GM picture remains unchanged

Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY – News on Thursday regarding Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst won't be much of a factor in identifying the Green Bay Packers’ next general manager.

Director-Football Operations for the Green Bay Packers Eliot Wolf chats during Green Bay Packers practice inside the Don Hutson Center Thursday, January 19, 2017.

When the time comes for Packers President Mark Murphy and the executive committee to choose a successor for Ted Thompson, titles and salaries and years left on a contract will have little or no bearing on the decision.

The best bet is that Kansas City GM John Dorsey would return to the Packers to succeed Thompson, providing a replacement isn’t needed for at least another year. He’s contractually obligated to the Chiefs through the 2018 draft.

Securing a successful, savvy evaluator like Dorsey, especially one with 23 years of scouting experience and five years' playing experience for the Packers, would make it a coup for Murphy and the corporation’s hierarchy.

For now, at least, Dorsey to Green Bay would be the perfect fit.

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The Packers retained Wolf on Thursday while at the same time it appears as if they stand a good chance of losing Gutekunst next week to the San Francisco 49ers.

Sources said Wolf, the team’s director of football operations, pulled out of the running for the vacant general manager’s position in San Francisco when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to be hired.

Meanwhile, Gutekunst, the Packers’ director of player personnel, is regarded as a strong candidate if not the front-runner to replace Trent Baalke entering a second interview next week.

The Packers, according to sources, increased Wolf’s salary and intend to give him another upgraded change in title, which would be his third promotion in five years.

Wolf, 34, the son of former Packers GM Ron Wolf, is regarded as a candidate to succeed Thompson when the 64-year-old GM decides to step down. So is Russ Ball, the Packers’ vice president of football administration.

Gutekunst, 43, is one of three candidates scheduled for a second interview with 49ers owner Jed York and Paraag Marathe, the team’s chief strategy officer. Others are Terry McDonough, vice president of player personnel for the Arizona Cardinals, and George Paton, assistant general manager for the Minnesota Vikings.

Wolf reportedly was the fourth of the nine candidates interviewed who was asked back for a second interview. Then he pulled out not long after Trent Kirchner, the Seahawks’ co-director of pro personnel, did the same thing.

One source said the second interviews probably would be held Tuesday in Atlanta. Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, reportedly has agreed to replace Chip Kelly as coach.

Gutekunst, McDonough and Paton figure to meet separately with the 49ers executives and then also with Shanahan. York has said for weeks that the relationship between his new coach and GM is of paramount importance.

If Gutekunst for some reason didn’t hit it off with Shanahan, he could pull out or the 49ers could offer the job to McDonough or Paton.

“It’s been Gutekunst for two weeks,” said one source close to the 49ers’ search. “He killed that interview. The owner says he’s Scot McCloughan without the drinking problem.”

McCloughan, a Packers scout under Ron Wolf from 1995-00, helped build the foundation for the 49ers’ success under coach Jim Harbaugh and Baalke. He departed the 49ers in 2009, and later acknowledged that issues with alcohol interrupted his career.

After another troubled stint in Seattle that involved abuse of alcohol, McCloughan was out of football for more than a year before being named general manager in Washington.

McCloughan is regarded by Ron Wolf and others in the personnel field as being an extraordinary evaluator of talent.

Gutekunst is the son of John Gutekunst, the head coach at the University of Minnesota from 1985-’91.

He played football for two years at Wisconsin-La Crosse before injuries struck and he served as the Eagles’ linebackers coach in 1995.

Gutekunst served as a scouting assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1998 before Ron Wolf hired him as a college scout in ’99.

He scouted the East Coast for two years before being moved to the Southeast from 2001-'11. He moved his family from North Carolina to Green Bay in 2012 after being promoted to director of college scouting.

In 2015, the Packers refused to permit Gutekunst to interview for a prominent personnel job in Philadelphia under Kelly. Last year, they blocked an attempt by the Tennessee Titans to interview him for the top personnel post under GM Jon Robinson.

If the Falcons make the Super Bowl, the 37-year-old Shanahan couldn’t officially be hired until after the final gun. His contract, according to a source, is expected to average about $7 million.

If the 49ers offer the GM job to Gutekunst and he accepts, Thompson is expected to let him leave immediately even if the Packers reach the Super Bowl.

In the event of Gutekunst’s departure, the Packers would lean even more heavily on Alonzo Highsmith, their senior personnel executive, and Jon-Eric Sullivan, their director of college scouting.

Baalke, who was fired at the end of the season, is a possibility to join Thompson in Green Bay. They’re close friends, usually sit together watching workouts at the combine and sometimes arrange their schedules to scout colleges at the same time.

Before becoming the 49ers GM, Baalke had made it clear that he hoped to succeed Thompson. He grew up in Rosendale, Wis., and graduated from Laconia High School.

On and on

Just as the Packers pile up victories, they continue to pile up arrests in the player and assistant coach ranks.

In the last two years, seven players and one coach have been arrested. It’s a black mark for a franchise that at times over the years has portrayed itself as being above the norm when it comes to employing high-quality people.

In August, Thompson was asked what was most right about this team and this organization.

“We’ve got good people, really good people,” he replied. “That goes to the people on the fourth and third floor, that second floor, the players downstairs and the support staff. It’s remarkable.”

After the NFC divisional playoff victory Sunday in Dallas, coach Mike McCarthy reflected on the last-minute winning drive.

“I think that in and of itself tells a lot about the character, just the way that we’ve been able to fight through,” said McCarthy. “I think it’s a pretty big insight into who we are as a football team.”

The truth, of course, is that the Packers probably operate about the same as every team in the NFL.

Some general managers and owners are more willing than others to take a chance on players deemed to be high character risks. When players get in trouble, some teams are quicker than others to pull the plug.

The Packers did release defensive tackle Mike Pennel on Jan. 9 after his second four-game suspension this year for violating the league drug policy.

They could have made an even stronger statement by cutting Pennel on Jan. 2 when his suspension ended. Instead, they waited a week before the expiration of his one-week roster exemption forced their hand.

Darren Perry, the team’s safeties coach since 2009, has a Feb. 23 appearance in Brown County Circuit Court for a hearing on a first-offense drunken driving charge. He also was charged with refusing to take a breathalyzer test and with unsafe lane deviation.

The charges stem from a traffic stop at 1:16 a.m. Dec. 17 in Suamico. He had a blood-alcohol content of between .08 and .15%.

Other than issuing a statement saying they were aware of the matter and were in communication with the league, the Packers have done nothing publicly and Perry remains on the job.

In Wisconsin, first-offense drunken driving is a traffic violation, not a crime. Previously, Perry was convicted of drunken driving twice in Pennsylvania. He also was arrested in Louisiana on suspicion of drunken driving. That charge was dropped.

Perry was in his fifth season as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting free safety in December 1996 when he was charged with a DUI, driving an unregistered vehicle and failure to notify police of an accident with injury and damage to a vehicle or property.

Every charge was withdrawn other than the DUI. He avoided jail time by entering into a fast-track rehabilitative program that included probation and an alcohol safe-driving program.

Perry was in his first season with the New Orleans Saints in August 2000 when he was arrested and charged with drunken driving after rear-ending a car less than two hours after returning from an exhibition game. He failed a field sobriety test and refused to take a breath-alcohol test.

Perry was completing his fourth and final season as the Steelers’ secondary coach when he was arrested in October 2006.

He was charged with DUI, fleeing or attempting to elude an officer, careless driving, failure to stop at a red light, driving while operating with a suspended or revoked license, reckless driving and accidental damage to a vehicle or property.

He entered a guilty plea to DUI, careless driving and failure to stop at a red light. The other charges were withdrawn.

Earlier this month, cornerback Sam Shields was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia stemming from an Oct. 19 arrest. He is scheduled for a plea/sentencing hearing April 24.

Wide receiver Geronimo Allison was pulled over for speeding in Manitowoc County Sept. 4. He was charged Dec. 15 with misdemeanor possession of marijuana during the traffic stop. His first court appearance is scheduled Jan. 23.

Cornerback Demetri Goodson was suspended for the first four games after the league announced in April that he had violated policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Linebacker Mike Neal was the only one of three Packers linked to a possible PED scandal who wasn’t cleared in an NFL investigation. A solid player in 2015, Neal wasn’t signed all season.

In the first half of 2015, nose tackle Letroy Guion, linebacker Datone Jones and tight end Andrew Quarless had run-ins with the law.

Guion served a three-game suspension after being arrested on felony charges of possession of marijuana and a firearm. Police seized 357 grams of marijuana, a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun and more than $190,000 in cash from his truck after a traffic stop in Florida.

Jones was suspended one game after being ticketed for possession of marijuana in Brown County.

Quarless was suspended two games for his arrest on allegations of firing a weapon during an argument outside a parking garage in Miami Beach.

An unrestricted free agent after last season, Quarless wasn't re-signed by the Packers. The Lions signed him Aug. 15 before cutting him a month later just when his suspension was ending.

The next time members of Packers management extol the virtues of their players and coaches, remember this list of embarrassing episodes and take it all with a grain of salt.

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