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Packers' first director of pro scouting, Bill Tobin, dies at 83

Had worked out a trade for Archie Manning in 1974 that didn’t happen


Bill Tobin, the first member of the Green Bay Packers' organization to hold the title of director of pro scouting, died Thursday, April 18. Tobin was 83 and living in Indianapolis.

Tobin was hired by coach and general manager Dan Devine in 1971 as a special assignment scout. A year later, Devine promoted Tobin to the newly created position of director of pro scouting.

When Devine was named coach at Notre Dame the day after the 1974 season ended, Tobin applied for the position of general manager but the Packers never interviewed him. In fact, before he was officially fired by Bart Starr, Devine's replacement, Tobin went to his office in Lambeau Field and found his desk locked.

Tobin had played for Devine at the University of Missouri from 1960-62 and then played a season with the Houston Oilers of the American Football League. Tobin was working as an assistant coach at what was then Central Connecticut State College when Devine hired him.

Although Tobin was viewed internally as a staunch ally of Devine's, he wasn't even consulted by his boss when the John Hadl trade was consummated in October 1974. A day earlier, Tobin had been in Atlanta expecting to finalize a trade for Archie Manning, who was playing with New Orleans at the time, only to be told the Saints were reneging on the deal after they lost backup quarterback Bobby Scott to an injury that day.

"We had made a trade with New Orleans for Archie Manning…," Tobin said in a 1997 interview. "So I wait outside the locker room and (Ernie) Hefferle (director of pro personnel) comes out and says: 'Bill, we cannot follow through on our agreement. We lost our quarterback.' What was I going to do? 'You promised.' So I get on the plane and fly back to Green Bay. I get back to Green Bay Sunday night, see Dan and tell him: 'The trade is off.' I had put the trade together."

In 1987, when the Packers hired Tom Braatz as vice president of football operations, they also sought permission to interview Tobin, who was then serving as vice president of player personnel for the Chicago Bears, but were turned down. Late in 1991, when team president Bob Harlan hired Ron Wolf as general manager, Tobin was one of several names on his backup list if Wolf had turned down the job.

After being fired by the Packers, Tobin worked for the Bears from 1975-92. He was hired as their director of pro scouting and worked his way up to being the team's de facto general manager.

In 1980, Tobin was involved in one of the more memorable episodes of subterfuge in the Packers-Bears rivalry. When the Bears crushed the Packers, 61-7, at Soldier Field in early December, it was reported that Tobin had decoded the Packers' signal system for calling plays when Starr was head coach and backfield coach Zeke Bratkowski would relay the plays to the quarterback.

"(George) Halas was still living then," Tobin said in 1997. "He was the owner and stayed out of the way of the football team. But Halas thought if they are going to stand there and signal their plays in from the sidelines, why can't we decode the signals? The idea was if they're going to stand there and show the world what they're doing, why can't we figure out what they're doing?

"So with that, we figured it out. I still have the films. We taped Zeke, then the play. That particular game, they started out with two signal-callers and you didn't know which one was live and which one was the dummy. So it was hard to decode. But they got caught with the 45-second clock or whatever and there was a delay of game; and then all of a sudden, they only used one. Zeke would call a play, I'd relay it to Buddy Ryan and he would call the defense."

Tobin was general manager of the Indianapolis Colts from 1994-96 and director of player personnel for the Detroit Lions from 2001-02. From 2003-2022, Tobin worked as a consultant for the Cincinnati Bengals, where his son Duke is director of player personnel.

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