Leadership starts at the top.
The Green Bay Packers are unique in the NFL. They have no true owner. There is no Jerry Jones to answer to. The team is owned by the city and the fans and overseen by a board of directors. They are a publicly owned franchise with more than 360,000 stockholders. No one is allowed to hold more than 200,000 of those shares, either.
The highest-ranking official within the Packers’ organization is president and CEO Mark Murphy. So when they say leadership starts at the top, right now, that would be Murphy.
The Aaron Rodgers situation might be an example of failed Packers leadership. Since Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy were replaced, there have been a handful of significant decisions that Murphy had a say in and several issues he should have helped to resolve. How much blame should Murphy bear for the current Aaron Rodgers situation? Murphy’s recent statements on Rodgers didn’t exactly remove any coals from the fire.
Mark Murphy And The Packers
Murphy was a former player before getting into the executive levels of the NFL. He played safety for the Washington Redskins from 1977 to 1984. On the executive side, he was an athletic director for the Colgate Raiders from 1992 to 2003 and then the Northwestern Wildcats until 2007.
On Dec. 3, 2007, Murphy was announced as the new President and CEO of the Packers. He was preceded by Bob Harlan and had big shoes to fill.
The New York native was thrown into the fire immediately. Quarterback Brett Favre retired in March. Then in July, Favre was back and eventually traded to the New York Jets for a conditional draft pick. Murphy’s legacy will be forever tied with Aaron Rodgers, who has been the Packers’ quarterback for his entire tenure. In 2011, Green Bay brought home the Lombardi Trophy. Sadly, that’s the only time it’s happened since Murphy took over.
When Things Started South
As we reflect on the last five years or so for the Green Bay Packers, could Murphy have done more to make this team evolve quicker?
I was going to write about Ted Thompson and whether or not he was replaced a season or two too late. It is debatable but not appropriate. Thompson drafted Rodgers and was a great general manager. His last few drafts were not his best, but his health was failing, and he was diagnosed with autonomic disorder in 2019. Murphy could have moved him to an advisory role a few years earlier for sure, but I am not going to sit here and second-guess this decision. I am sure they were close, and the transition from Thompson was probably very painful for Murphy.
Let’s focus on everything after that. When Brian Gutekunst was hired in early 2018, Murphy also announced that head coach Mike McCarthy would also start reporting to him instead of Gutekunst. In essence, Murphy took on more power within the organization. Normally, the head coach would go to the GM and then get Murphy involved if needed. That wouldn’t be the case anymore. Murphy was now involved in all major decisions. He had previously stated he wouldn’t be making any significant changes, but then he seemed to reverse course.
Personal Decisions and Growing Frustrations
Aaron Rodgers started to become more vocally frustrated in the 2018 offseason. Injuries kept him from playing at the top of his game, but he was still an MVP-caliber quarterback. During that offseason, they let go of quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt. Rodgers liked him and was annoyed he was fired without any consultation. Who doesn’t talk to their QB before removing a quarterbacks coach? If there were no issues between them, why the change?
They also released Jordy Nelson, one of Rodgers’ closest friends. Yes, money had a lot to do with it. The NFL is still a business. But the Packers didn’t win any brownie points by offering Nelson a lowball salary to stay with the team. Nelson wasn’t the same player anymore, but he definitely wasn’t done being a good receiver. You knew he wanted to retire a Packer, but he wasn’t given a chance to have another year with a healthy Rodgers.
The worst part is that they then used the money they saved on Nelson to sign aging tight end Jimmy Graham. Yes, Rodgers was friendly with Graham and wanted him to be a Packer, but I highly doubt Rodgers knew that meant they would be releasing Jordy. It was a big contract and the first big miss for Gutekunst. But did Murphy have anything to do with those decisions? Did he push Gutekunst to make some of those calls? Was it a power move to tell Rodgers that they were in charge and he wouldn’t have any say?
If that was the case, it explains the situation we have now. Rodgers doesn’t seem to trust or respect management, and we all know how it played out when Rodgers lost respect for head coach Mike McCarthy.
More Changes and Issues
McCarthy has said publicly he didn’t like how the Packers removed him as head coach. He knew he was probably gone at the end of the season if they didn’t make the playoffs, but he was fired on Dec. 2, 2018, after losing to the Arizona Cardinals with less than a month to go in the season.
Could he have been let go earlier or even before the start of the 2018 season? Sure. But it appears the organization wanted to see how bad it could get. And it got bad. Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb hugged and were in tears together in the final game of that year. That’s when you knew it was happening again: The Packers weren’t going to keep Cobb. And that’s exactly what happened.
A recent report even said that personnel decisions, including the choice to release former wide receiver Jake Kumerow, was the final straw for Rodgers.
Rodgers said he wanted weapons and never really got a response. Then in the 2020 draft, with a bounty of receiving options out there, they traded up to take a quarterback without his knowledge. A round later, they took a third-string running back. Murphy even said recently they were selected as backups for the future. Rodgers has said he loves Green Bay and wants to keep playing in Titletown so that just means there is a giant communications breakdown. Imagine how different things could have been with just a text or call to Rodgers regarding their plan. Again, that is on leadership.
Murphy said he visited Rodgers at home over the offseason. So what happened? Does Murphy want to be the one in charge and truly not let Rodgers be part of any decision-making? That doesn’t show the strongest leadership skills. How do you leave his house without a resolution and expect everything to be fine?
Is Murphy To Blame?
Murphy was the one who wanted to take on more responsibility back in 2018. Now he has to take more of the blame for what is happening in 2021. He couldn’t have done a better job with this relationship? If Matt LaFleur has to go to Murphy for any major decisions, are there positive moves that Murphy is actively hindering?
These are honest questions. This is not meant to be an attack on Mark Murphy, the person. I have heard bad stories about him, and I have heard glowing stories. He answers fan questions on the Packers’ website, and his responses seem genuine. The Packers are very involved in the community and with charities. He also called on NFL owners last year to advocate for social justice reform and helped create a social justice grant.
But when you look at everything that has happened since he took on more power and responsibility, you have to wonder if a lot of the blame falls on his shoulders. Has he not done his job well enough, and that’s the reason the Packers are in this situation? There is a chance Green Bay does not recover from this for a very long time. And if they can’t, Murphy’s position should be reevaluated. He’s been at the job for 13 years now and has one Super Bowl to show for it with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
There should be a new CEO and president of your NFL team when you are a game away from the Super Bowl two years in a row and your best player has no interest in returning. That’s not ideal leadership. And trust me, I’ve had leadership positions before. I know what bad leadership is because I’ve been an awful one.