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By CHRIS HAVEL
Green Bay’s chain of succession at team president, GM, coach and QB nothing short of phenomenal
Which teams are the greatest sports dynasties of all-time?
Certainly, any list has to include John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins teams that captured 10 of 12 NCAA men’s basketball titles from 1964-75. They also won 88 straight games and went unbeaten four times while winning five titles in seven years.
Baseball’s “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s appeared in four of six World Series, winning three of them. Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Bill Russell’s and then Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics, the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick are among those generally included in the conversation.
There’s also Vince Lombardi’s Packers, to be sure.
The topic of sports dynasties came to mind the other night while watching the Oklahoma City Thunder unceremoniously dispatch the San Antonio Spurs from the NBA’s Western Conference semifinals.
The Spurs went out with a whimper, not a bang. It was as if Tim Duncan miraculously grew old before our eyes. In fact, that’s exactly what he did during a two-decade span.
The Packers’ Dynasty
That got me thinking about the Packers. Green Bay is closing in on a quarter-century of sustained excellence.
The term “dynasty” suggests multiple championships during a multi-year reign of terror. However, it can also apply to franchises that have been able to rank among a league’s finest on an annual, almost permanent basis.
Who has been better than the Packers since the early 1990s? The Cowboys and 49ers produced true dynasties during short spans, and the Saints and Seahawks have had their moments.
But year in, year out, it’s been the Packers at or near the top. The successful passing of the baton has been a major reason.
Aside from the hiccup also known as Mike Sherman’s dual role as Packers’ head coach-GM the transitions in key areas have been amazingly if not miraculously smooth. Currently, the Packers’ top four decision-makers are among the finest quartet in the team’s history.
Team president/CEO Mark Murphy has been a godsend. He has thrived in his role as the Packers’ leading force.
It had to be an unviable task replacing Bob Harlan, a man who was instrumental in restoring the Packers’ place among the NFL’s elite franchises. It was daunting because Harlan had presided over such an amazing Packers’ renaissance, but it also was exciting because Murphy inherited a franchise with plenty of room to grow.
In retrospect, the Packers’ selection process produced Murphy, the right man at the right time, and it’s been full speed ahead.
The GM position is on another remarkable run. Ron Wolf ran the show and restored the Packers’ pride. He earned a rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his exceptional career – the highlight of which was the Packers.
Sherman took his turn, but quickly was replaced by Ted Thompson, a scout at heart who learned to become a GM.
The Wolf-Thompson tandem is the No. 1 reason for the Packers’ sustained success since the early 1990s. Their painstaking efforts to discover the best football players set the tone from the scouting department to the coaching staff.
It was always about football, all the time.
Mike Holmgren was Wolf’s man from the start, although the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator was quickly becoming a hot candidate around the NFL.
In the interview, he had Wolf at hello. Mike McCarthy was Thompson’s guy, too, except he was much more the unknown commodity than Holmgren.
Nevertheless, Thompson knew what he wanted: A no-nonsense football guy whose decency, common sense, football instincts and passion for the game would be the cornerstones.
McCarthy took it from there.
He learned to coach the entire squad while staying true to his greatest gift: Teaching and guiding the quarterback position.
He presided over the Brett Favre-to-Aaron Rodgers transition. Difficult as it was everything eventually worked out. Favre has since returned home to Green Bay as a legend, and Rodgers was able to help the Packers win Super Bowl XLV in 2010.
The Packers’ quarterback transition is among the NFL’s rarest success stories. Favre is a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer. Rodgers has the potential to do likewise.
When will it end?
So here’s the billion-dollar question: When will it end? Does it have to? Is it only a matter of time before the Packers go through a rebuilding phase?
Ron Wolf believed that free agency and the salary cap wouldn’t mean the end to dynasties. He thought there would be a way to sustain excellence, but because he hadn’t grown up in that era he admitted to not knowing exactly how it would be done.
He was steadfast in his belief that it was possible, however. Wolf, it turns out, was correct. The Patriots, Packers and Steelers are proof.
This raises another question…
Are the Packers in position to keep it going?
If you believe in Mark Murphy – and you should – then you have to trust in the Packers’ hiring process. The GM position is a bit different.
Russ Ball, who works closely with Thompson, has the resume and reputation to be a strong choice as the next GM.
Eliot Wolf, 33, is another strong consideration. In many ways, Wolf might be the perfect choice to succeed Thompson when the day comes. Eliot has the unique perspective of having seen the NFL through his father’s eyes, while also growing up in the time of free agency and the salary cap.
It would behoove the Packers to strongly consider him as the team’s next GM for a lot of reasons. His familiarity with the organization is unparalleled. He has contributed to the Packers’ draft preparations during the past 23 NFL drafts.
Clearly, the Packers have options, and that’s a good thing.
Who will replace McCarthy?
McCarthy’s successor is tough to guess. Surely Thompson has a working list, at least in his mind, of what coaches he believes could be the man in Green Bay.
It could be someone currently on McCarthy’s staff, but trying to speculate would be pointless. The quarterback chain-of-succession also is interesting.
Packers’ fans hope Aaron Rodgers plays forever. They felt much the same about Favre. Their brain told them nobody plays forever, and that Favre’s day was eventually going to come.
But their hearts ruled and they lived in denial.
Rodgers’ best days, in my opinion, are still ahead of him. I firmly believe he and McCarthy will put together one more serious run of success during the next four seasons.
However, the fact remains that Rodgers won’t play until he’s 50.
Brett Hundley, the No. 2 quarterback, flashed promise last year. He went from awful to awful good in a single training camp. The more he played in the preseason the better he got.
By September, other NFL teams actually were taking note.
Hundley’s upside is exciting. By trading up to acquire him a year ago, the Packers finally answered my prayers: They drafted a QB with talent that McCarthy and his staff can mold.
No more Seneca Wallace thank you.
So long as the Packers continue to make sure that they have at least one true developmental “starting-caliber talent” QB on the roster, they’re at least displaying due diligence and good sense.
Time will tell
So how long can the Packers’ sustain this tremendous run?
It’s impossible to predict, but enough of the pieces and/or processes appear to be in place to give winning a lengthy ride.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com).
Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games. Also check out our new Podcast: Between the Lines for more Packers insights. New episodes every Wednesday.