Things seem to be out of sorts in Titletown. Yes, the Green Bay Packers are acting a bit like a dysfunctional family. Which is surprising, based on the track record which has been laid down ever since Ted Thompson hired Mike McCarthy to be the head coach of the Packers in 2006.
Since 2006, the Packers are second only to the New England Patriots in the NFL in terms of wins and trips to the postseason.
Since McCarthy took over as head coach, the Packers have gone 104-55-1 in the regular season. In that time, Green Bay has also won five NFC North titles, plus have gone to the postseason eight times, which includes seven consecutive years now.
McCarthy seemed to have fully embraced the way that Thompson had built the roster of the Packers. Thompson’s main strategy is to utilize the draft for the most part in constructing the team.
Rarely does Thompson utilize “pure” free agency in acquiring players. When he does, he’s usually very successful. Examples are Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett and Julius Peppers.
Normally, Thompson will sign “street” free agents to bolster the roster. This is how he acquired players like Tim Masthay, Sam Shields, Don Barclay, Chris Banjo and Jayrone Elliott.
Many times in his press conferences with the media over the years, McCarthy has said that the Packers were a draft-and-develop organization.
Up until this season, it sure seemed like Thompson and McCarthy were part of one happy family.
But in a scathing article earlier this week, veteran beat writer Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gives numerous examples of how McCarthy’s poor decision-making helped to undermine the team this year.
McGinn didn’t mince words about Thompson either, as he wrote that Thompson did very little to help McCarthy this season, especially in terms adding players who could help out at positions which were hurt via injuries.
But the one thing in the article which jumped out to everyone was this:
According to several sources, McCarthy is fed up with his boss’ unwillingness to take a chance and reinforce the roster with veteran players that might be unknown to the Packers but have the talent to contribute.
To be fair to Thompson, he did bring back wide receiver James Jones to the team just prior to the opening game of the season, after Jordy Nelson suffered a season-ending ACL tear this preseason.
But let’s be honest. That one sort of fell in Thompson’s lap after the New York Giants released him at the end of training camp.
But when injuries hit the offensive tackle position, the Packers were exposed without having a viable backup in place.
I know it’s hard to find left tackles out on the street who can protect your quarterback’s blindside, but it can be done.
Ron Wolf found one in 1996 when he was still the general manager of the Packers. The Packers were really struggling at the position, as rookie John Michels just wasn’t getting it done through nine games.
After trying veteran Ken Ruettgers as a starter there for one game, the Packers gave Gary Brown the job for a number of games.
But in the final two games of the season and all through the postseason when the Packers ended up winning Super Bowl XXXI, the left tackle was veteran Bruce Wilkerson, who had started 89 games in nine years before coming to Green Bay.
Thompson helped in a similar fashion when the Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV after the 2010 season. Because of injuries, the Packers added a couple of “street” free agents, linebacker Eric Walden and defensive lineman Howard Green during the season.
Both played key roles for the Packers in the team’s march towards winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But now it appears a riff has developed between McCarthy and Thompson, at least from McCarthy’s perspective.
What can be done about it? I believe it’s incumbent upon the President and CEO of the Packers, Mark Murphy, to have a meeting between himself, Thompson and McCarthy.
Based on a story by Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, it certainly appears that Murphy is solidly behind Thompson in terms of how he runs the football side of the organization.
The focus of Dougherty’s article is the looming status of Eliot Wolf, the son of Ron Wolf. Eliot is currently the Director of Player Personnel and some see him as the heir apparent to Thompson as the next GM of the Packers.
But that isn’t a given, at least based on what Murphy told Dougherty.
“I think a lot of Eliot,” Murphy said. “Obviously very bright and literally grew up in the business. This became a big thing in college athletics, having a coach in waiting. I think a couple things: You hate to tie an organization’s or athletic department’s hands. For league rules it’s also important that you go through searches, too.”
Murphy also seems to be very happy with the job that Thompson is doing.
“Hopefully (Thompson will stay on) as long as he wants to and feels good about what he’s doing,” Murphy said. “I think we’re fortunate to have him.”
While Murphy is happy with the job Thompson is doing, McCarthy is apparently not.
That is why a meeting needs to happen. Murphy needs to be the arbitrator if need be. But everyone in the room should air their opinion about the way things are being run at 1265 Lombardi Avenue.
In addition to this particular issue, there also seems to be some dysfunction regarding the coaching staff and the players.
Examples with the coaching staff include removing Tom Clements as the offensive playcaller after 12 games, as well as firing two assistant coaches (Jerry Fontenot and Sam Gash) after the season ended.
Plus prior to the 2015 season, McCarthy assigned two coaching duties to Alex Van Pelt, as he coached both the quarterbacks and wide receivers. Both positions definitely underachieved this past season.
It’s tough enough to coach one position in the NFL, but to try and coach two positions seems pretty ludicrous.
In terms of the players, there were hints and innuendos of younger players on the Packers not taking their jobs seriously and spending too much time playing video games among other things.
Still, even with all of that, the Packers did make the postseason for the seventh straight year. Plus, the team came very close to getting to their second straight NFC Championship Game.
Bottom line, Murphy needs to bring both Thompson and McCarthy together. Both have shown that they can work well with each other, but there seems to be a chink in the armor now.
Hopefully matters can be ironed out if there is indeed an issue between Thompson and McCarthy.
If not, Murphy may be forced to make an executive decision one way or the other.
That’s what Murphy’s predecessor, Bob Harlan, did twice. First when he hired Ron Wolf to be general manager in 1991 and also when he gave Thompson the same title in 2005.
I’m not saying it will come down to something like that in this particular situation, but there definitely needs to be an air-clearing conversation.
Currently, there seems to be a failure to communicate within the organization.
Murphy needs to make sure that Thompson and McCarthy are on the same page heading into the 2016 season.
Since that marriage began in 2006, the Packers have had exceptional success. But even through all of that, the team has only won one Super Bowl.
But it’s also important to remember that the Patriots, the only NFL team which has had even more success than the Packers during that time, have also only won one Super Bowl in those ten years.
The NFL is a tough business, as Thompson likes to say. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
But the business gets even tougher if the head coach and the general manager are not aligned with one another.
And that seems to be the case right now with McCarthy and Thompson.