GREEN BAY – Ted Thompson, the former Packers General Manager who drafted a Hall of Fame quarterback, built the Super Bowl XLV championship team, and shepherded one of the most successful stretches in team history, died Wednesday at his home in Texas. He was 68.
Thompson served as the Packers GM for 13 years, from 2005-17, a tenure highlighted by the franchise's 13th championship and fourth Super Bowl title, along with six NFC North crowns, including a team-record four straight from 2011-14. He also helped the Packers make four appearances in the NFC Championship Game, the most in the NFC over that span.
"Ted was a man of great character and integrity who cared deeply for his family and friends," said current Packers GM Brian Gutekunst, who succeeded Thompson in 2018. "He was honest and hard-working. He valued his scouts and always did what he felt was right for the Packers organization.
"I learned a great deal from Ted and will always be appreciative for the opportunity he gave me. He was a football man and a scout's scout, but more importantly, he was a very special person who will be greatly missed."
A look at the Packers' roster from Super Bowl XLV indicates a team truly built by Thompson. Nineteen of 22 starters and 49 of 53 players on the roster were acquired by Thompson via the draft, free agency, trades or the waiver wire during his time in Green Bay.
Always credited for doing things the right way, Thompson oversaw nine playoff appearances in 13 seasons as GM, tied for the most in the NFC over that span, including a streak of eight in a row (2009-16) that set a franchise record and ranks tied for No. 4 in league history behind three teams with nine (Dallas, 1975-83; Indianapolis, 2002-10; New England, 2009-17).
Combining the drafts he ran in Seattle and Green Bay, 35 of Thompson's selections have earned Pro Bowl, All-Pro or All-Rookie honors, and from 2005-17, he drafted 17 players who went on to be named to at least one Pro Bowl for Green Bay. He also acquired three other players who would make their first Pro Bowl appearance as Packers.
"He's a guy that's held in the highest regard in this building and I think just around the league," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "His impact is still felt to this day when you look at our roster. I think he's had a tremendous impact amongst many people across the league when you look at all the other GMs that have learned under him."
Thompson followed in the footsteps of his mentor, Ron Wolf, for whom he worked in the 1990s, and he didn't exactly get to ease into the top job, facing two legacy-making decisions in his first year as GM.
For starters, in his inaugural draft in April 2005, a player pegged by some as the top overall pick but a quarterback the Packers didn't need at the time was available to Thompson with the 24th overall selection.
He knew it would raise questions, but he made Aaron Rodgers his first draft pick.
Less than nine months later, Thompson needed a new head coach to turn around a Packers team that had just posted its worst record in 14 years. After a handful of in-depth interviews, he was keen on a young offensive coordinator who had never been a head coach before.
He knew some would wonder, but he hired Mike McCarthy to lead the team.
Later in McCarthy's first year, he also made one of the most significant free-agent acquisitions in team history, signing future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson in 2006. Woodson would go on to win the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award in 2009 and become a key leader during the Super Bowl XLV title run.
Those moves paved a path to success that also led to Thompson's induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2019. Thompson became the seventh individual to be honored as the sole inductee in a given year, and just the second to go in as strictly a general manager, joining Wolf.
Mike Reinfeldt, a former Oilers teammate of Thompson's in his playing days, a former Packers executive with Thompson, and a fellow personnel executive for other teams, presented his longtime friend and colleague for induction in what became a very subdued but touching tribute to the architect of the Packers' Super Bowl XLV championship club.
"It's a great honor," Reinfeldt said that night, which turned out to be the last noteworthy public appearance for Thompson. "I've known Ted for 45 years, watched him work through the league, just his perseverance, his hard work, his dedication. Wherever he's been he's produced winning football teams."
Reinfeldt played a significant role in how it all started, recommending Thompson to Wolf in 1992 when the then-Packers GM was building his personnel staff. Eight years later, Thompson left Green Bay for Seattle, along with head coach Mike Holmgren, and helped construct a roster that reached Super Bowl XL, before returning to be the Packers GM in 2005.
The push that time came from Wolf, who told the team president who had hired him, Bob Harlan, that he was recommending Thompson to anyone who asked.
"The first man that Mike Holmgren wanted to take to Seattle with him was Ted Thompson," Harlan said. "Ted went to Seattle, built a Super Bowl team and I just thought when it was time for us to get somebody, he was the one I wanted. When I called him, I gave him the very same line I gave Ron earlier. I said, 'You're No. 1 on my list. I want to talk to you until you say yes.'"
Soon thereafter came the Rodgers, McCarthy and Woodson decisions. For the first, as controversial as it was going to be, Thompson made sure his boss had his back.
"That was Ted's first draft and Aaron kept falling and falling," Harlan said. "We were 24th and when we got on No. 19, Ted comes over and says, 'Can we go out in the hallway for a minute and talk?' He said, 'Rodgers is No. 1 on our board. If he's still there, I'm going to take him and we're going to get some heat because of Brett.'
"I said, 'It's your club to run. I told you that. I'm not going to interfere. You take who you want.'"
Rodgers, the soon-to-be three-time league MVP, became the first of 17 players Thompson would draft over a 13-year span who would go to a Pro Bowl from Green Bay.
That success formed the core of a draft-and-develop philosophy that helped the Packers, under McCarthy's on-field leadership, build one of the most successful runs in franchise history.
It succeeded for so long, McCarthy became the only head coach Thompson ever hired.
"What really stands out to me is the consistency," said Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy, speaking of Thompson's teams in a way that also applies to his personality. "Everything is designed to make it difficult to win that way, but you look at what Ted accomplished, it's remarkable."
The legacy he leaves also lies in those who worked for him and climbed the ladder like he did. John Dorsey, Reggie McKenzie and Gutekunst who have all risen to the top personnel job with NFL teams. So has John Schneider, who orchestrated his own Super Bowl team in Seattle.
In describing Thompson's legacy at an NFL Scouting Combine interview two years ago, Schneider said it was "enormous."
"He's a special guy and he did it in his own way," Schneider said. "His personality, his quiet, ethical, great character."
To those who knew him, it was Thompson's own lengthy though largely undecorated career as a linebacker and special-teams standout for the Oilers that made him such a keen evaluator of talent.
Wolf believed Thompson developed a "wealth of knowledge" as a player that he used in personnel work. He tapped into everything he needed to continue making Houston's roster as a rather marginal player when it came time to construct his own teams.
He also focused due attention on the chemistry and cohesiveness of the locker room, having been known himself as a good teammate. That was appreciated by players like Reinfeldt, to whom Thompson was introduced upon arriving in Houston by Bum Phillips because the head coach wanted people like Thompson to lead and guide others.
"A great person," said receiver Jordy Nelson, one of Thompson's Pro Bowl draft picks, said about Thompson at his Packers Hall of Fame induction. "I think you can tell by the people he brought into this organization.
"I think that was first and foremost – the (kind of) people he brought in was more important than the skill and the talent because he wanted the right locker room, the right guys in the community, the right leaders."
Packers Pro Bowl players drafted by Thompson
QB Aaron Rodgers (1st round, 2005)
S Nick Collins (2nd round, 2005)
LB A.J. Hawk (1st round, 2006)
WR Greg Jennings (2nd round, 2006)
WR Jordy Nelson (2nd round, 2008)
G Josh Sitton (4th round, 2008)
NT B.J. Raji (1st round, 2009)
LB Clay Matthews (1st round, 2009)
G T.J. Lang (4th round, 2009)
WR Randall Cobb (2nd round, 2011)
DT Mike Daniels (4th round, 2012)
RB Eddie Lacy (2nd round, 2013)
T David Bakhtiari (4th round, 2013)
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (1st round, 2014)
WR Davante Adams (2nd round, 2014)
DL Kenny Clark (1st round, 2016)
RB Aaron Jones (5th round, 2017)
Additional Thompson acquisitions who went to first Pro Bowl as Packers
CB Tramon Williams (undrafted FA, 2006)
FB John Kuhn (waivers, 2007)
CB Sam Shields (undrafted FA, 2010)