Mark Murphy will be the man who makes the job offer to the next head coach of the Green Bay Packers. That much is certain after he and general manager Brian Gutekunst took questions from the media for nearly a half-hour on Monday morning. The power dynamics between the two have been and will be discussed ad nauseum, but they take on a more important role over the next several weeks.
Murphy acknowledged that both men were on the same page regarding the firing of head coach Mike McCarthy on Sunday, following the Packers’ inexplicable loss to the Arizona Cardinals. He said that the two men met on Sunday and that “we both agreed that a coaching change was needed,” but called the decision difficult. However, Murphy said no fewer than five times that the 20-17 defeat at Lambeau Field was “unacceptable,” making it clear that the game was the impetus for the decision.
The challenge moving forward is hiring the next coach, and although Murphy said he will have the final say, he tried to emphasize that both he and Gutekunst will work together on the decision. After first saying that Gutekunst will be “actively involved” in the search and the process Murphy expanded. “Brian and I will work together and together we’ll hire the best coach,” he said, adding “I’m not going to hire a coach that Brian is not comfortable with.”
However, being comfortable with the hire is a far cry from making the decision yourself, and when the GM isn’t making the call, it can cause ripples of concern. After all, many of the lowest points in the franchise’s history have come either with an unconventional power structure in place or when too much power was consolidated in one man as both head coach and GM.
Perhaps this arrangement is a way to provide Gutekunst some level of cover should the hire fail to pan out. Since Murphy gets to make the final decision, he would be in line for the blame or the credit, however it turns out. In that respect, it could protect Gutekunst from some amount of criticism. Gutekunst could do all the football-related interview work while Murphy deals with off-the-field qualities.
Alternately, there is a possibility that Murphy’s ego is driving the ship a bit, despite his comments to the contrary, and that he will take Gutekunst’s input under advisement but will make the decision himself. Yahoo’s Charles Robinson reported overnight that Murphy has begun meddling in Gutekunst’s area: “league sources told Yahoo Sports (Murphy) has become more involved with some of the granular details in roster-building and contracts and to some extent, even personnel building.” Having a career administrator meddling in the construction of the roster seems like a bad idea.
Murphy was asked point-blank why he should be the man with final say over the hire instead of Gutekunst, however, and he had no satisfactory answer. After a moment’s pause, he reflected back on his lifetime in football as his qualifications: All of my adult life, I’ve been involved in football. I’ve seen it from the perspective of a player, I’ve been an athletic director for several years, I’ve hired many coaches ... I feel I’m a football person despite my role as President. Brian and I have a great relationship, and I think this gives the Packers the best chance to have success.”
Aside from having gone through this process before as Northwestern’s AD — when he hired Pat Fitzgerald, who is rumored to be a dark-horse candidate for the Packers — there’s not much there to make this observer feel that he’s a better person than Gutekunst to make the final call. But thankfully, when football-related questions came up in the press conference, the GM, not the president, was the one doing the talking. That at least suggests that when it comes down to deciding which coach is right for the Packers on the field, Murphy will defer to Gutekunst’s knowledge and experience as a scout and in the personnel department rather than taking those matters into his own hands.
Murphy should let the scout who he hired to put together the roster decide on the right coach to fit his locker room. He could be part of the group that whittles down the list of candidates, or even allow himself veto power if for some reason there is a glaring problem that Gutekunst for some reason doesn’t see. But he cannot allow his ego or pride to outweigh the feelings of his general manager.
If that’s the way this shakes out, with Gutekunst making his recommendation and Murphy providing a final thumbs-up, then that’s something that should satisfy Packers fans. The problem is that with answers (and non-answers) like the ones the two men gave on Monday, nobody outside of the organization can truly know how the dynamics of the process will actually work.