For an organization viewed as a paragon of stability and smooth operation in the NFL over the last decade, the past 48 hours have been a whirlwind of upheaval in Green Bay.
Since the Packers’ 35-11 defeat to the Lions in the season finale on Sunday, which gave them their first losing campaign in nine years and ended their streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances, the team has already made major changes in its coaching staff and front office – and it’s only the beginning.
After the embarrassing loss in Detroit, head coach Mike McCarthy fired embattled defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who’d been with Green Bay since 2009, as well as two assistants. The next day, news surfaced that venerated general manager Ted Thompson, who just completed his 13th season, would transition to an advisory role – a decision confirmed Tuesday by team president Mark Murphy, who said the search for a new GM would start immediately. Later that day, ESPN reported McCarthy had received an unannounced one-year extension during the season, keeping him under contract with the Packers through 2019.
Suddenly, one of the most consistently successful and conservatively run franchises in football was self-disrupting, shaking things up, swerving off its well-trod path. Essentially, it took one injury – Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone that sidelined him for nine games, during which time the team went 3-6 – to fully reveal the many and deep flaws the Packers possessed, ultimately dooming their season and necessitating big changes.
Some of those flaws were familiar: injuries clustered at key positions, an unreliable pass rush and porous secondary, stubbornness and slowness to try different things on offense. And some were new: lack of depth at certain spots, less perimeter playmaking ability, too few takeaways on defense and, of course, Brett Hundley's subpar quarterback play.
For the last seven years, the vaunted "Packers Way" meant several things – a draft-and-develop approach to roster construction; a next-man-up mantra of replacing lost players; a bend-don’t-break defense that forced turnovers; and a pass-heavy, unbalanced offense dependent on Rodgers’ excellence. It also meant a lot of winning. This season, with too little talent and too many injuries, not nearly enough imagination on the coaching staff and in the front office and, most detrimentally, no Rodgers, the Packer Way just meant mediocrity – or maybe less.
It’s easy to complain now, with Green Bay on the outside of the playoffs looking in, but also hard to fault the organization for waiting so long to make changes. Eight consecutive postseason appearances from 2009-2016; six division titles and three trips to the NFC Championship game; the Super Bowl XLV victory and a 131-78-1 record since 2006, the third-best mark in the league over that span. They were annually among the NFL's elite.
"I think (Thompson's) record speaks for itself," Murphy said Tuesday. "I realize, probably as you do, he’s a little bit of a lightning rod among our fans. I’ve read some of the comments, as I know you have, but I think when you step back and look at what he has accomplished as our general manager, it speaks for itself. Pretty remarkable, really."
But in Green Bay, aka Titletown, success is always measured in Lombardi Trophies – as McCarthy and Murphy often reiterate – and the Packers haven’t back to a Super Bowl since the 2010 season. The teams Thompson built were young, inexperienced and not quite good enough; the defenses Capers oversaw alternated between average and bad for seven years, without the players or the schematic ingenuity to be better.
It will be interesting to see how Green Bay goes about replacing those two longtime leaders. The new defensive coordinator could change the Packers’ scheme or keep it the same; the new general manager could come from inside the organization or outside of it.
"I don’t want to limit myself," Murphy said of the GM hiring search. "It certainly has worked, people from the (Packers front office) tree have gone on and had success at other places, so obviously you give some weight to that. ... There are different examples of GMs across the league who have had success with different backgrounds. I’m willing to look at a number of different types of candidates."
Murphy and McCarthy both made huge decisions in parting ways with Thompson and Capers. Now, getting the Packers pointed in the right direction again will start with them, and be done together.
"Mike is our man; he is our coach," Murphy said. "We have all the confidence in the world in Mike, we're going to have great success moving forward."
Click here for a timeline of Green Bay's offseason of change.
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.