Mark Murphy has seen the lowest of lows and the highest of highs as he begins his fifth season as President of the Green Bay Packers.
A former player who won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins and who also holds a law degree from Georgetown, Murphy seems the perfect balance between player and businessman, which would be a perfect fit for the National Football League’s smallest market.
With him entering year five of his tenure, now is a good time to examine what Murphy has done as well as what he didn’t do, and how the Packers have fared since Murphy took over for the legendary Bob Harlan.
Murphy was seemingly walking into a near-perfect situation when he took over on January 28, 2008. The Packers were coming off a 13-3 season in Mike McCarthy’s second year as coach and the team was one play away from an appearance in Super Bowl XLII. Brett Favre seemingly wound back the clock and enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2007. Everyone thought Favre would be back for 2008 for one more Super Bowl push and Murphy would have time to learn his new job.
Then the “Summer of Favre” happened.
Favre announced (what would be the first of a few) retirements in March 2008. Favre flew to Green Bay, gave a teary eyed press conference formally announcing his decision, and then he was gone. Murphy, as the new guy in town, did what only made sense at the time especially given how little he likely interacted with Favre. Murphy announced the team would retire Favre’s number at the home opener of the 2008 season against (now ironically) the Minnesota Vikings.
Favre’s picture was on the game tickets and the Packers planned a big celebration for their future Hall of Fame quarterback. It was going to be one heck of a farewell party.
Well, the party never happened. Favre changed his mind in the summer after the Packers had already installed Aaron Rodgers as the new starting quarterback and the rest of the story is history. Since this was mainly a football decision, and he had only been on the job six months, Murphy stayed mainly to sidelines and let McCarthy and Ted Thompson work things out with Favre.
The one time Murphy DIDN’T remain on the sideline was when the team was still talking to Favre about a return. Murphy announced the Packers were offering a 10-year, $20 million marketing deal that would have included souvenirs, appearances, and a blog on the team website.
This perhaps is the biggest mistake Murphy made during his first four years as president. The deal was viewed by many fans, not to mention Favre himself, as a bribe and a payoff to keep Favre from playing with an NFC North rival, mainly the Vikings. This deal, combined with the Packers’ unwillingness to talk during the whole ordeal, proved to be a major PR failure in the eyes of many as Favre took shots at the Packers and the organization refused to fire back.
In Murphy’s defense, there was no script for this. This was an unprecedented situation. Given how the team has fared since Favre left, Murphy has gotten a pass for this but likely would not have had the team fared poorly under Rodgers.
Murphy also deserves credit for letting his football guys, McCarthy and Thompson, do their jobs and make decision without interference. Many NFL teams’ fortunes are often hindered by a meddling owner and though the Packers don’t have ONE owner, Murphy could just have said to Thompson: “This is hurting our image. Bring back Brett or else.” Instead he learned from Harlan to let his football people make the football decisions.
The Packers won the Super Bowl two years later, which serves as the high point of Murphy’s tenure. The team was decimated by injuries and again instead of telling Thompson to go get big name free agents, Murphy let him do his job and the whole organization has reaped the rewards for it.
So the Packers have obviously been successful on the field. What about off the field, where Murphy has much more clout?
Fans seem to think it’s been a mixed bag for Murphy. Fan Fest at the Lambeau Field Atrium has been canceled two years in a row. 2011 was understandable given the lockout but the cancellation of the 2012 event was a head scratcher. The Packers cited shrinking attendance as one of the reasons, but more fans seemed to be disappointed than overjoyed when the news came about the 2012 event.
Then there’s the expansion of Lambeau Field. Murphy didn’t have to beg for public money like Harlan did for the bigger renovation that opened in 2003, but ticket prices are on the rise for the Packers to pay for it. 6,600 seats are being added to the south end zone as well as additional entrance gates. It seems like a good idea, but the design to many looks almost “un-Packer-like.” Click here to see a rendering of the new south end zone.
The Packers also head another stock sale where many fans have now become part owners of the team they love. This in turn led to the Packers announcing that shareholders can no longer bring guests to the annual shareholders meeting due to capacity concerns. Murphy was accused by a few of making the team less accessible and fan friendly after the announcement was made.
All in all, Murphy has done a decent job with the Packers. The team is turning a profit and the on-field product speaks for itself. Still, the cancellation of certain events and the changes of some policies make me wonder if Murphy thinks he is running a corporation rather than a football team; a publicly-owned football team at that.
Will Murphy be as successful in his second four year “term” (quotes because Packer presidents don’t truly have terms) as he was in his first? Well, we first have to assume he will still be the president in four years. Rumors popped up a few months ago that Murphy was interested in the athletic director position at Stanford. The position remains open, so it remains to be seen how serious of a candidate Murphy is for the position.
Regardless, Murphy oversaw a Packers team that won a Super Bowl and a franchise that is seen as a model for the rest of the NFL. The rest of the story remains to be written, but Murphy has the team on the right track.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke