How culture change revitalized the Packers

Chances are unless I become an official credentialed journalist covering the team or I somehow become athletic, develop hand-eye coordination, Benjamin Button under 30, and get drafted by the team, I will never know what goes on in the Green Bay Packers locker room. But based on what others have stated and from reading between the lines, it’s safe to say there has been an extreme change of culture.

During the transition from Dom Capers to Mike Pettine and Mike McCarthy to Matt LaFleur, a lot of similar, damning buzzwords and phrases were thrown out: lack of accountability, staleness, stagnation, “lost the team” etc. The Packers were trending in the wrong direction, and the human component likely was a major factor. Luckily, the team brought in new leaders, the atmosphere in Green Bay changed, and the team sits 4-1.

When a new coach is hired, the coaching scheme and assistants are usually the first things on the public’s mind, but perhaps the most important aspect is the culture the head coach, as leader of the team, brings to the building. As a first-time head coach, Matt LaFleur has excelled as this.

During training camp, we saw bits of who LaFleur was as he emphasized the present, stuck up for his guys, and made his expectations known. Since then we’ve seen him be accountable, learn from his mistakes, take blame, spread praise, and celebrate with his team. Compared to the other rookie head coaches this season, LaFleur has truly created something special.

After Sunday’s win, Aaron Rodgers said, “I like the vibe on this the team. I think we’re having a lot of fun. The personalities we have are encouraging other guys to grow, be confident in themselves, and you see it in their performances.”

Brian Gutekunst helped create this vibe by bringing in not only talented players but great leaders and locker room guys. His first pick as a general manager, Jaire Alexander, plays with an attitude and swagger the team sorely lacked. Free agent acquisitions Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis have been happy to mentor Robert Tonyan and Jace Sternberger. Adrian Amos plays safety with effort and grit that the position group simply didn’t have.

Perhaps no player more exemplifies the new attitude in Green Bay than new linebacker Za’Darius Smith.

Before Sunday’s win over the Dallas Cowboys, Ray Lewis made unflattering comments about the Green Bay Packers defense, specifically in regards to a “lack of leadership.” Za’Darius Smith, who was voted a defensive captain for the entire season, responded with Lewis’s old celebration dance after a sack on Dak Prescott. After the game, Skip Bayless, as usual, had some negative things to say, which Smith responded on Twitter with “There’s no stopping this D(train emoji)!”

As a defensive captain, Smith has taken the job seriously. He took the entire defense out to a team dinner (no price limit!) and encourages them to know each other as people.

Za’Darius and co-Smith Preston have destroyed opposing quarterbacks, and Green Bay is the only team in the NFL with two players in the top-10 for sacks. But just as importantly, the two provide an aura of confidence and leadership that is infectious. The two often participate in press conferences together, and despite only having been teammates for a short time, you would think they were actual brothers.

The longest-tenured player on the Packers more than holds his weight as a leader as well. In an interview with Jason Wilde, offensive lineman Lucas Patrick talked about how Aaron Rodgers makes every player feel like a valued part of the team.

“He’ll come up personally and talk to you and encourage you. The best part about playing for ‘12’ is his accountability and his expectations. He sets ‘em high, and he holds you to that. He expects me to play to his standards. And we all know his standard is a world championship, future Hall of Famer. He brings everybody up to him, and I can’t thank him enough what he’s done for my career and just recently, encouraging me and helping me stay on top of everything,” Patrick said.

Organizational theory has embraced the importance of culture leading to success. A strong identity is important, and it leads to a sense of belonging (leading to retention). Forbes brings up the idea of a culture audit, and that’s exactly what the Packers did this offseason. So far, the results are speaking for themselves.

By recognizing their flaws and hiring the right people to correct them, the Green Bay Packers recreated a winning culture with tangible results. The team sits 4-1 and in first place of the NFC North. There are weaknesses on the field that need to be addressed, but the human element is thriving.

Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.
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