Tom Braatz, the Green Bay Packers' vice president of football operations from 1987 to 1991, died Tuesday, Oct. 30, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 85.
Braatz was hired by the Packers on Jan. 31, 1987, to what was a newly created position by team president Robert Parins. At the time, Parins said, "He will answer only to the president and be on the same level as the head coach." The presumption was that Braatz would have the final say on all personnel matters, including the draft and trades; and the head coach, Forrest Gregg at the time, would have final say over his roster and coaching staff.
The move was made following several disastrous drafts under coaches Bart Starr and Gregg where there was an obvious disconnect between the coaching staff and personnel department.
From January 1959, when Vince Lombardi was hired, until Dec. 27, 1980, when Starr was stripped of his GM title, the Packers vested total authority over their football operation in one person who held the dual titles of coach and general manager. The only exception was in 1968 when Lombardi served as GM and Phil Bengtson as coach.
Starr lost his GM title in 1980, but not his authority over the draft and trades. Then when Gregg was hired to replace Starr in 1984, he was given only the title of head coach, but he, too, oversaw the draft and other personnel decisions.
The move to hire Braatz was widely heralded by a number of prominent personnel people around the NFL because of his track record during his 22 years with the Atlanta Falcons and also Parins' effort to at least partly overhaul a structure that hadn't been working for years.
In Atlanta, Braatz had a say, if not the final say, in the selection of several stellar draft picks, including future Pro Football Hall of Famer Claude Humphrey; multiple Pro Bowl offensive linemen Mike Kenn, George Kunz, R.C. Thielemann and Bill Fralic; 1,000-yard rushers William Andrews and Gerald Riggs; talented quarterback Steve Bartkowski and comparably talented tight end Junior Miller; and others.
The Falcons hired Braatz as an area scout in 1965, named him director of player personnel in 1969, general manager in 1982 and then reassigned him during a streamlining of their organization to the post of director of college scouting following the 1985 season. For much of that time, Braatz was responsible for the Falcons' drafts and also had experience negotiating contracts.
During his five drafts in Green Bay, Braatz hit bullseyes, just as he had in Atlanta, with his selections of wide receiver Sterling Sharpe in the first round in 1988 and safety LeRoy Butler in the second round in 1990. Both made substantial contributions to the Packers' renaissance in the 1990s. Braatz also acquired the extra first-round pick during the 1991 draft that Ron Wolf subsequently used to trade for Brett Favre.
But Braatz also missed on running back Brent Fullwood with the fourth overall pick in 1987 and on tackle Tony Mandarich with the second choice of the 1989 draft. What's more a succession of veteran and rookie holdouts over contentious contract negotiations had become an annual distraction during training camp.
Nevertheless, the Packers looked to be on the right track on the field when coach Lindy Infante's 1989 team finished 10-6 with Don Majkowski, a 10th-round selection in Braatz's first draft, leading the way at quarterback.
Plus, Braatz had hired Infante in 1988, although not without a hitch, after interviewing close to 15 candidates. Braatz's first choice for the job was George Perles, head coach at Michigan State and a former Pittsburgh Steelers assistant, who all but accepted the job and then changed his mind overnight and backed out.
Finally, on Nov. 20, 1991, Bob Harlan, who had succeeded Parins as president, fired Braatz with five games remaining in the regular season. It was an unusual move, but Harlan decided the Packers were still floundering under Braatz's leadership and the shared power structure between a vice president and head coach wasn't working. A week later, Harlan named Wolf general manager and gave him total control over the Packers' football operations.
Braatz was a native of Kenosha, Wis., where he played high school football with future Heisman Trophy winner Alan Ameche. He also played collegiately for Marquette University from 1951-54 and in the NFL from 1957-60 with Washington, the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas. A linebacker and defensive end, Braatz was acquired by Lombardi before the start of camp in 1959 but released on the final cut.