The Green Bay Packers have filled their foremost front-office job openings, naming longtime scout Brian Gutekunst as general manager and top administrator Russ Ball executive vice president/director of football operations, promoting both from within and using the positions to divide the power previously consolidated by Ted Thompson.
Team president Mark Murphy officially announced the moves, reported over the weekend by multiple media outlets, on Monday morning, as well as an organizational restructuring of their football operation.
Hiring Gutekunst extends esteemed former GM Ron Wolf’s scouting-tree lineage in Green Bay – though not through the in-house executive bearing his last name – and ensures the Packers retain an experienced personnel man with a background in football evaluation, as they look to quickly retool their roster after a disappointing 7-9 season that caused them to miss the playoffs for the first time in nine years and prompted major changes throughout the organization. Gutekunst, 44, was hired by Wolf as a scout in 1998 and has been promoted multiple times, spending the last two seasons as director of player personnel.
"We could not be more excited to elevate Brian to the position of general manager," Murphy said in a statement. "He has earned this opportunity throughout his 19 years with the Packers, proving to not only be a skilled talent evaluator, but a trusted and collaborative leader. His time under the direction of former Packers general managers Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson will undoubtedly serve him well as we work toward our next Super Bowl championship. I am confident that he is the man that will help get us there."
The 10th person to hold the title of general manager for the Packers, Gutekunst (pronounced GOO-tuh-kunst) will have complete control over all roster decisions, including the NFL draft and free agency, while leading Green Bay’s scouting department.
"I look forward to getting to work with the rest of our talented personnel department and using every avenue available to build the Packers into a championship team again," Gutekunst said.
Ball was considered by some as the favorite for the GM job because of his closeness with Thompson, who is remaining with the team as a senior advisor to football operations. But in making Ball the executive vice president/director of football operations instead, the Packers were able to double down on his non-scouting skills and better share the responsibilities of the front office. Since joining Green Bay in 2008, Ball has worked in the role of the vice president of football administration/player finance, though in recent years he committed to watching videotape with Thompson and learning more about talent evaluation to improve as a GM candidate.
As he did in his previous role, Ball will continue to manage the Packers’ salary cap and serve as the chief contract negotiator, while also overseeing several areas in football operations.
"Since joining the Packers in 2008, Russ has proven to be invaluable," Murphy said. "His salary-cap management and negotiating abilities are well known, but he has also provided tremendous leadership throughout football operations and served as a valuable liaison between the football and business sides of the organization. His diverse skills will remain important to our success moving forward, and I look forward to working with him even more closely in his new role."
By promoting Gutekunst and Ball to replace Thompson, the Packers effectively keep two executives who have worked closely together for nearly a decade in their own lanes while not overextending either with many new and unfamiliar duties. They’ve got a football scout as their general manager, as they’ve had since 1991, and they’ve got a finance guy in charge of administration. Gutekunst will scout and draft players, sign free agents and make trades – the latter in presumably a more aggressive fashion than his predecessor – while Ball will have a hand in essentially every operational facet of the organization.
It’s a more effective balance of power, ideas and decision-making, and it also maintains some continuity for a franchise that – despite last season’s collapse – has been one of the most consistently successful in the league over the past decade. Hiring a general manager from outside the organization would have risked excessive upheaval; appointing Ball as GM could have irked head coach Mike McCarthy, who made comments late in the year about "fit" that suggested he wanted a traditional personnel man in the position. The biggest question that remains now is about the future of Eliot Wolf, the director of football operations and son of Ron, who was passed over and could leave the organization he grew up in to pursue a GM job somewhere else.
As part of Monday’s news, Murphy also announced a change in the Packers’ organizational structure: Gutekunst, Ball and McCarthy will all report directly to Murphy. Previously, only the general manager reported to Murphy, who joined the team in 2008 and serves as its CEO and highest-ranking employee. Perhaps, Murphy, who has made the two biggest moves of his 10-year tenure in the past week – reassigning Thompson and hiring his replacements – is positioning himself to be more directly involved in Green Bay’s decision-making. At the very least, while Gutekunst will have total control over the Packers' roster, the restructuring gives authority only to Murphy to hire and fire the head coach.
"The process of identifying our next general manager gave us the opportunity to analyze our entire football operation," Murphy said. "While we have enjoyed a lot of success, we need to improve. With that in mind, the head coach, general manager and executive vice president/director of football operations will report to me moving forward. While I understand this is a departure from the Packers’ current structure, it will serve to increase the breadth and frequency of communication and collaboration. Ultimately, it will make the Packers better."
Gutekunst, who is entering his 20th year with the organization, spent the past two seasons as the director of player personnel after serving as director of college scouting for four years. He previously worked 11 seasons as a college scout in the Southeast region and, prior to that, was a scout for the East Coast region from 1999-2000. Before joining the Packers full-time, Gutekunst was a scouting assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1998, a scouting intern for Green Bay in the summer of 1997 and assisted the New Orleans Saints’ coaching staff in training camp in 1995.
"First, I’d like to thank my mentor, Ted Thompson, for his friendship, and I am happy that we will continue to have the chance to work together," Gutekunst said. "I want to thank Ron Wolf for giving me my first opportunity with the Packers, and of course Mark Murphy for the faith and trust he has placed in me moving forward. And finally, I must thank my wife, Jen, and our children for their constant sacrifice and unwavering support despite all of the time I have spent on the road and away from home."
Gutekunst played football for two years at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and served as an assistant coach during his final two years at the school (1995-96) after a shoulder injury cut short his playing career. In 1995, he coached the linebackers as the Eagles finished 14-0 and won the Division III national championship.
Ball is entering his 30th year in the NFL and 11th season in Green Bay. Since joining the Packers in 2008, he has worked in the role of the vice president of football administration/player finance.
Prior to coming to Green Bay, Ball spent six seasons with the New Orleans Saints, serving as senior football administrator for four seasons and as vice president of football administration for the final two years. In 2001, he was the director of football administration for the Washington Redskins.
From 1999 to 2000, Ball served as senior football administrator for the Minnesota Vikings. He began working in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he spent 10 seasons (1989-98), the final two in football operations as administrative assistant to then-head coach Marty Schottenheimer. He began his career with the Chiefs as an assistant strength and conditioning coach.
A 1981 graduate of Central Missouri State, Ball was a four-year letterman at center for the Mules. He served as head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Missouri from 1982 to '89 and earned his master’s degree from Missouri in 1990.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.