Green Bay is se­cond in peck­ing order

Coach­ing job can’t com­pete with Browns’

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Sports - Pete Dougherty Colum­nist USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – WIS.

It’s hard to take Bruce Ari­ans at his word that the Cleve­land Browns are the only team he’d come out of re­tire­ment to coach next year.

But it’s still telling that when asked this week if he’s in­ter­ested in coach­ing the Green Bay Pack­ers, he said no.

“Not at all,” Ari­ans told CBS Sports Ra­dio. “If I ever re­turn to coach­ing it will only be in Cleve­land.”

The fact is, the Pack­ers, who have grown used to be­ing con­sid­ered one of the NFL’s gems, aren’t the

league’s most at­trac­tive head-coach open­ing this off­sea­son. As Ari­ans sug­gested, that honor al­ready be­longs to the Browns.

While the Pack­ers have a lot go­ing to at­tract a new coach – their unique his­tory, a sus­tained win­ning cul­ture and an abun­dance of re­sources – the Browns have more.

It starts with per­son­nel, where it looks like Cleve­land has a keeper in rookie quar­ter­back Baker May­field plus bud­ding young stars at the two most im­por­tant po­si­tions on de­fense (end Gar­rett Myles and cor­ner­back Den­zel Ward). The Pack­ers have a star quar­ter­back who’s sud­denly blem­ished and a de­fense short on tal­ent.

The Browns are also swim­ming in salary-cap room to sign free agents and ex­tend con­tracts. Ac­cord­ing to Spo­trac, they have a league-high $54 mil­lion in cap space, which they can carry over to next year, and will have an­other $81 mil­lion in cap room next year.

The Pack­ers are in de­cent cap shape but can’t com­pete with the Browns: $5.3 mil­lion in cap room this year, and $40.6 mil­lion in 2019.

The big­gest thing work­ing against the Browns is owner Jimmy Haslem, who has a his­tory of insert­ing him­self into foot­ball mat­ters. The Browns’ 24-83 record dur­ing his ten­ure tells you all you need to know about how that has worked out.

The Browns’ ad­van­tages don’t make the Pack­ers’ job unattrac­tive. Far from it.

“This is the Green Bay Pack­ers, this is one of the cor­ner­stones of the Na­tional Foot­ball League with a Hall of Fame quar­ter­back,” gen­eral man­ager Brian Gutekunst said this week.

Or as an as­sis­tant coach with an­other team said: “Be­cause of the cul­ture it is a much more at­trac­tive job than a lot of them out there.”

One of the stan­dard lines in the NFL is that there are only 32 head-coach­ing and GM jobs avail­able, so they’re all at­trac­tive. And that’s true. But some rate higher than oth­ers, and af­ter what has hap­pened with the Pack­ers this sea­son, their fu­ture Hall of Fame quar­ter­back now cuts both ways.

Aaron Rodgers has had two sus­tained stretches of medi­ocre play in the last four years. The first was a 19-game run in 2015 and ’16, when he put up an 8-11 record and 88.9 rat­ing. The other has been this sea­son’s 4-7-1 stretch with a 99.3 rat­ing, which helped get Mike McCarthy fired Sun­day night.

Some coaches might be wary of tak­ing over a team with a 35-year-old quar­ter­back they see as ei­ther dif­fi­cult to work with, in de­cline or both. Oth­ers no doubt will think they have what it takes to get a highly tal­ented passer to play some of his best foot­ball late in his ca­reer, like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Brett Favre.

“It would be some­thing where that coach would have to have a face-to-face con­ver­sa­tion and tell (Rodgers), ‘I want to work with you,’ ” a long­time as­sis­tant coach in the league said. “I don’t work for you, but I do want to work with you and make sure we get this thing done.”

Said an­other league source: “Maybe Rodgers can play five years and maybe his (knee) in­jury screwed him up this year, I don’t know. Or maybe he’s got di­min­ished skills. All I’m say­ing is, you’re bank­ing on the quar­ter­back hav­ing three to four re­ally good years. If he doesn’t, you’re (in trou­ble).”

For the last quar­ter cen­tury, the Pack­ers have been a des­ti­na­tion for coaches and scouts for two other rea­sons: their foot­ball cul­ture free of own­er­ship in­ter­fer­ence, and a will­ing­ness to spend money on fa­cil­i­ties that stack up with any­one in the league.

The cul­ture was largely a re­sult of a front-of­fice struc­ture in which their gen­eral man­ager had full au­thor­ity on all foot­ball de­ci­sions. The Pack­ers’ GM from 1992 through 2017 was boss of ev­ery­one on the foot­ball side of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, coach and salary-cap man­ager in­cluded.

Pres­i­dent/CEO Mark Mur­phy changed that last Jan­uary and now heads foot­ball op­er­a­tions. Like this sea­son, the new coach will re­port to him along with Gutekunst and vice-pres­i­dent/foot­ball op­er­a­tions Russ Ball. That, too, can cut both ways.

“I like the fact that there’s one guy (in foot­ball) you an­swer to,” said a league source who prefers the fully em­pow­ered GM.

Ev­ery front-of­fice struc­ture has its weak­nesses, and Mur­phy was right Mon­day when he said that re­la­tion­ships are more im­por­tant than struc­ture. I also don’t doubt Mur­phy and Gutekunst when they say they have a great re­la­tion­ship. But re­la­tion­ships can change over time, es­pe­cially when you add two more par­ties (Ball and the coach) to the mix.

Mur­phy also is right that some can­di­dates might pre­fer to re­port to him rather than the GM. But my guess is the pre­vi­ous struc­ture was a bet­ter draw, even if Mur­phy isn’t a wild card like Haslem and many other own­ers in the league.

“(The new struc­ture) opens the door for a lot of back stab­bing,” a long­time scout in the league said.

Said an­other scout: “What­ever Mur­phy is, (in Green Bay) at least you don’t have to re­port to a crazy bil­lion­aire.”

As for fa­cil­i­ties, the Pack­ers can com­pete with any­one to at­tract coaches and play­ers: The Don Hut­son Cen­ter, the smaller CRIC train­ing field, and sta­teof-the-art fa­cil­i­ties for weight train­ing, med­i­cal treat­ment and din­ing.

If you look at some of the other jobs that also might come open, you’d only pre­fer the New York Jets if you think Sam Darnold is go­ing to be a top quar­ter­back. Bal­ti­more has a good cul­ture but ques­tions at quar­ter­back. Den­ver has a good cul­ture but not a quar­ter­back. And Tampa Bay and Buf­falo don’t have a quar­ter­back or good cul­ture.

So yes, coach­ing the Pack­ers re­mains a cov­eted job in the NFL. But it’s be­hind the Browns this year.

MARK HOFF­MAN / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Some coaches may be wary of tak­ing over a team with 35-year-old Aaron Rodgers, who is per­ceived to be dif­fi­cult to work with, in de­cline or both.

ADAM WES­LEY / USA TO­DAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Green Bay’s front of­fice struc­ture, set up by Pack­ers Pres­i­dent and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Mark Mur­phy, could scare some top coach­ing can­di­dates away.

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