Leadership Transition Continues At Owners' Meetings

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The official changing-of-the-guard that will occur in Green Bay at the end of May is getting a head start this week in Phoenix.

That's where the annual NFL owners' meetings are taking place, and Packers' President and Chief Operating Officer John Jones is taking a more high-profile role while Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bob Harlan is saying some farewells.

Jones will succeed Harlan, who is retiring, as the team's CEO on May 30, and while he has maintained an active role in league doings in the past, this week marks the first time Jones is acting as the team's lead representative in most of the affairs covered at the annual meeting.

"It's going very well," Jones said in a phone interview from Phoenix on Monday. "It's what I've prepared for. I've served on the league committees before, and that's very important in terms of making sure not just that Green Bay has a seat at the table but that we're involved in the decision-making in so many key league issues.

"I'm very grateful for the opportunity to serve in that role and I think it reflects very favorably on the Packers and the opportunity we have in the future to be a voice in league decision-making."

Jones is serving on four league committees, including a new one called the "qualifiers" committee that looks at revenue sharing. He also has been appointed by commissioner Roger Goodell to serve on the Super Bowl advisory committee, which recommends future Super Bowl sites.

Jones' other two committees are well-entrenched in his background. He has previously served and continues to serve on the stadium committee, which examines financing issues related to new stadiums. And his participation in the management council executive working group, which studies collective bargaining and the relationship with the players' union, is a natural transition from his service with the NFL Management Council before coming to Green Bay.

With most of the on-field issues to be discussed in the coming days, Jones said a key focus thus far at the annual meetings has been the financing plans for new stadiums for the New York Jets-New York Giants and for the Dallas Cowboys.

"As the stadium financing piece comes out of committee and then comes to the floor for the membership to look at, that's a very important piece for the league," Jones said. "Given the two teams in New York and the impact of that, and then putting together a stadium deal in Dallas, it's very important to the league's future."

{sportsad300}Meanwhile Harlan is attending his final owners' meetings prior to his upcoming retirement, when he will become chairman emeritus. Goodell honored Harlan on Monday, noting Harlan's contribution to the league during his 33 years with the Packers in the new commissioner's first state-of-the-league speech to the high-powered gathering of owners, executives, head coaches and general managers.

"I certainly wasn't expecting it, but it was very kind," Harlan said. "I saw him afterward and told him how much I appreciated it, and he said it should have been done and told me he was proud to do it."

Like Jones, Harlan noted that the new stadium issues have been the most prominent topic thus far in Phoenix. Harlan and Jones both played pivotal roles in the renovation of Lambeau Field that has kept the Packers in the upper echelon of the NFL in terms of annual revenues.

"When I see the numbers they're putting up on the screens about construction costs and debts, I can't tell you how much I enjoy sitting back knowing our stadium is in place and working," Harlan said. "It's done exactly what we told people it would do. But I would hate to be starting a stadium project right now."

Harlan said his farewells to the other owners aren't final by any means. He has developed strong relationships with several owners and certainly plans to visit them when they come to Lambeau Field to play the Packers.

Interestingly, Harlan's final owners' meetings are at the same location as the first he attended back in 1977 - Phoenix's Biltmore Hotel. Harlan recalled back in March of that year how the hotel set up two large screens for attendees to view the simultaneous big events one particular night, the Academy Awards and the NCAA basketball championship game won by Marquette over North Carolina.

For Harlan, a Marquette alum and former sports information director at the school, the choice of which to watch was easy.

"Since I started out at Marquette with (basketball coach) Al McGuire, that was just tremendous to see," Harlan said. "So I have great memories of this place."

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