Just over 16 months have passed since Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy restructured the team’s football operations. Under the new arrangement, the general manager, head coach, and executive vice president all operate independently from one another and report directly to Murphy, a more diffuse organizational model than the one under which the Packers had operated for nearly three decades.
Murphy’s decision garnered considerable attention, and not without reason. The new power structure marked the most significant organizational pivot since former president Bob Harlan installed the linear hierarchy of command with future Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf at the top in 1991. That model famously produced the Packers’ first sustained run of success since Vince Lombardi roamed the sidelines and eventually delivered victories in Super Bowls XXXI and XLV. Accordingly, Murphy’s decision to deviate from a proven model raised questions.
At the time, Murphy claimed the organizational revamp would break down “silos” within the football operations and open clear lines of communication between the Packers’ most important individuals. Instead, he appears to have created an environment where conflicting interests vie for supremacy.
A recent report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein details how, among other forms of organizational dysfunction, new head coach Matt LaFleur did not have full say over his coaching staff. Citing multiple sources familiar with the situation, Silverstein says executive VP Russ Ball “had a role” in removing coaches with long-term connections to Mike McCarthy, LaFleur’s predecessor who worked to block Ball’s promotion to general manager the previous offseason. That dynamic resulted in the loss of multiple assistants, including highly regarded offensive-line coach James Campen. Additionally, the Packers also lowballed prospective special-teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, LaFleur’s first choice for the position.
Any management model that so unduly handcuffs the head coach warrants criticism, and few like the one Murphy has installed have enjoyed success in the NFL. That, along with other peculiar developments such as new general manager Brian Gutekunst learning of the restructure after accepting the position, represent valid causes for concern.
But while cracks have already appeared in Murphy’s new power structure, organizational dysfunction appears unlikely to unravel the Packers so long as they continue to have a stabilizing presence at the center of the franchise: Aaron Rodgers.
For years, Rodgers has propped up the Packers with dominant play. When the roster decayed in the seasons following the Super Bowl XLV victory, Rodgers pulled off numerous football magic tricks. Despite little help from his defense, Rodgers piloted Green Bay to a 15-1 record in 2011 while earning his first MVP award. The team came within a historic fourth-quarter collapse of another Super Bowl in 2014, Rodgers’ second MVP campaign. His multiple Hail Mary conversions in 2015 brought the team within an overtime of the NFC title game. The Packers would reach the conference championship round a season later on the back of their quarterback’s last-minute wizardry. Rodgers even had the team atop the NFC North before breaking his collarbone during a Week 6 tilt in 2016.
All of which further underscores a long-established NFL truth: no individual affects a franchise more than the quarterback. With Rodgers under contract through the 2023 season, the Packers hold the ultimate trump card for the foreseeable future. For whatever issues threaten to hold back the franchise, a future Hall of Fame quarterback offers legitimate hope to overcome them.
Ostensibly, Murphy orchestrated changes in Green Bay to lessen the burden on Rodgers, and perhaps they will yield positive results despite the flawed process. The roster looks stronger coming out of the last month’s draft than at any time over the past two seasons, and new offensive scheme propelled two of the last three Super Bowl representatives from the NFC. And even if Ball, Gutekunst, and LaFleur have divergent visions for the Packers, they ultimately only differ on how to build around Rodgers. Accordingly, each pillar of the three-headed management team agrees on the same leading man and overall direction.
At some point in the future, Rodgers will leave Green Bay and the Packers will have to chart a new course. Perhaps without the stabilizing effect of a future Hall of Fame quarterback, the team will further battle internally and fall into disarray like many of the other NFL franchises that fail to maintain a consistent, linear power structure. Murphy’s decision to move away from Harlan’s proven model could indeed cost Green Bay in such a scenario.
However, until that time arrives, expect Rodgers to keep the Packers’ worst impulses in check.