While fans were hoping for Eliot Wolf or John Schneider (or not Russ Ball), the Packers went with internal candidate Brian Gutekunst to be the next GM in Green Bay. Some fans will bemoan this one way or another, but the fact is, Gutekunst has been a GM candidate for some time. While he might not have the proven track record of Schneider or the name recognition of Wolf, he certainly has the pedigree to be a successful GM in Green Bay, but he doesn’t come without some questions.
Brian Gutekunst’s Path to GM
As you’ve probably heard by now, Gutekunst has grown in the Packers organization, but even before that, his football roots run deep. He’s the son of former Minnesota Gophers coach John Gutekunst. He’s a former football player from UW Lacrosse before ending his career due to a shoulder injury. He became the linebacker coach during Lacrosse’s 1995 Division 3 national championship. He was an assistant for the Saints, helping with their offensive line. Following his foray into coaching, he took an internship with the Packers in 1997 to be a scout, parlaying that into a position with the Chiefs before returning to Green Bay in 1998. He rose through the ranks in Green Bay, being promoted to Director of Player Personnel as recently as 2016.
One thing you have to say above all else – Gutekunst has the most varied background of any candidate Green Bay interviewed. This had to be a big deciding factor in why the Packers hired him. In Thompson, the Packers had purely a scout who wasn’t much of a communicator. In Ball, they had a guy who was primarily a Salary Cap guru, but had questions with with player personnel. In Wolf, they had a lifelong scout, with zero NFL experience elsewhere, and had far less experience than Gutekunst. Almost every hiring manager looks at someone’s experience before making a hire. The Packers went with someone’s whose background was far more diverse because, frankly, being an NFL GM is more than just scouting. Gutekunst has a pulse on both player acquisition and player development side of things, having coached for several years. That’s something no other candidate possessed, and there’s a lot to be said for that.
What can we expect from Gutekunst?
Well, to be honest, no one knows. Unless the Packers hired McKenzie, Schneider or Dorsey, there is no way to tell with any certainty what a GM candidate who has never held the position will do until they’ve served for awhile. A few things are for certain – with a Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson disciple, you can be assured the Packers will stick with draft and develop as a core philosophy. Gutekunst comes from the scouting front, it should go without saying the draft will be the primary focus of his job. This may frighten and anger some fans, but the fact is, the Packers should be doing this. The Packers should exhaust every possible option of player acquisition to improve their team at all times, and that includes the often neglected Free agency.
The rumor is, Gutekunst will be more aggressive in Free Agency. While he will likely have a lot of the same tendencies as Thompson in terms of the Free Agents he targets, any more emphasis on the open market will be a refreshing change of pace. The Packers don’t need to target the top tier of Free Agents year over year, but they also can’t ignore glaring gaps in their roster while simultaneously letting homegrown players walk out the door.
With the promotion of Russ Ball, there will still be a lot of frugality in the way Green Bay signs players. Again, while this will scare some fans, this should be part of the Packers strategy. Signing players for top dollar can put the salary cap in peril, and prevent the Packers from adding talent or releasing under performing players over time. This also doesn’t mean that the Packers will be any less aggressive in Free Agency. Gutekunst still has ultimate control over the roster – Ball will just be the negotiator, which is good.
Above all else, Gutekunst is his own man. He is not Ted Thompson or Ron Wolf. He will have his own way of conducting his business. There are so many different ways to build a roster, and he will construct it how he sees fit. Packer fans should be patient to see what the man can do.
What are the ramifications?
The most obvious is the probable departure of Eliot Wolf. The Packers were fortunate for so long to have 2 homegrown candidates (3 if you include Alonzo Highsmith) who you could be confident in. The Packers will do their best to retain Wolf, likely denying his requests to interview elsewhere, but they can only do that while under contract (expiring at the end of 2018). Doing so would also harm the relationship between the current administration and Ron Wolf. While he said he thought the Packers hired who they thought was the most qualified man, he wasn’t very convincing. Denying Eliot interview requests elsewhere would likely make things worse.
In Gutekunst, the Packers gave up a bit more experience. The Packers could have gone with an external candidate who had some GM experience. Being denied an interview with Schneider and turned down by McKenzie, the Packers had a limited number of external candidates with GM experience. There will certainly be some growing pains for Gutekunst while he learns on the job, something every first time GM goes through.
The Packers kicked the tires of everyone on their list, even former Packer admins, either being denied or turned down. They went with a proven internal candidate with a high ceiling who they trust and was desired by other teams in the league, while maintaining most of their core department. They also managed to retain Russ Ball to help maintain most of the team’s hierarchy. While it remains to be seen what he can do, the Packers should at least maintain their current level of success given the successes of other Wolf and Thompson disciples.