GREEN BAY — He’s increased profits to record levels. He’s upgraded Lambeau Field and boosted seating capacity to the third-most in the NFL. He’s expanded the Green Bay Packers’ real estate footprint and revenue streams to include the sparkling new Titletown district.
But the one thing Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy has not had to do in his 10 years running the league’s lone publicly-owned franchise? Make a major football hiring decision.
That’s about to change, as Murphy kicked off the process Tuesday for finding a replacement for longtime general manager Ted Thompson, who is transitioning to what the team is calling a “senior advisor to football operations” position after 13 years as GM.
And to hear Murphy tell it — as he did during a news conference Tuesday afternoon — he’s not limiting himself on candidates.
The Packers’ next GM doesn’t have to be among the in-house candidates who’ve been serving under Thompson (director of football operations Eliot Wolf, director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst, or vice president of football administration Russ Ball).
Nor does he have to be rooted in the scouting tree that Pro Football Hall of Famer general manager Ron Wolf planted when he took over the woebegone Packers in late 1991 — a tree that includes three current NFL GMs (Seattle’s John Schneider, Oakland’s Reggie McKenzie and Cleveland’s John Dorsey), another ex-NFL GM (Scot McCloughan, who ran San Francisco’s and Washington’s personnel departments) and two of Thompson’s current right-hand men on the personnel side (Gutekunst and Eliot Wolf, Ron’s son)).
Dorsey is likely out of the mix having been hired by the Browns less than a month ago. Schneider and McKenzie are under contract with their current clubs but likely could be hired if the Packers compensated the Seahawks or Raiders in some way. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday that he is “convinced” Schneider is staying in Seattle and that he’s “counting on” it.
Murphy, who was hired to succeed president/CEO Bob Harlan on Dec. 3, 2007 and officially took control of the franchise on Jan. 28, 2008, inherited both Thompson (hired in 2005) and head coach Mike McCarthy (hired in 2006) from Harlan. Like Harlan, who demanded the team give Ron Wolf full control of the football operation in order to revive the downtrodden franchise, Murphy has espoused a hands-off approach when it comes to the football operation.
Now, though, he must choose the person to run that operation. While Murphy said he would use Jed Hughes’ search firm, Korn Ferry, to consult him on the search, “I will make the decision on who the next general manager is,” Murphy said.“This is an attractive job,” Murphy said. “And I’m not being Pollyannaish — every job, just being in the NFL, is good — but I think we have some unique things here as an organization that are attractive not only to general managers, but to aspiring general managers and assistant GMs. We’ve got some good people here and you don’t want to lose ‘em, but I also think the most important thing is getting the right person.”
Asked if he would strongly consider hiring someone who has been part of Ron Wolf’s system, Murphy wouldn’t commit to it.
“I don’t want to limit myself,” Murphy replied, adding that he would “quickly” begin the hiring process. “It certainly has worked. People from the 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.”
Murphy also indicated that the next GM doesn’t necessarily have to have come up through the scouting ranks, as Schneider, McKenzie, Dorsey, McCloughan, Wolf and Gutekunst did. Ball, in contrast, started in the NFL as a strength-and-conditioning coach with the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1990s — when McCarthy was an offensive assistant there under Marty Schottenheimer — and has spent most of his career managing the salary cap for multiple teams as an administrator.
Ball has been the Packers’ chief contract negotiator for the past 10 years and was at the forefront of negotiations that led to extensions for wide receiver Davante Adams and center Corey Linsley last week.
Asked if the next GM must have a scouting background, Murphy responded, “No, not necessarily. There are different examples of GMs across the league who have had success with different backgrounds. I’m willing to look at a number of different types of candidates.”
Candidates without connections to Wolf, Thompson or Green Bay might be assistant GMs such as Baltimore’s Eric DeCosta, Minnesota’s George Paton and Philadelphia’s Joe Douglas.
A league source said if Ball were to get the job, Wolf and Gutekunst would likely leave the organization — despite an ESPN report saying that the front office would undergo a reshuffling which would end with new titles for various people.
“I’m going to get the best person for the job and I can’t really think about, ‘Well, what’s going to happen if we hire this person?’ ” Murphy said. “You get the right person in place and this place is going to hum and move forward.”
As for Thompson, Murphy said the two men had talked about Thompson’s plans for the future and that Thompson reiterated that he is “a scout at heart.” But when pressed as to whether Thompson transitioning to a non-GM role was his idea or something Thompson expressed an interest in doing, Murphy was evasive.
“I don’t want to get into semantics,” Murphy replied. “It was a decision we made jointly (after) looking at a number of different options. It was something in my mind … I think it’s going to be good for the organization and Ted.”
Murphy disputed reports that the publicly-owned Packers’ board of directors pressured him to remove Thompson as GM, saying there was “absolutely no truth to the story that I was directed by the board to make a change. … It was my decision to move the way we have and working with Ted.”
Thompson, who Murphy said will remain GM until his replacement is hired, did not make himself available to reporters – “Those of you who know Ted, he doesn’t enjoy dealing with the media,” Murphy said after a joke about a root canal fell flat – but he did release a statement through the team’s public relations department in which he called his tenure a “great honor” and Green Bay “a special place.” He thanked Murphy, coach Mike McCarthy and his staff for “their friendship and support” before thanking the players – many of whom he drafted.
“I want to thank every player that has stepped on the field for us. This is the players’ game and I appreciate all the sacrifices they have made for the Packers,” Thompson said. “I look forward to supporting this team in my new role as we strive to win another championship.”
Thompson, who assembled the 2010 team roster that won Super Bowl XLV – led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whom Thompson selected with the 24th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and who remains the team’s starting quarterback today – and had three others teams reach NFC Championship Games, broke into scouting in 1992 under Ron Wolf, who hired him after a 10-year NFL playing career with the Houston Oilers and time in the Houston financial sector.
Thompson, who turns 65 this month, frustrated some fans with his commitment to a draft-and-develop approach to building his roster and eschewing expensive veteran free agency most offseasons. However, he did hit one free-agency home run in defensive back Charles Woodson, who helped the Packers to their 2010 title and thanked Thompson in a Tweet Tuesday afternoon “for bringing me to Green Bay in 2006 and giving me a chance to play in the green and gold.”
Murphy said he would not pressure the next GM to be more active in free agency.
“I think his record speaks for itself,” Murphy said of Thompson. “I realize, probably as you do, he’s a little bit of a lightning rod among our fans. I’ve read some of the comments, as I know you have. But I think when you step back and look at what he has accomplished as our general manager, it speaks for itself. Pretty remarkable, really.”