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Brian Gutekunst has the respect of personnel peers

Posted Mar 12, 2018

Work ethic helped Packers GM climb NFL ladder


INDIANAPOLIS – Every scout has a story.

Ted Thompson sold stocks and bonds before former Houston Oilers teammate Mike Reinfeldt introduced him to Ron Wolf and opened Thompson’s eyes to the world of player personnel evaluation.

John Schneider wrote letters to Wolf while attending college at the University of St. Thomas (Minn.), pleading to the Packers’ personnel patriarch for an internship in his department.

As for Brian Gutekunst, the new Packers general manager was bartending at the Cedar Creek Country Club when opportunity came knocking in 1997.

The messenger was John Dorsey, Green Bay’s straight-talking director of college scouting whom Wolf had deputized to find the Packers a fresh crop of scouting assistants after their Super Bowl XXXI victory.

Dorsey’s connections led him to a conversation with legendary University of Wisconsin-La Crosse football coach Roger Harring, who suggested Gutekunst for the internship.

Gutekunst was born into a football family. His father, John, was the head coach at the University of Minnesota from 1985-91. After high school, the younger Gutekunst played two seasons for Harring before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his playing career.

Gutekunst then spent his final two years as an assistant for the Eagles, coaching linebackers during the program’s run to the Division III national championship in 1995.

The move made sense. Gutekunst figured he’d follow in his father’s footsteps, even assisting New Orleans’ coaching staff during training camp in 1995, which the Saints held in La Crosse at the time. That was until Dorsey, armed with a heavy and deliberate East Coast accent, came calling.

“I called ‘Gutey’ up on that Friday night,” said Dorsey at the recent NFL Scouting Combine. “I think he’s working at this country club trying to put some extra money in his pocket. I said, ‘This is John Dorsey from the Green Bay Packers. You got the job. Just be here at 7 a.m. Monday morning,’ and I hung up the phone.”

Gutekunst showed up bright and early that Monday and spent the next year absorbing everything he could from Wolf and five Packers scouts who became eventual GMs: Thompson, Dorsey, Schneider, Reggie McKenzie and Scot McCloughan.

Schneider, hired as Kansas City’s director of pro personnel after the Packers’ Super Bowl XXXI victory, brought Gutekunst to Kansas City as a scouting assistant in 1998. It was during those nine months in the Chiefs’ personnel department Gutekunst decided he wanted scouting to be his life’s work.

“Just a really well-rounded football guy,” said Schneider of Gutekunst. “He had a really cool mix, kind of how New England does it with their scouts that coach and that sort of thing. So that was really attractive to us getting him into our building in Kansas City with Coach (Marty) Schottenheimer and Carl Peterson. To have him in that mix with us was really fun.”

Also serving under Schottenheimer at the time was a young quarterbacks coach by the name of Mike McCarthy and administrative assistant Russ Ball, who now is the Packers’ executive vice president/director of football operations.

McCarthy liked Gutekunst from the start. Gutekunst’s background, partnered with a headstrong, go-getter mindset, made him a natural for the rigorous grind of player acquisition.

A year later, the two wound up in Green Bay together when McCarthy was hired as quarterbacks coach on Ray Rhodes’ staff and Wolf tabbed Gutekunst to scout the East Coast.

McCarthy and Gutekunst didn’t cross paths much that year, but it’s safe to say the young scout made an impression on the future Packers head coach.

“I always loved his background,” McCarthy said. “He grew up in a coaching (environment). I think that’s important. It’s no different than coaching football. The best coaches know the most about the opponent. At least your players think you know more about their opponent than they do. That’s a big part of that. That’s where I think Brian has had that gift.”

Gutekunst scouted the East Coast for two years before he was reassigned to cover the important Southeast region, a hotbed for college football and the home of the prestigious SEC. He handled those responsibilities for 11 seasons before Thompson promoted Gutekunst to director of college scouting in 2012.

Gutekunst realized what that promotion meant. From 2009-13, he watched three colleagues and mentors – Schneider, McKenzie and Dorsey – rise to GM posts after serving in Thompson’s personnel circle.

“I don’t know if I was necessarily like, ‘Hey, I want to be a GM,’ or whatever. I wanted to be a part of a group that builds a team,” said Gutekunst recently. “I think maybe when Ted asked me to be the college director up here, you know you’re not far off from that. So you start thinking, ‘OK, how do you want to do this if I get the opportunity?’”

That opportunity finally presented itself after the conclusion of 2017 NFL season. With Thompson moving into a senior advisory position, President/CEO Mark Murphy selected Gutekunst to succeed Thompson as GM.

McCarthy, entering his 13th season as Green Bay’s head coach, stressed the importance of fit during the organization’s search for a new GM. In the end, McCarthy feels Murphy found “the right guy” to build on the established foundation, while also supervising the personnel department in his own unique way.

“Brian is different than Ted,” McCarthy said. “Ted was very successful (and) I’m confident Brian is going to be very confident in his style.”

Gutekunst admits the first few weeks on the job were “a bit of a whirlwind,” but he feels ready to run his own ship. Like Thompson, he has established his own inner circle with longtime associates, John Wojciechowski and Jon-Eric Sullivan, who combine for more than 35 years of NFL scouting experience.

Taking the podium at the NFL Scouting Combine for the first time, Gutekunst told reporters he feels comfortable on center stage. In his mind, everything is “business as usual” from a scouting perspective.

“The volume of information that we have to get through is pretty significant, but it’s stuff I’ve been doing for 20 years,” Gutekunst said. “That part hasn’t changed a whole lot, with the exception of at the end of the evaluation period I’m the one that puts (the names) up there (on the board).”

Watching from afar, the two former Packers personnel executives responsible for giving Gutekunst his big break in Green Bay believe he’s ready for this moment.

 “He’s going to do great,” said Schneider, a native of De Pere, Wis., who’s now in his 10th season as the Seattle Seahawks’ GM. “He’s going to do great.”

While it’s been more than 20 years since Dorsey placed that late-night phone call to Gutekunst, he remains confident the Packers made the right hire – both then and now.

“Outstanding,” said Dorsey when asked how Gutekunst fared in his internship. “Brian has done a nice job and he will do a nice job for the Packers moving forward.”

 
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