Two years ago, the Cleveland Browns decided to change things up when it came to how they would structure their front office. Instead of hiring a “football” person to run their franchise, they shocked the NFL by naming their vice president/general counsel Sashi Brown as new executive vice president of football operations, another title for general manager. Fast forward to December of this year and Brown was relieved of his duties and replaced by former Kansas City Chiefs general manager and former Green Bay Packers player, scout, and personnel executive John Dorsey.
The reason that Brown, a person that didn’t have a background in scouting or football player evaluation, lost his job can be summed up by just one number, that number being one. That is how many victories the Browns achieved during Brown’s tenure with the franchise. For the Packers, now that Ted Thompson is being transitioned from their general manager to a senior adviser, they are looking at possibly doing the same thing that the Browns did back in 2016. Instead of hiring a person with a scouting background, they are looking at possibly appointing a candidate whose background is in administrative duties. The hiring of Russ Ball as the Green Bay Packers next general manager is just too risky.
The Hiring of Russ Ball as Green Bay Packers General Manager Is Too Risky
Russ Ball made a name for himself in NFL circles for his work as the Packers vice president of administration. Ball, who has been Thompson’s right hand man for administrative duties as well as contract negotiations, has been one of the best at what he does. With Ball able to handle so many of Thompson’s administrative duties, it allowed Thompson to concentrate on scouting and player evaluations. Thompson leaned heavily on Ball when the time came to lock up players that Thompson deemed valuable for the Packers future, allowing Ball to be the main contact for players’ agents when the time came to discuss new deals. There is no arguing that Ball has been a major asset to the Packers front office and how well it has been run since he arrived in 2008. But even with his background in contract negotiations and other administrative duties, it doesn’t mean that he is qualified to be the Packers next general manager.
Not only has Ball worked for the Packers, but he has also worked for the Chiefs, the Minnesota Vikings, the Washington Redskins, and also the New Orleans Saints before coming to Title Town. To go along with working in the administrative departments for those teams, he also worked as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Chiefs. But even with all his stops and his varied experiences, he never worked as a player evaluator. There have been reports that Thompson has worked with Ball in regards to breaking down game tape of players and showing him the ropes of player evaluation. But still, that isn’t the type of experience you would expect out of a candidate who would be in charge of a department whose biggest job is to evaluate players to better the product on the field. Ball might be an asset when it comes to negotiating players contracts, but it appears that his biggest weakness is the most important thing a general manager does: player evaluation
Carbon Copy of Mark Murphy
Packers president Mark Murphy runs the Packers like most CEOs would run a company. Although Murphy is a former NFL player, it appears that he is more of a businessman, caring more about making the Packers profitable than what happens on the field. That isn’t to say that Murphy doesn’t care if the Packers win or lose. Losing football games means losing money, something Murphy doesn’t want to see. With knowing that, it might just show Murphy’s hand on who he will select to be the Packers next general manager.
If you read the most recent piece by Tom Silverstein of Packersnews.com, you will think it plays a huge part in Murphy’s decision. In the piece, Silverstein talks about how the deck could be stacked against Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst, the top two player evaluators for the Packers who are in house candidates for the general manager position. The argument for this is that Murphy might value the business side more than the football side, with Murphy wanting somebody more like himself. Sadly, for Packers fans, that leads people to believe that Murphy thinks that player evaluators are easier to replace than those who deal with the business side of running an NFL team. If that is so, it appears that Murphy hasn’t watched what has happened in Cleveland in recent history.
Chopping Down the Wolf Tree
If Murphy were to choose Ball as the Packers next general manager, it would be going away from what Ron Wolf built starting in 1991 when he was hired to the position. In 1991, former Packers president Bob Harlan decided to hire Wolf, a well-known NFL scout, to take over the general manager duties. Wolf would go on to rebuild the Packers franchise by relying on his scouting abilities. He not only built back the Packers to one of the top franchises in the NFL, he also developed a type of tree, where scouts who worked under him would go on to become general managers in the NFL. Not only did the scouts become general managers, they became successful ones.
John Schneider (Seattle Seahawks), Reggie McKenzie (Oakland Raiders), Scot McCloughan (San Francisco 49ers, Redskins), and John Dorsey (Browns and Chiefs) all worked under Wolf and all have had some type of success as a general manager. The Packers currently have two front office executives that work for them, Gutekunst and Wolf’s son Eliot, who learned under Wolf. They had three, but Alonzo Highsmith recently departed the Packers to become vice president of football operations for Dorsey in Cleveland. On his way out the door, Highsmith had an interesting comment about leaving Green Bay for Cleveland.
With two candidates, and one being the son of Wolf, learning under a Hall of Fame general manager, it would seem either would be a solid choice to take over the Packers general manager position. Both have interviewed with other NFL teams for the same role, and also have been blocked by the Packers to interview for other positions. Instead of leaving, both have received raises and new job titles from the Packers to stay with the organization. Which makes it curious that Ball would be the leading candidate to take over the general manager position.
But that leads back to Murphy and what he possibly values in a general manager. With such a long history of success for personnel executives that have worked under Wolf, and been successful, it would seem a logical decision to select another protégé of Wolf’s. But if Ball truly is the leader, it might mean that Murphy, along with valuing business over the actual game, might want to make his own path, and get away from the “Wolf Way”, a way that has led to playoff appearances, NFC North titles, and Super Bowl victories.
A Lot Riding on this Decision
There is a chance that Ball can be a successful general manager, but the odds are against him. With the Packers coming off a disappointing 7-9 season, do they really want to take a chance on promoting a person that doesn’t have a scouting background? The simple answer should be no. It isn’t worth the risk. There is no doubt that if Ball is hired, one or both Wolf and Gutekunst will depart, leaving another gaping hole for the Packers. Gutekunst would be a solid choice, but the candidate that makes the most sense is Wolf. Wolf was born to be a general manager, especially the Packers general manager. The Packers franchise means a lot to his father and himself. Packers fans deserve the best that is available and the best person to get them that is Wolf. Now it is up to Murphy to decide, is business more important, or is bringing back the Lombardi Trophy back to Title Town?