GREEN BAY – Neither Brian Gutekunst nor his family wanted to leave.
Green Bay was the only home his four children have known and offered the geographical stability not often afforded in football. That’s what made boarding a plane destined for Houston Saturday even more difficult for the Packers’ longtime scout and personnel executive.
A day earlier, Gutekunst interviewed with President/CEO Mark Murphy for the Packers’ general manager position in which he told Murphy “this was my dream job.” However, in an effort to cover all his bases, Gutekunst still flew to meet with the Texans about their own GM opening.
That’s when he received a call in the Houston airport. Between lift-off and descent, it became clear to Murphy the 44-year-old native of Raleigh, N.C., was the right man to succeed Ted Thompson.
That night, Gutekunst and Murphy talked on the phone for nearly three hours before coming to agreement to keep the 44-year-old personnel executive in Green Bay for the long term.
“As soon as the last interview (was complete), a group of us sat down and pretty quickly we all agreed that Brian was the top candidate,” Murphy said. “What sped me up a little is I didn’t want him to have the full interview with Houston. He had a dinner and (we) wanted to try to wrap things up that evening and get him back on a plane Sunday as soon as possible.”
On Monday, the Packers introduced Gutekunst as the 10th individual to hold the distinction of general manager. Gutekunst’s hiring coincides with an organizational restructure, which includes the promotion of Russ Ball to executive vice president/director of football operations.
Born into a football family, Gutekunst received his first shot in the NFL as an intern in the Packers’ scouting department in 1997. A year later, he linked up with former Packers personnel executive and current Seattle GM, John Schneider, in Kansas City before Ron Wolf hired Gutekunst full time as an area scout a year later.
Since the beginning, Gutekunst has prided himself on being a direct communicator. It served him well during his 13 seasons scouting the East Coast and Southeast regions for the Packers’ personnel department before moving in-house with a promotion to the director of college scouting in 2012.
It was over these past six seasons Gutekunst worked as a valued associate of Thompson, another Wolf protégé who was responsible for helping build the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV championship team.
Gutekunst intends to bring his own style to the position. While the franchise will remain dedicated to their tried-and-true philosophy of draft-and-develop, Gutekunst also intends to utilize all avenues of player acquisition.
“Obviously, our foundation’s going to be the draft,” Gutekunst said. “But I think it’s an absolute must as an accessory piece. The thing that I’ve already told our guys is that we’re not going to be signing every player. We’re not going to be able to make that the foundation of our team, but we want to be in it and we want to be in the know of everything that’s going on and, if it makes sense for us, not to be afraid. We have to be prepared enough to pull the trigger.”
Murphy interviewed four candidates during the hiring process: Gutekunst, Ball, director-football operations Eliot Wolf and former Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley. Murphy came away impressed with all four.
What stood out to Murphy about Gutekunst was how well he performed in the interview and his track record as a scout. A portion of the process included Gutekunst submitting his draft reports over the past three years to Murphy, who was blown away.
Along the way, Murphy said the hiring process opened his eyes to some potential areas of improvement within football operations and saw this change as an opportunity to evolve. Moving forward, Gutekunst, Ball and Head Coach Mike McCarthy will directly report to Murphy in an effort to improve communication.
Gutekunst doesn’t see it as a huge departure from the past few years under Thompson. As the GM, Gutekunst maintains full autonomy when building the roster, while Ball will continue to handle player contracts and negotiations.
“My relationship with Russ is really strong, and my relationship with Mike is really strong,” Gutekunst said. “I needed to hear how it was going to work, but once Mark laid it out, I was all for it. I was pretty jacked up about it. Because it actually takes some things out of my way so I can really do what I’m good at. So I was happy about it.”
Gutekunst is excited for what lies ahead for the team, which holds the 14th overall pick and could have up to a dozen choices in this year’s draft once the compensatory selections are announced.
Gutekunst is enjoying the energy in the building and hopes to keep most of his personnel department intact all the way up to Eliot Wolf, who he could envision being his “right-hand man” if Wolf chooses to stay in Green Bay.
From a roster perspective, Gutekunst believes the talent is there to make a quick turnaround behind two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It’s Gutekunst’s goal, starting this offseason, to provide more positional depth and increase competition from training camp until the final game of the season.
“I don’t think we’re very far away,” Gutekunst said. “There is a substantial amount of work to be done, but I think it can be done shortly. I think there was a lot of reasons for what happened this year, and there’s certain areas that needed to play better, and we’re still in the process, I think, of kind of dissecting some of that and moving forward. But we’re really, really excited about the opportunity before us. I think there’s a window here.”
Recently caught up on sleep after an eventful weekend, Gutekunst has taken some time to reflect on a career that’s seen him rise from a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to an NFL GM.
While Monday’s press conference was just the beginning, Gutekunst relished walking into his home and telling his family they were staying in Green Bay.
“It was a really neat feeling to walk into my house and tell my family that we were going to stay here and I was going to be the general manager here,” Gutekunst said. “The 400-and-some, however many texts I got, I had a super long travel day (Sunday) and text after texts from colleagues throughout the league, that was exceptionally rewarding for me. It was a pretty cool moment. I’m glad it was here.”