Mark Murphy Explains Shift in Packers' Front Office Dynamics

In just a single month into the offseason, the Green Bay Packers dove into the inner workings of their front office and coaching staff arguably far more than any other team in the league.

Among removing former general manager Ted Thompson from power and shifting Brian Gutekunst in as his successor, the Packers also promoted one of their top G.M. candidates in Russ Ball to director of football operations.

Gutekunst, who has served in Green Bay since the late 1990s as a scout, was promoted to an executive role as the Packers' director of college scouting in 2002; a position he would hold for the following 14 seasons. It wasn't until the Packers finished their 2017 season under .500 for the first time since 2008 that all these changes took place.

The more subtle shifts in power included promoting Jason Wahlers to vice president of communications, promoting Ed Policy to chief operating officer and general counsel and finally, hiring Charlie Millerwise as the team's director of development and hospitality. 

The main goal behind these decisions was to improve coach-to-front office communications, as directly evidenced by Murphy becoming directly responsible for coach Mike McCarthy's decisions.

"A key factor in my thought process was to improve communication within football," Murphy wrote in his monthly column on Packers.com.

"I felt that, over time, silos had developed within football operations and communication had suffered. Also, I wanted to create a structure that gave [Brian] Gutekunst the best chance to succeed. By narrowing his responsibilities (several of the GM's responsibilities were shifted to Russ Ball, including salary cap management and contract negotiations), it allows him to focus on the most important aspects of his job, the draft and determining the 90 and 53-man rosters."

This isn't the first time Murphy referenced the silos he was looking to obstruct. Earlier last month, when the Packers first introduced Gutekunst as G.M., Murphy's loudly-voiced and certainly achievable desire was to "knock down those silos," in reference of improving the collaboration in the Packers' football operations.

Despite these breakdowns in communication that may or may not have stemmed from Thompson's reclusive nature, he wasn't ousted from the organization but instead was named as the team's senior advisor to football operations. As such, he would be able to continue servicing the team via the best facet of roster-building that he knows best: as a college scout.

The several executives that have branched out from the Thompson tree -- including Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith, both now in the Cleveland Browns' front office -- is enough reason for the Packers to feel comfortable expanding power amongst their personnel staff.

Gutekunst, McCarthy and Ball will all report to Murphy when it comes to the Packers' business decisions. A significant, but welcomed change.

"As I came to the end of the search process," Murphy continued. "I realized how important it was to keep both [Brian] Gutekunst and [Russ] Ball with us. I determined that having both of them (as well as Mike) report to me would help us achieve this objective. Finally, all organizations evolve over time and I believe this change will help us improve as we move forward."

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Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (29)

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Packer Fan's picture

February 03, 2018 at 04:56 pm

There has to been issues before. And not just coaching. Murphy will have to be heavily involved to ensure all things are working well. But we won't know for a few years

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John Kirk's picture

February 03, 2018 at 05:17 pm

Mark Murphy is as credible as Baghdad Bob.

This gem points strongly to idea Russ was the choice but Brian's flight to Houston changed everything:

"I realized how important it was to keep both [Brian] Gutekunst and [Russ] Ball with us.

Not hard to believe it went down like this...Mark changed course and had to go with Brian or he goes to Houston. As a concession to get the job instead of Russ, Brian had to give Murphy something he wanted, which was the concession to not have the power to hire and fire and make him, Russ and Mike all reportable to him. No question in my mind Mark wanted to go with Russ but couldn't do it without Brian supporting him. Once it appeared Brian would leave everything changed.

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Hawg Hanner's picture

February 04, 2018 at 02:25 pm

Mark Murphy is extremely capable and credible as well. Let's not go to unwarranted character assassination please.

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billybobton's picture

February 05, 2018 at 01:08 pm

You have ABSOLUTELY nothing to base this on

other than:

his actions after the Fail Mary
his failures with Favre
the patheic degeneration of the front office that is now coming public
the millions and millions of dollars pumped into title town that will be (and is) nearly totally dependent upon the packers or going Bk like the giant and famous mall
His constant sucking up to R.G.

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Bearmeat's picture

February 03, 2018 at 05:22 pm

I think John Kirk is right. I think Russ and Ted had long ago decided that Russ Ball was the choice and shots across the bow from McCarthy and Rodgers, as well as the distinct possibility of losing all the talent evaluators in the FO changed Murphy's mind. This was Murphy's way of maintaining control of the operation once his preferred decision became untenable.

I don't like this power-sharing agreement and I don't think it will work. I think it's T-minus 3 years before it completely blows up in everyone's face.

We'd better hope we win one more VERY soon.

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WKUPackFan's picture

February 04, 2018 at 06:34 am

I respectfully disagree (with the respect part intended for you Bearmeat). I simply don't believe that this new arrangement is something nefarious (such as a Murphy power grab), or that it resulted from some perceived panic Murphy had because of a Gutenkunst plane ride to Houston.

It is much more likely that Murphy is being truthful, and that he believes the new organizational model will improve and streamline responsibilities among the various positions, while at the same time promoting communication between those positions. McCarthy coaches, Gutenkunst acquires/releases players, Ball advises on contract matters. They meet with Murphy to make sure everyone communicating and moving in the proper direction.

How many complaints have there been that TT acquired players that did not fit McCarthy's or Dom's systems? This new organizational model addresses that issue, assuming that it actually was an issue.

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flackcatcher's picture

February 04, 2018 at 07:16 am

WKUPackFan I want to believe your right on this. That Murphy is fixing a series of long term problems in the front office. That he is being ham handed in the way he deals with the personal issues. That everyone will work out the kinks and the egos will be put away for the good of the organization. Problem is Mark Murphy has made a lot of very powerful people angry over his moves at 1265. Still, I want to believe.......

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John Kirk's picture

February 04, 2018 at 12:23 pm

"As I came to the end of the search process," Murphy continued. "I realized how important it was to keep both [Brian] Gutekunst and [Russ] Ball with us."

When did Mark realize how important it was to keep Brian and Russ? As he came to the end of the search process. When did Brian get on the plane? At the end of the search process. Was Brian offered the job before or after the plane ride? After. When did the power to hire and fire get taken away? After the plane ride.

You can accuse people of speculation or you can really study and follow the timeline and the words of the CEO and come to an informed opinion or make fun of those who take the time to do so.

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flackcatcher's picture

February 04, 2018 at 06:59 am

Two things to remember here. Mandatory retirement age for front office personal is 65, no exceptions. Otherwise Bob Harlan would still be Packer president. Murphy's contract runs till 2019. there has been no talk of extensions or new contract by the executive committee members who oversea Murphy. Interesting that the board has not offered any sign of support to Murphy since he announced the restructuring. The board could be taking a wait and see approach as Murphy does have some support among it's members. Or they could be letting him play out this year so they don't have to fire him. As I have said before, Murphy had one job, and he blew it. Otherwise we be hearing about Mark Murphy's new contract extension by now. The only question now, is when do the executive committee makes it move, do they do it during the season, or do they wait till after the upcoming season ends.

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fthisJack's picture

February 04, 2018 at 07:50 am

i don't like it at all. it just seems like bad business and sets up what i believe will be a power struggle between Gutekunst and Ball. what if Gute wants player X in FA and Ball doesn't want to spend the money to acquire him? do they run to Murphy for the final decision? its crazy.

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Rossonero's picture

February 04, 2018 at 09:58 am

Fthisjack: Murphy stated in January that he would resolve any disputes between Gutekunst and Ball and would side with Gutekunst on roster issues.

From Packersnews:

Murphy left open the possibility he might have to be an arbitrator, though he hopes Gutekunst and Ball could work out any dispute between them.

If an agreement can’t be reached, Murphy said he would side with Gutekunst on personnel matters.

“It's a roster decision,” Murphy said. “He has final say on it."

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fthisJack's picture

February 05, 2018 at 09:28 am

thanks for clarifying that for me Ross! forgot about that statement!

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Rossonero's picture

February 05, 2018 at 11:36 am

You're welcome!

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dobber's picture

February 04, 2018 at 01:34 pm

Frankly, I don't care as long as it works.

Whatever the case, it's leading to good off-season banter when we could be talking about why Ulrick John's parents hated him so much that they named him Ulrick.

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stockholder's picture

February 03, 2018 at 05:32 pm

The objective was to keep himself in Power. The bottom line is always about Money. The more the packers make. The more they'll make. Nothing will change. The packers will keep chasing Rainbows. And the new communication will be press propaganda. Just Life in the Nfl after the smoke clears.

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4zone's picture

February 03, 2018 at 06:52 pm

The restructuring has moved power up the ladder and removed it down below. With Ball completely in charge of contracts and the cap, if he wasn't already, how does that work? If Gute really wants player A and Ball insists on low-balling him, Mike now has to step in and separate the 'kids'. Who wins in that scenario? It seems like the perfect environment for cancer to spread inside the organization. If any of the 3 kids don't get what they want they run to daddy. . .?

I foresee smoke on the horizon. Hope I'm wrong but only time will tell. Who knows, maybe the rest of the NFL will be duplicating the methodology 10 years from now.

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Rossonero's picture

February 04, 2018 at 09:59 am

Murphy stated in January that he would resolve any disputes between Gutekunst and Ball and would side with Gutekunst on roster issues.

From Packersnews:

Murphy left open the possibility he might have to be an arbitrator, though he hopes Gutekunst and Ball could work out any dispute between them.

If an agreement can’t be reached, Murphy said he would side with Gutekunst on personnel matters.

“It's a roster decision,” Murphy said. “He has final say on it."

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John Kirk's picture

February 04, 2018 at 06:39 pm

Russ is EVP/Director of Football Operations. "Roster Decision" may not encompass big money decisions.

I have no doubt when the 53 is chosen in September Brian wins out over Russ. That's a roster decision.

Spending 80 million on a FA isn't a roster decision to me. That's an acquisition decision and I'll bet the two money guys win that dispute every time. I'd like to hear Murphy say, explicitly that if Brian wants an 80 million commitment to a FA he makes the call, not just Brian handles roster decisions. (I read the piece the quote comes from)

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Tundraboy's picture

February 04, 2018 at 07:37 pm

All seems too reactionary to me. Decisions made in reaction to a change in your plan never usually work out too well. If part of these moves were made to correct the problem in communication between TT and MM it just seems bizarre, since it is now replaced by a system where there seems to be apparent backbiting in the future from MM.

Looks more to me that MM's thinks he should be more of a GM coach. In that he is delusional. His coaching structure over the last few years is an example of why he needs to focus on coaching,

At the end of the day it's all speculation but that's how I see things.

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Coldworld's picture

February 04, 2018 at 08:28 am

I failed to notice that the otrganization that I am paid to supervise had disintegrated into a dysfunctional mess so I decided that it would be better if I simply made all the decisions in future.

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tm_inter's picture

February 04, 2018 at 10:00 am

It will be management by committee comprising Mark Murphy, Gutekunst, Russ Ball, and Mike McCarthy. Everyone can have inputs, to be discussed and decided by majority votes.

Even though the new setup encourages communications, nobody knows how things will turn out in the long run.

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Rossonero's picture

February 04, 2018 at 10:13 am

I like the change. Obviously, whatever we were doing before was not going well. A cross-functional team can be effective when there is trust, communication and accountability.

If someone is tattling or backbiting, then I'm sure Mark Murphy will put a stop to it. These guys know each other pretty well too, so it's not like they're starting over from scratch.

They will have disagreements. They will have to negotiate amongst themselves at times. As long as they remind themselves of their joint goal -- to win a title and sustain success-- then they should be ok.

I can't find examples, but I read somewhere that several playoff teams already had this front office structure.

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dobber's picture

February 04, 2018 at 01:41 pm

I would be more concerned if Russ Ball didn't have the reputation for being an outstanding cap guy and also as being a company-first dude.

I agree: let's roll with it and see if it works.

If the Packers flounder, then there's plenty of places to point fingers, but the likelihood that it will be this leadership structure seems pretty low at this point.

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Rossonero's picture

February 04, 2018 at 01:00 pm

Remember the surprise release of Josh Sitton? The front office was reportedly "apoplectic" (beyond furious) that that happened.

To me, that's an example of the dysfunction in Green Bay, but we all brushed it aside at the time.

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JDK52's picture

February 04, 2018 at 04:44 pm

Source?

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 05, 2018 at 12:29 am

Only TT could release a player at that time. Perhaps some members of the FO were apoplectic, but the head of the FO made this call, right?

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lebowski's picture

February 04, 2018 at 03:26 pm

A little off-topic here, but that column is such a freaking joke. With all the changes on the team there must have been a ton of solid questions, and he chooses to answer a question on 'are those silos you referenced grain or ICBM'?, and another 'do you feel Kramer's induction into HOF is overdue'? Seriously, why bother giving us any information at all.

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Samson's picture

February 04, 2018 at 10:40 pm

"Gutekunst, McCarthy and Ball will all report to Murphy when it comes to the Packers' business decisions. A significant, but welcomed change."

Welcomed Change -- ???

That's TBD and it may take awhile. --- Not sure how MM got so much to say about anything. -- He still has problems with clock management and use of time-outs. -- I'm still looking for a "new HC" after 2018. -- I just hope Gute has a full set (balls) during free-agency, the draft and IF Season 2018 goes south. -- It just might.

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