With the conclusion of the 2013 season, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson hit a milestone of sorts with a team: he just completed his ninth season at the helm of the Packers’ football operations.
Know who else made it that long as GM in Green Bay? Thompson’s predecessor and mentor Ron Wolf. Both men have won a Super Bowl but yet Wolf is held in legendary status with Packers fans and Thompson, to date, is not.
With the passionate debate about Thompson and his activity (or lack thereof) in free agency that consumed much of the offseason thus far until Thompson signed Julius Peppers, ow figures a good time to compare Thompson and his mentor and how their times as Packers general manager compare and contrast.
As the saying goes, “the numbers never lie.”
Regular season record:
Wolf took over a team that was in ruins with only three winning seasons in the past 24 years. The cupboard for talent was pretty barren and it wasn’t until Wolf traded for Brett Favre in 1992 and signed Reggie White in 1993 that marquee talent would stay in Green Bay. Wolf also didn’t have a losing season and had only one non-winnjng (8-8) season in 1999.
Thompson meanwhile inherited a team that had an aging but still gifted Favre at quarterback and talent on offense but disastrous drafts by Mike Sherman left the defense in disarray and a team that was getting older by the day. Thompson had to cleanse the roster and the 4-12 record in his first season as GM showed that. Thompson had been only one other losing season in 2008 (6-10) and an 8-8 season in 2006 with rookie coach Mike McCarthy leading a young roster.
This might come as a shock to some of Thompson’s detractors but he’s pretty close to Wolf here and not many fans would have fired Wolf.
Wolf: 9-5 (1-1 in Super Bowl) 6 playoff appearances
Thompson: 6-5 (1-0 in Super Bowl) 6 playoff appearances
Wolf went 2-2 in 1993-1994 when the Packers won their wild card matchups but subsequently lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round each season. The Packers made it to the NFC Championship in 1995 again losing to the Cowboys. Green Bay qualified for the next two Super Bowls (XXXI and XXXII), winning the first and losing the second. Wolf went one and done only once as GM, losing to the 49ers in a heartbreaker in 1999. He missed the playoffs his final two years with Green Bay.
In a mirror image of Wolf, Thompson missed the playoffs his first two seasons with the Packers. Thompson lost to an NFC East team in the NFC title game as well, losing a nail biter to the Giants in January 2008. Thompson missed the playoffs the following season in Aaron Rodgers’ first season as starter but has made the playoffs every season since (tied for the current longest streak in the league with the New England Patriots) and won Super Bowl XLV in February 2011. Thompson went one and done three times (2009, 2011, 2013) so if those numbers show a pattern, Packers fans should expect at least one playoff victory this coming season.
This is probably where the most consternation with Thompson lies. However, the Packers’ failures in recent playoffs are not necessarily all his fault. The team faced injury epidemics two of the past three years (2013 in particular) and a GM is tasked primarily with getting a team into the playoffs.
Thompson has done that. It’s tough to win a Super Bowl. Even Ron Wolf understood that.
Wolf: 3 (1995-1997)
Thompson: 4 (2007, 2011-2013)
Winning the division had more significance when Wolf was general manager, but it is still a pretty big deal. Packer Nation celebrated like it won the Super Bowl thanks to Yancey Thigpen’s drop in the 1995 season finale to give the Packers the NFC Central title. Championship merchandise flew off store shelves. Wolf followed that up with two more consecutive titles.
Thanks to league expansion, division titles mean less now with Thompson as GM thanks to four divisions in each conference instead of three when Wolf was around. Still, Thompson has eclipsed his mentor in thus area and it is to be commended. With so much parity in the league, only the Packers, Patriots and Broncos have won their divisions each of the past three years.
So what does this all mean?
Before the Peppers signing, the calling for Thompson’s job was approaching the levels of lunacy. While fans are understandably upset with the Packers not having won another Super Bowl after the team was pegged as another potential dynasty, most GMs in the league would kill for the results Thompson has gotten.
Of course, there are things to note in this comparison: free agency has evolved considerably from when Wolf was in charge until now. Wolf, however, has endorsed the Packers’ current approach and has praised the job Thompson has done. For Thompson, there is probably no honor out there greater than that of earning Ron Wolf’s respect and admiration.
For those fans still down on Thompson, do you consider Wolf a Packer legend? If you do, then the numbers suggest Thompson should be in the same class as well. It might be tough for you to accept but one thing is true.
“The numbers don’t lie.”——————
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