Aaron Rodgers is gone. This week, the Murphy-Gutekunst-LaFleur Era in Green Bay truly begins.
As all familiar with Green and Gold lore well recall, Green Bay was the furthest removed of NFL backwaters when Packer President Bob Harlan hired Ron Wolf as Packer General Manager in 1991. Mr. Wolf promptly hired San Francisco 49er Assistant Coach Ron Holmgren to be his head coach and traded a first-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for their second-year, third string quarterback, Brett Favre; and the Packers’ reascension to NFL royalty began.
After a few years of team wobbling after Mr. Holmgren’s departure which, due to Mr. Favre’s continuing brilliance, were more apparent to the diehard than the casual fan, in early 2005 Mr. Harlan hired Ted Thompson as Packers General Manager; in 2006, Mr. Thompson hired San Francisco 49er Assistant Coach Mike McCarthy to be his head coach; and as his first first-round pick, Mr. Thompson selected University of California Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, after 25 teams had passed on Mr. Rodgers.
That selection, more than any other made by Mr. Thompson, maintained Green Bay’s place among NFL heavyweights during the last 15 years.
Certainly, Messrs. Wolf and Thompson made mistakes over the years; I will always believe that Mr. Wolf cost Green Bay at least one more championship by mistakenly selecting University of Florida Cornerback Terrell Buckley rather than University of Wisconsin Cornerback Troy Vincent in the 1992 draft; Mr. Thompson glaringly whiffed in his last draft, 2017, when he passed on Wisconsin Linebacker T.J. Watt, instead in effect choosing the duo of University of Washington Cornerback Kevin King and Wisconsin Linebacker Vince Biegel, both marked disappointments. But it cannot be disputed that Green Bay’s consistent success over the last 30 years is in large measure due to the respective skills of Messrs. Harlan, Wolf, Thompson, Holmgren, McCarthy, Favre and Rodgers.
When it was time for Mr. Thompson to step aside in 2017, Packer President Mark Murphy, who had succeeded Mr. Harlan during Mr. Thompson’s tenure, chose Brian Gutekunst as Packer General Manager in 2018; in 2019, Mr. Gutekunst hired Tennessee Titan Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur to be his head coach, succeeding Mr. McCarthy; and in 2020, Mr. Gutekunst traded to move up in the NFL draft to select Utah State Quarterback Jordan Love in the first round.
During Mr. Gutekunst’s tenure as Green Bay General Manager, with Mr. Rodgers continuing as quarterback, Green Bay has made playoffs three times and rose to the NFC title game twice. During Mr. LaFleur’s tenure as Green Bay head coach, he has – or at least for quite a while had – the best winning percentage of any Green Bay coach in history.
I am reminded of a story that I may have entered in these pages before: when legendary New York Yankee Manager Casey Stengel was asked about the most important strategies he employed in winning so many World Championships and American League Pennants, Mr. Stengel replied: “Well, there were many; but the three most important were named, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Berra.”
I saw a note yesterday that only three players drafted by Mr. Thompson – Placekicker Mason Crosby, Running Back Aaron Jones, and offensive Tackle David Bakhtiari – remain with the team. The rest of the roster was selected by Mr. Gutekunst. Although the Packers have seemed to me to be increasingly floundering during Mr. Gutekunst’s tenure – his shortcomings as a General Manager arguably most apparent by his selection of Mr. Love much higher than most teams had rated him — the team has been mostly able to compensate for its weaknesses through the continued brilliance of Mr. Rodgers.
While I have no marked criticism of Mr. LaFleur, I don’t think anyone believes, despite Mr. LaFleur’s impressive early winning percentage as Packer head coach and recognizing the differences in eras, that Mr. LaFleur is as good a coach as Vince Lombardi was. I don’t think he’s as good a head coach as Mr. Holmgren was. I’m not sure he’s any better or perhaps even as good as Mr. McCarthy was.
Aaron Rodgers is gone. This week, the Murphy-Gutekunst-LaFleur Era in Green Bay truly begins. Packer faithful should hold on to their Cheese Heads. As former President Donald Trump likes to say: We’ll see what happens. 😉