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Ball’s Not Worth The Risk

Even though team president Mark Murphy hasn’t even begun his official search yet, all signs point to Vice President of Football Administration/Player Finance Russ Ball being named the 11th general manager in the history of the Green Bay Packers. And while this wouldn’t be a surprise – I wrote about the possibility two years ago – it would be a disappointment for many reasons. Here they are, listed point by point:

  • As of today, only five of the league’s 32 teams employ a general manager with no formal background in scouting. Of those five, two are owners (Dallas’ Jerry Jones and Cincinnati’s Mike Brown), and two are former star players (Denver’s John Elway and San Francisco’s John Lynch). The other is New Orleans’ Mickey Loomis, who has worked on the administrative side for his entire career. And while it’s true the Saints have been fairly successful during his 15-year tenure, is it really wise to buck conventional thinking, especially when there are so many highly qualified “football guys” available – two right under Murphy’s nose?


  • That brings us to “football guys” Brian Gutekunst and Eliot Wolf, who have been with the Packers for 19 and 14 years respectively, and who are well thought of around the National Football League. Since being hired, Wolf and Gutekunst have been promoted a combined seven times. That suggests their work was seen as excellent and they were considered too valuable to lose. So how much sense does it make to now push both of them aside to make room for a man who spends the majority of each day crunching numbers while Wolf and Gutekunst spend the majority of each day watching players crunch each other?


  • For a franchise that values stability, hiring Ball would create the opposite effect. He would have to find someone to head the personnel department since Wolf and Gutekunst are likely to leave if passed over. And even if Ball locates the right man for the job, the odds of that partnership lasting for more than a year or two are slim. That person would be targeted by every team looking for a general manager, and the Packers would be unable to stop the poaching. This could go on over and over. On the other hand, hiring Wolf or Gutekunst would ensure never having to worry about keeping a keen eye for talent in the building.


  • After a dozen years of the bland (Mike McCarthy) and the blander (Thompson), it would be nice to add a little youth and vitality to the faces of the franchise. When you consider former defensive coordinator Dom Capers and current special teams coordinator Ron Zook, practices last season looked more like a casting call for Cocoon 2 (go ahead and Google it). In a sport where the average age of head coaches and general managers keeps going down, the laconic 58-year-old Ball would hardly be a breath of fresh air.


  • The optics would be terrible. A great number of Packers fans already have a low pretty opinion of Murphy. He’s seen as someone more interested in making money than in winning Super Bowls. Choosing a bean counter over an experienced scout to head the personnel department would only further enhance that damning reputation. It would also upset those fans wanting to see real change. Going from Ball as Ted Thompson’s right-hand man to Thompson as Ball’s right-hand man would be like going from Coke to Pepsi. And truth be told, that comparison is probably unfair to those iconic soft drink companies.


Look, there’s certainly a chance Ball could turn out to be a great success as a general manager, but why chance it? The Packers have a relatively small window left to win championships before Aaron Rodgers calls it a day and begins his five-year wait to enter the hall of fame. And of course there’s still a chance Murphy could decide to hire a convention general manager like Wolf, Gutekunst, or even someone from outside the building. But I wouldn’t be my money on either of those things happening. Sorry to burst your BALLoon.


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About Michael Rodney

Packers Notes is the creation of Michael Rodney, who has been writing about the Green Bay Packers for close to 30 years. His first blog, Packer Update, hit the internet in 2006. Before becoming a public educator, Rodney worked as a journalist for a couple of newspapers in his home state of New Jersey. He's had numerous articles on the Packers published and he's been featured on both television and radio over the years.