GREEN BAY – Ted Thompson didn’t exactly get to ease into the job.
He faced two legacy-making decisions in his first year as the Packers’ general manager.
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.
Former general manager Ted Thompson was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame Saturday night in the Lambeau Field Atrium.
Those two moves paved a path that reached an obvious and well-deserved destination on Saturday night, as Thompson was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. In the 49th annual induction banquet in the Lambeau Field Atrium, 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 Ron Wolf.
Mike Reinfeldt, a former Oilers teammate of Thompson’s, 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. “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. So it’s such a joy to see his hard work being rewarded.”
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 for Seattle, along with head coach Mike Holmgren, and helped construct a roster that reached Super Bowl XL, before returning to Green Bay as GM in 2005.
The recommendation this 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 and McCarthy selections. For the former, 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 two-time league MVP, became the first of 15 players Thompson would draft over a 13-year span who would go to a Pro Bowl from Green Bay. The GM also acquired three other players who would make their first Pro Bowl appearance as Packers.
That success formed the core of a draft-and-develop philosophy that helped the Packers, under McCarthy’s on-field leadership, win six NFC North titles, earn nine playoff berths – eight in a row from 2009-16 – and advance to four conference championship games, including in the title-winning 2010 season.
“It’s unbelievable, because to do that you need to be so consistent year in and year out,” Reinfeldt said. “You’re going to get injuries, you’re going to get bad breaks, and you have to have a philosophy that can allow you to win every year. I think that’s what he was able to do.
“Even developing the young players, that makes your organization work together. The coaches have to buy into it, the players have to buy into it, everybody works together, there‘s teamwork. If you work hard and you play well you get rewarded. I just think he came up with a long-term philosophy that people bought into.”
It succeeded for so long, McCarthy became the only head coach Thompson ever hired.
“Obviously Mike is really a good coach, but additionally the two of them worked so well together for so many years,” Reinfeldt said. “The trust factor, the agreeing on players and developing players. I think you kind of have to be joined at the hip, and those two guys were. I think that’s part of why it worked so well.”
They had to be in lockstep at the most critical juncture for the two of them, the summer of 2008 when Favre wanted to come out of retirement but the team was moving on with Rodgers at quarterback.
Rodgers recorded a video message for the ceremony that spoke to his gratitude for Thompson “believing in” him and “backing” him at that time.
“Through that process, he remained calm and showed he wasn’t afraid to make a difficult decision and stick with it,” current Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy said in his induction remarks. “With Ted, it was never about him. It was always what’s best for the Packers.
“What really stands out to me is the consistency,” Murphy added, 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. In attendance to honor him were John Dorsey, Reggie McKenzie and current Packers GM Brian 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 and had a video message played.
Other video tributes came from Holmgren and Thompson’s prized 2006 free-agent acquisition, Charles Woodson, another instrumental figure from the Super Bowl XLV-winning squad.
Thompson himself said only a few words of thanks as he was presented with his Hall of Fame ring and bronzed football. A pre-recorded interview included Thompson discussing how much pride he took in being a scout at heart, and how in the most competitive of arenas he always strived to “win the game in the right way.”
To those who know 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.
“You know what made him a good scout? He knew all 22 starters on the field,” said Reinfeldt, who called Thompson both a smart and reliable player. “He knew their assignments. He knew what they had to do, which means he knew what skill set would make them good.
“So he had a pretty good understanding of what it took to be an offensive tackle or a right guard or an inside linebacker or a corner. Being able to know the position that well, he was able to determine what players could play that position well.”
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,” was the first thing Jordy Nelson, one of Thompson’s 15 Pro Bowl draft picks, said about the GM who drafted him. Nelson returned to Green Bay for the ceremony. “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.”
In the end, that may be Thompson’s most lasting legacy. Sure, everyone including him wanted those teams to go to more than one Super Bowl, and they were so close several times.
But no one can win them all. The ones Thompson did win, there’s no argument he won them the right way.
“I think people will appreciate Ted. The longer he’s retired, the more the people will appreciate him,” Reinfeldt said. “I think history is going to be kind to Ted Thompson. When they look back and see what he accomplished, it’s a pretty golden era for the 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)
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)