GREEN BAY, Wis. — A rare losing season without a playoff appearance led to significant front office changes for the Green Bay Packers.
A new structure is in place at the top of the front-office flow chart, and new general manager Brian Gutekunst is signaling that the Packers might be a little more aggressive in free agency.
The “draft-and-develop” philosophy will still be the foundation of the way that Green Bay builds the roster, Gutekunst said Monday at his introductory news conference at Lambeau Field.
“But I do think I will lead in my own personality and probably a little bit more aggressive in certain areas,” said Gutekunst, formerly Green Bay’s player personnel director.
“We’re not going to leave any stone unturned as far as every avenue of player acquisition.”
Predecessor Ted Thompson is now a senior advisor following a 13-year tenure highlighted by the Super Bowl-winning 2010 season.
The Packers went to four NFC title games and won six NFC North crowns under his watch.
Thompson also took heat from some vocal fans for being timid in free agency, especially at a time when two-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers is still in his prime at age 34.
The defense did not improve over the past four seasons despite being stocked with high draft picks.
Thompson had the titles of executive vice president, general manger & director of football operations — positions that will now be held by different executives under the structural change initiated by team president/CEO Mark Murphy.
“It’s very difficult for one person to handle all of those responsibilities, so really looking at it, I decided it would be in the best long-term interests of the organization to change the structure,” said Murphy, who oversaw the GM search.
Gutekunst, 44, will have complete control over roster decisions as general manager.
Coach Mike McCarthy, who is under contract through 2019 after receiving a one-year extension during the season, will now report directly to Murphy. He will have the authority to hire and fire the head coach.
Russ Ball, the team’s salary cap expert and chief contract negotiator, was promoted to executive vice president/director of football operations after serving as vice president of football administration/player finance. Ball, who interviewed for the GM job, will also report directly to Murphy.
Murphy said he decided to make the change during a broad re-evaluation sparked by the GM search. He hoped that lines of communication would improve in order to break down “silos” that had built up over the years.
“I just felt like there were too many silos in football, whether that be coaching and personnel, the college and the pro side, and breaking down those silos” was necessary, Murphy said.
Murphy is the highest-ranking administrator on a team without a traditional owner — the Packers are the NFL’s only publicly-owned franchise. In times when there might be close calls, Murphy would cast a tiebreaking vote.
“But I hope it never gets to that,” Murphy said. “That’ll be the goal, is that we can work together and through good communication we’ll all be on the same page.”
He has more football experience than the average team president, having played safety under Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs for the Washington Redskins.
Also a lawyer, Murphy had extensive experience in sports administration before becoming Packers president/CEO in 2007, including athletic director stints at Northwestern and Colgate.
Entering his 20th season with the Packers, Gutekunst is also a football lifer, but on the personnel side. He spent the past two seasons as player personnel director. He also oversaw college scouting for four years, and worked 11 seasons as a regional college scout in the talent-rich Southeast.
Gutekunst got his start in Green Bay as a scouting intern in the summer of 1997, spent most of 1998 as a scouting assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs before returning to the Packers for good when then-GM and Hall of Famer Ron Wolf hired him as a scout on Dec. 30, 1998.
Gutekunst had interviewed for other GM openings in recent years. In fact, he got the call from Murphy offering him the Packers’ job while on a trip over the weekend to Houston to interview for the Texans’ vacancy.
The interview with the Packers on Friday ended up being his last one.
“I let Mark know on Friday that this was my dream job, that I absolutely love this place,” Gutekunst said.
Interjected Murphy: “You didn’t tell your agent that.”
It all worked out in the end.
“I’m really glad that it came to where we are now,” said Gutekunst, as his wife and children watched from the front row of the auditorium.
The Packers also interviewed director-football operations Eliot Wolf, who is the son of the former GM and friends with Gutekunst; and former Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley.
Gutekunst said he hoped that he could keep Wolf as his “right-hand man”, but wouldn’t hold him back if other opportunities arose.