“It’s more important than ever to make sure production, and nothing else, is used as a measure of success. If sentimentality is allowed to figure too prominently into the equation, you can cut into the effectiveness of your organization.” Pro Football Hall of Famer and Former Green Bay Packers General Manager Ron Wolf wrote those words in his book titled The Packer Way. The Packer way as described in Wolf’s book is still being used today by the Packers – and it shows. So, how have the Green Bay Packers and the Packer way affected all that’s gone on this offseason, including what has happened with Aaron Rodgers and other former Packers players?
Ron Wolf in The Packer Way: Nine Stepping Stones to Building a Winning Organization describes how Wolf turned around an organization that was floundering into becoming the powerhouse of the ’90s (and little did he know, into the 2020s). I’ll be focusing on the last stepping stone: “Staying on Top”. It has a direct impact on player personnel.
If you are interested in the other eight stepping stones that Ron Wolf lays out, Green Bay Packers history, or fun Packers stories, then I definitely recommend that you read The Packer Way by Ron Wolf. I’m sure you can find it fairly affordable on Amazon.com.
The Green Bay Packers are considered one of the premium franchises in the NFL, and the front office of the Packers are concerned with keeping it that way. Ron Wolf describes the process in which the Packers go about doing this with player personnel in the last chapter of The Packer Way.
It is no mistake that Wolf refers to Bill Walsh’s desire to identify players who are close to retirement. Wolf says that the reason Walsh wanted to identify those players close to the end was because “[h]e wanted to release them a year before it became obvious that they should retire.”
This is all about identifying those players that can no longer help the franchise and work to replace them. Wolf believed that if you replace the players early enough then there won’t be a break in “staying on top.” The success will continue.
Think of this as a succession plan for each position on the field, including the quarterback position. This is why Aaron Rodgers was drafted in 2005 to replace Brett Favre and then fifteen years later Jordan Love was drafted to replace Aaron Rodgers. Both of those situations were and are difficult transitions, to say the least, because these succession plans can be considered cold. Even Wolf acknowledged that player and personnel attachment can be problem.
Wolf talks about how he and his coaches can develop personal relationships with their players and can even become friends. Being a great coach requires that great relationships develop. This can make the separation process hard.
Wolf even talks about the “unknown factor.” The unknown factor deals with more than a couple of questions but the two questions that Ron Wolf brought up are:
- What if the replacement player is not an improvement?
- If that is the case, then what’s the reason for the change?
Ultimately, Wolf counters these questions by saying that the “best interests of your company are damaged by this kind of cautious, counterproductive thinking.”
Wolf states that you can’t let sentimentality dictate your organization. Production has to be the foundation for it all. “If you try to win a popularity contest instead of doing what’s right for your organization, you’re severely hindering your chances of staying strong.”
Ron Wolf used Chris Jacke as an example. Chris Jacke was the kicker for the Green Bay Packers for a long time and won the Super Bowl with the 1996 team. After that season, the Packers let him go. This of course “shocked” everybody during this time but ultimately led to the signing of Ryan Longwell. Jacke didn’t last much longer in the league after that.
“If these choices eliminate complacency, so much the better. It’s worth risking some internal unhappiness to keep everyone alert. Your company will benefit because you reduced the chances of employees resting on their accomplishments and curtailing production.”
Does that sound familiar? Do all of these things sound familiar? They should, because the ideas that Ron Wolf mentioned are still the Packer Way. These ideas were carried on through Ted Thompson and are still being carried on with Brian Gutekunst. It is cold, but it is necessary for success.
The Packers haven’t always been the best at judging when to move on and sometimes this is a directly connected to cap restrictions. But for the most part, they have done well in letting players go at the right time.
The NFL is not in the business of what have you done for me but in what can you do for me now and in the future.
Of course as a Packers fan I’m going to miss the guys we are losing this offseason and it does hurt, but the Packers can’t be making decisions based on the past. They have to decide based on the future. It isn’t always perfect but it needs to be done.
With regards to Aaron Rodgers…
As Packers fans, it’s okay to have love and gratitude for what Rodgers has done on the field. I have many endearing memories of watching my team be led by him. Over the years I never stopped watching a Packers game no matter how far down the team may have been; I always felt like the Packers always had a chance to win. I’m thankful for that. The future is now, however, and Aaron Rodgers is not a part of it. And that’s okay.
The succession plan is in effect now. It’s a gambit by the Packers. But if it’s a successful one like it was when Ron Wolf traded a 1st round pick to the Falcons for Brett Favre or when Ted Thompson drafted Favre’s replacement in Rodgers, then we could see fifteen more years of greatness. Only time will tell. And there’s no way of ever knowing unless the Packers take this step.
That all being said, we should definitely expect the Packers to draft Jordan Love’s replacement in 2035 and for him to be traded to the Jets in 2038.
Wolf, Ron Michael, and Attner Paul. “Staying on Top” The Packer Way: Nine Stepping Stones to Building a Winning Organization, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 1999.——————
Damon is a diehard, fully-immersed cheesehead who currently lives in southern Missouri. He teaches at a local high school and has a family YouTube channel about all things Packers. You can follow him on twitter at @packersfamily and on YouTube at The Packers Family.