It takes time to build the most talented team in the NFL. For Packers G.M. Ted Thompson, it took six seasons of unpopular decisions and steadfast belief in his way of doing things. The new Packer Way wasn't always easy for fans to understand, but they get it now.The Philosophy
Above all, Ted Thompson is a scout.
"I don't know if there's another general manager that hits the road as much as Ted Thompson does," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
While the Packers readied for the Super Bowl in Dallas, Thompson was in Mobile, Alabama scouting the Senior Bowl. Thompson's organizational structure, work ethic, and evaluation system all comes from the man that built the last championship in Green Bay. Thompson says he's just following the blueprint that former Packers G.M. Ron Wolf provided for him back in the 90's when Thompson was cutting his teeth as an evaluator.
"[Wolf] taught me passion, he taught me work ethic, he taught me believing in yourself, to have confidence, to write down what you see, not what other people see, and to trust yourself," Thompson said.
Thompson brought his eye for talent and commitment to drafting and developing players to Seattle after his years in Green Bay. From 2000-2004, he helped Mike Holmgren build the nucleus for their eventual NFC Champion team.
Thompson and Holmgren occasionally clashed because Thompson felt so strongly that he could find better players through the draft than the players Holmgren wanted in free agency.
"I know this: [Thompson] believes in the draft," Holmgren told Green Bay Press Gazette
last week. "He believes that's how you build your team, and he's proven it now. If you're in an organization that will give you the time to do that — unfortunately in this day and age some organizations won't give you the time, they want that instant gratification — so a plan like that, you're not allowed to finish it."
This Packers team recalls a different time in the NFL: A time when the nucleus of a squad grew up together, and stayed together. It was a time when teams had the patience to sit a first-round quarterback on the bench for three seasons before playing him. The Pick
Everything you need to know about Ted Thompson came with his very first draft pick as Packers G.M. Thompson saw value when Aaron Rodgers
slid to the No. 24 spot of the 2005 draft. Thompson trusted his eyes, his evaluation.
He didn't think about the sea of Brett Favre
jerseys that covered Lambeau Field every Sunday or the talk show radio callers that inevitably thought Thompson lost his mind.
First-round quarterbacks make or break personnel men. If we are going to kill general managers for taking Ryan Leaf or Akili Smith
, we should reward them for being right when they make an unpopular decision. Thompson was so right.
"It was very difficult for the organization," Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy said Tuesday regarding the decision to trade Brett Favre
and roll with Rodgers in 2008. "You don't have many players that have that kind of impact on an organization that Brett did. It tested us."
Thompson was right even when the Packers didn't immediately win games with Rodgers as a starter. He was right in October of '08, when he handed Rodgers a contract extension that now looks like a bargain. He was even right in '09, when Brett Favre
nearly reached the Super Bowl as a member of the hated Vikings.
Murphy said the experience of jettisoning Favre brought the organization's decision makers closer together.
"I think we all knew that we were at a moment in history, that this doesn't happen often. Nobody wants to be known as the one that traded Brett Favre
away, but we all had the confidence in Aaron."
If the decision didn't work, Thompson would be out of work by now. Thompson's ability to remain consistent with his beliefs during difficult times may be his defining quality.
"He has the strength to stick to the plan, even through the storms," McCarthy said.
The Packers should enjoy a terrific young nucleus for the next five years, but Rodgers is the one that makes it go. Just four years after the Packers considered sending Rodgers to NFL Europe after his rookie year, Rodgers' mental game has caught up with his incredible physical gifts.
The Packers only have Rodgers because Thompson had the stones to take a quarterback when Green Bay didn't "need" one. Thompson had the patience to let Rodgers develop, the foresight to see Favre's drama on the horizon, and the football smarts to find the right coach to develop the future QB1.The Hire
Drafting Rodgers in 2005 was controversial. Hiring Mike McCarthy the following year just seemed bizarre.
McCarthy coordinated the absolute worst offense in football in San Francisco when Thompson hired him. McCarthy was part of the brain trust that selected Alex Smith
over Rodgers with the No. 1 overall pick, and Smith endured one of the most painful rookie seasons in NFL history.
It's not like McCarthy was a hot coaching name during his run as offensive coordinator in New Orleans from 2000-2004. Those Aaron Brooks
-led teams had good, but hardly great offenses that didn't stand out in the box score or the standings.
Thompson looked past the middling results and saw a steadfast nature he could identify with. Thompson liked the toughness inherent in McCarthy's Pittsburgh roots, and the inventive play-calling from a pass-first, West Coast offense.
McCarthy said Thompson was perfect to work with for a first-time head coach.
"You would never want to have a better partner for a GM/head coach relationship, in my opinion, because you know what you get every day," McCarthy said. "That's important. He's very gifted at personnel evaluation. I think that's obvious. He stays true to that."
McCarthy hasn't always been a perfect coach. He can struggle with game management, and used to get too cute with his play-calling. But McCarthy treats his players with fairness and honesty. It's a straight-shooting organization. Like Rodgers, he's improved at his craf immensely over the last year few years and is just now hitting his prime.
Thompson saw something in McCarthy that no one else did in 2006.The Holdovers
Thompson set a tone early in his run as G.M. by knowing which veterans to release, and who to keep. He let popular, high-priced guard Marco Rivera
leave via free agency and cut guard Mike Wahle
. The moves were panned locally at the time, but proved wise.
It's not that Thompson hates keeping the right veterans. Donald Driver
is entering his 12th season in Green Bay, while left tackle Chad Clifton
is entering his eleventh. Thompson cut high-priced offensive line talent back in 2005, but spent big bucks to bring Clifton back this year to protect Aaron Rodgers
. Clifton responded with a strong season.