GREEN BAY, Wis. — In at least one way, Brian Gutekunst should have it easy when it comes to his first draft as Green Bay Packers general manager.
It will be his 20th year in the same draft room.
John Dorsey and John Schneider didn’t have that luxury.
Like Gutekunst, Dorsey and Schneider trained in Green Bay under Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf.
Unlike Gutekunst, they had to leave to get their first GM jobs.
That meant a complete overhaul of the draft process with their new teams. For Dorsey, that came with the Chiefs in 2013. For Schneider, it was the Seahawks in 2010.
“Brian is in a unique situation because he’s around guys who know his system,” Dorsey said in a recent interview. “Mine was a little bit different because I had to teach everybody how to implement the system and how we do it. That took a little time and training, Then you have to get everybody on board and the coaches have to learn, the personnel staff has to learn, so you’ve got to be able to teach them as well.”
For two decades, Gutekunst, 44, worked his way up the organizational chart in the Packers’ personnel department. In that time, he worked under Wolf, Mike Sherman (who served as coach and GM) and Ted Thompson. They’re all rooted in the same scouting system that Wolf put in place in 1992. Every scout on Gutekunst’s staff worked under one or more of the Packers’ previous GMs.
“They’ve had their system in place,” Schneider said in a recent interview. “They can all speak the same language. They’re not adapting to anything. They’ve been doing it the same way there since Ron was there.
“It was different because we were just coming here. It’s different for those guys; they’ve all been together, they’ve all been working together, it’s just somebody different who’s making the final call. I was feeling out people that I hadn’t worked with in a while or I hadn’t worked with, period. I didn’t know the head coach.”
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Gutekunst also has something else going for him that neither Dorsey nor Schneider had for their first drafts: His predecessor will be in the draft room. Thompson was retained as a senior adviser to football operations.
“Ted’s been here for the entire process and been part of all our meetings,” Gutekunst said this week in his pre-draft news conference. “He’ll be in the room on draft day, at our table. I’ve used him for a lot of scenarios, situational things like, ‘Hey, when this happened …’ or ‘Have you been in this situation?’ Obviously he’s one of the best talent evaluators that have ever done this and he’s been very much a part of what we’re doing.”
Listen, balance, decide
As a scout, Gutekunst was one of the voices in the room.
Now, he’s the voice.
But it may be more important for him to listen.
“It’s your call, therefore what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to listen a lot more,” Dorsey said. “I always use the phrase, ‘God created two ears and one mouth for a reason.’ You listen, and that’s what you have to do. And you have to make the decision for what’s best for the long-term future of the organization because you’re going to get pushed and pulled in so many different directions. But at the end of the day you have to follow your intuitive and instinctive feel. You have to.”
Still, the draft room is a mix of democracy and dictatorship. Scouts and assistant coaches alike are asked to offer their opinions. But in the end, it’s one person’s call.
“All of a sudden, it’s just not your opinion — at the end of the day it is — but you’re balancing all these other people’s opinions, trying to gain a consensus before you just sit by yourself and decide how and where you’re going to acquire players not just purely based on grades,” Schneider said. “That’s what he’s going to have to balance. He’s just been getting comfortable with the guys on his staff and then figuring them out and going through the process and then bringing the coaches in and then having the open-mindedness and the patience to work through that instead of just saying, ‘No, this is the way it is.’”
Part of that is knowing who to listen to in the draft room.
“Evaluate the evaluators and know who [to listen to],” Dorsey said.
‘Keep your head clear’
It would appear Gutekunst already has a handle on the dynamic that a general manager must have with his scouts and coaches during the draft process.
That came from both his 20 years of experience and his ability to rely on the advice from the likes of Dorsey, Schneider, Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie and others who have worked in Green Bay during that time.
“I think at some point I’ve talked to all of them about that particular thing, and I’ve talked to Ted a lot about that over the last few weeks here,” Gutekunst said. “I think it’s all sound advice. One of the things that’s kind of a common theme is keep your head clear. There’s a lot of voices in the room and do what you think is best for the Green Bay Packers. That’s been kind of the common theme.”
“Doing this for 20 years, realizing how important it is to focus on the task at hand, kind of block those things out,” Gutekunst added. “You listen to everything but at the end of the day, it’s my job to do what’s best for the Green Bay Packers, regardless of anybody’s feelings or their opinions.”
On the clock
This first pick — or the first draft — won’t necessarily define Gutekunst, but his experience in that process could help shape his future.
Schneider’s first draft included Russell Okung (No. 6 overall), Earl Thomas, Golden Tate and Kam Chancellor. The first pick, according to Schneider, was a no-brainer because of the need for a franchise tackle.
“It was either Trent Williams or Russell, and we were hoping for Russell,” Schneider said. “But after that our next guy was Earl, and then we were just blessed that guy was still around because Philly traded right ahead of us, and we were ready to move back, so we had a trade back to move back, I think with Tennessee, and Philly made a trade right ahead of us and they took Brandon Graham, and then we took Earl.”
Dorsey’s first pick was the first overall pick — a position he’s in again as the Browns’ new GM. Like the Browns now, the Chiefs needed a franchise quarterback, but Dorsey decided that unlike this year’s class, that quarterback group that group did not have one.
“It sucked; there were no quarterbacks,” he said. “So what we had to do is we made that plan early on. Once we identified there were no quarterbacks, I got Alex Smith in a trade. I gave up those two [second-round picks]. To me, that was nothing.”
With the quarterback in the fold, Dorsey picked tackle Eric Fisher at No. 1. Fisher played right tackle as a rookie then moved to left tackle and has started 74 of 80 games for the Chiefs but has never made a Pro Bowl.
“That was easy — to me he was the most gifted of all the tackles,” Dorsey said. “Some would say Lane Johnson, I still say Fischer is a left tackle.”
Dorsey also got Travis Kelce (third round) in that first draft.
“I knew I was taking him,” Dorsey said. “The tight end coach was trying to kill him. I’m like, ‘No this guy is too talented.’ This is the way the NFL is going with these types of tight ends.”
In the end, a general manager is a scout at heart, which is something Dorsey said he always keeps in mind.
“The scouting, to me, is the easy part,” Dorsey said. “It’s the day-to-day administrative stuff that you have to do that you’ve got to get used to [as a GM]. Your door is open and people start coming in at 6:30 in the morning and it doesn’t stop until like 8 o’clock at night. So that’s what you’ve got to get used to.”