GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers have their new general manager: Brian Gutekunst.
Deciding Sunday to stick with a tried-and-true approach of having a person with a scouting/player personnel background run their football operation, the Packers promoted Gutekunst, the team’s director of player personnel, over fellow in-house candidates Russ Ball, the team’s vice president of football administration, and Eliot Wolf, the team’s director of football operations.
Two NFL sources confirmed Gutekunst was the pick. His hiring was first reported by John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Gutekunst was scheduled to interview for the vacant Houston Texans’ GM job and traveled there on Saturday but never interviewed with the Texans because he accepted the Packers’ job Sunday, McClain reported.
One league source said team president/CEO Mark Murphy was blown away by Gutekunst’s interview Friday.
“He crushed it,” the source said.
Gutekunst takes over for general manager Ted Thompson, who is transitioning to what the Packers are calling a “senior advisor to football operations” position after 13 years as GM.
Gutekunst, 44, is entering his 20th year in the NFL, having gotten his start as an intern under Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf in 1997. He spent a year as a scouting assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs, then returned to the Packers as a college scout. He was promoted to director of college scouting in 2012 and to director of player personnel in March 2016.
In addition to their three internal candidates, the Packers sought to interview Seattle GM John Schneider, Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie and Baltimore assistant GM Eric DeCosta but were turned down or denied. ESPN reported that the Packers also interviewed ex-Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley.
The Packers had not yet officially announced Gutekunst’s hire as of Sunday afternoon.
A UW-La Crosse alum, Gutekunst is the son of John Gutekunst, the head coach at the University of Minnesota from 1985 through 1991. He played two seasons at La Crosse before a shoulder injury ended his playing career and he spent his final two years as a student serving as a coach. His internship with the Packers came a year after he graduated.
Gutekunst interviewed for the San Francisco 49ers’ GM job last year and was a finalist before withdrawing from consideration before the team hired FOX Sports TV analyst and former NFL safety John Lynch. Gutekunst also interviewed for the Bills’ GM job after Whaley was dismissed.
By hiring Gutekunst instead of Ball, whom many saw as the odds-on favorite to get the job, the Packers opted to hire a candidate whose background is in player personnel.
Ball, the team’s salary cap expert and chief contract negotiator, has worked in a variety of roles during his time in the NFL — dating to serving as the Chiefs’ assistant strength and conditioning coach in 1993, when Packers coach Mike McCarthy was an assistant coach — but does not have a scouting background. NFL Network reported Ball is expected to stay with the Packers with a new title, but Gutekunst will have full control of the roster.
Multiple sources said throughout the week there were concerns inside Lambeau Field about giving Ball the GM job and having him oversee personnel acquisition. Among those who were concerned, the sources said, were McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
McCarthy did not speak specifically about any concerns about Ball, but he repeatedly spoke of the importance of “fit” between him and a new general manager when he did his end-of-season news conference on Thursday. McCarthy recently received a one-year contract extension and is signed through the 2019 season, and Murphy said Tuesday the new GM would have the power to hire and fire the head coach.
“I’m very comfortable where I am in my career. I’m more focused on the fit of the GM,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, fit’s a two-way street. It has to fit together. That will fall clearly under what’s best for the Green Bay Packers. I’m very, very confident, comfortable with that approach.”
A league source said Gutekunst wants Wolf to stay on the personnel staff, though Wolf could depart to join former Packers staffers John Dorsey and Alonzo Highsmith in Cleveland.
Dorsey was hired as the Browns’ GM last month, and Highsmith left the Packers to join Dorsey last week.