When Mark Murphy took the extraordinary step of seizing power in the vacuum of the 2017 offseason, some worried about a Machiavellian storyline playing out. Murphy gives himself power then becomes the de facto owner, meddling and convoluting a system that worked.
Except the system didn’t work, at least not for the Packers in recent years. Mike McCarthy constantly bumped heads with Ted Thompson, disagreeing about free agent signings and the way to construct a team. With that relationship growing increasingly icy and Thompson isolating himself, Murphy moved last offseason to quell tensions and hope to increase communication.
Taken in its most generous reading, Murphy hoped that putting McCarthy and new GM Brian Gutekunst on co-equal terms would increase collaboration and communication. Gutekunst offered McCarthy and his coaches input into free agent decisions and appeared to hit a home run in the draft.
But would this siloed approach lead to infighting? The coach asks for something the GM doesn’t want to give and is forced to tattle to Murphy. It could be easily argued that’s a better system than the coach asking the GM for someone, getting stonewalled, and harboring bitterness in a chilly working relationship. At least with Murphy calling the shots, if he believes the coach is right or wrong, he gets the final say.
The concern over this structure stems from the notion Murphy could become a meddler, believing too much in his own knowledge, much like ownership around the NFL. Here’s the problem: right now there’s no evidence that’s a thing happening. The indications from the offseason were that Gutekunst and McCarthy developed a good relationship, as did Gutekunst and Murphy. That second part can’t be understated.
Gutekunst had options when he took over for the Packers. He had been on interviews for GM jobs and was up for jobs last year as well. He wouldn’t have taken a job where he believed his ability to make personnel calls would be undermined.
To the question of whether or not he should be making the final decision on the next coach, my question is who cares? What has been so consistently great about the GM model for other teams? They screw up coaching hires all the time, even solid GMs. Right now, it looks like this relationship between Murphy and Gutekunst is collaborative. On Monday, the two front office men talked about making a decision together, on working together to find the best coach for the Packers. True, it’s Murphy’s call, but he’s not the only one offering input.
It’s not materially different than most other situations where the owner has final sign off on most moves. Even when that’s not explicitly stated, teams rarely make a move like firing a Super Bowl winning head coach, or replacing him, without at least a consultation with the owner, even if it’s just informal.
Why are we simply to assume Gutekunst is more qualified to hire a head coach than a president who, as an athletic director, has already hired coaches before? Gutekunst hasn’t. For all his estimable gifts as a talent evaluator, we have no idea if he can identify a quality coach. The only argument for him over Murphy is “that’s how most other teams do it.” OK, except the Packers aren’t most other teams. Their owner isn’t a former player under Joe Gibbs who has also been a Big Ten AD and an administrator with the team.
Reports earlier this week suggest friends of Josh McDaniels have already cautioned him about the front office structure for the Packers, reporting directly to Murphy, although the specific caution remains unclear. As Murphy points out, wouldn’t most coaches rather report to a president or owner in terms of hiring and firing, rather than a GM who may be looking to skirt blame for possible failings, or take credit for successes?
Siloing coach and GM would mean the next coach will at least have his voice heard by someone. A coach — let’s say McDaniels for argument’s sake — wants something, or has an idea about roster building. He can take it right to Gutekunst, it’s not as if they can’t speak. If the two disagree, that’s where Murphy comes in to adjudicate the best course of action. So long as the relationship between coach and GM remains communicative and congenial, there’s no reason to believe they’re going to compete with one another over credit or undermine the other to Murphy. There’s no real incentive to do that because the coach isn’t going to get personnel duties and the GM isn’t going to get more say over the coach.
Everyone’s role is clearly defined.
My sense of Murphy isn’t of a power hungry bureaucrat seeking to inject himself into the big chair of the organization. The consolidation of power likely has more to do with attempting to assuage some hurt feelings in the wake of the problematic relationship McCarthy had with Thompson and the lack of collaboration that engendered. Murphy is trying to help. So long as that doesn’t reach into meddling with who Gutekunst likes and doesn’t like, or what plays the coach is or isn’t calling, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a system set up the way the Packers have it currently.
Murphy hinted last offseason he may eventually give the power to hire and fire coaches back to his GM. It’s possible, and potentially likely, he will do that when he feels like the organization is back on the right track. After having to fire a coach following one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history, it’s clear that time has not yet come. It’s hard to blame Murphy for believing a steady hand at the wheel is better than blindly adhering to “the way we’ve always done it.”
That way hasn’t worked of late for the Packers. Perhaps shaking things up is exactly what this team needs to get back on track.