Bob Harlan didn’t hesitate when asked Tuesday what his biggest regret is from an otherwise wildly successful run as the Packers president and CEO: His decision to give coach Mike Sherman the dual role of coach/general manager in 2001, when Ron Wolf decided to retire, ESPNMilwaukee reports.
“I think it was the worst decision I made, quite honestly,” Harlan said on Green & Gold Today Tuesday morning.
Harlan, who took over as team president in 1989 and ran the team’s business side through the end of 2007, always believed it was best to separate the coach and GM duties among two people, but when Wold insisted on retiring after Sherman’s first season as coach in 2000, Harlan didn’t have any candidates he liked enough to hire as a replacement.
“I was convinced when I became president that what we needed to do was change the way we selected head coaches. It had always been done through our executive committee, and you really had non-football people making football decisions,” Harlan said. “So when I took over in 1989, I really made my priority, ‘Let’s find a way to win, and get this franchise back up where it belongs among the elite teams.’ And I felt the only way to do that was get a very strong football person, give him total authority, get out of his way and let him do his job. And Ron Wolf did a magnificent job.
“Now, when Ron Wolf left, there were a number of things that bothered me about picking his successor. First of all, in his first season Mike went 9-7, won his last four games. We did have momentum going into the next year. I had talked to (quarterback) Brett Favre; he said it was the best chemistry he had seen in the locker room in all the years he had been here. And he’d been through a couple of Super Bowls by that time.
“I was concerned that if a new man came in from the outside, Mike might have trouble getting along with him, (or) the new man might want to come in and want to totally change the scouting staff, which I thought was a capable young scouting staff. And so I decided to do something that I don’t like to do – give one man both jobs. And he didn’t hurt us on the field – we went 12-4, 12-4, 10-6, 10-6. (Sherman) did a great job of coaching. But it got to the point when we started having problems with players that he almost seemed to be ignoring the team.”
When Harlan stripped Sherman of his GM duties in January 2005 and hired Ted Thompson, he cited the McKenzie affair as the turning point in his mind on Sherman’s tenure.
“He didn’t want to bring McKenzie to camp and he was having trouble trading him and he seemed so preoccupied. We had a game with the (New York) Giants early in the season, and I had three or four meetings with Mike that week, and he never talked about the team. All he talked about was McKenzie. And we went out and played a very flat game and lost,” Harlan said. “That following Tuesday, we had our regular monthly meeting of the executive committee and I asked the committee for permission at the end of the season – this was in early October – if I could take the general manager duties away from Mike Sherman and hire Ted Thompson. And they gave me permission to do that, and I sat on that for four months.
“Once the season ended, when I was pretty sure I could get Ted, I went down to see Mike before I made the offer to Ted, and I told him what I was going to do and why I was going to do it. I said, ‘I can see it affecting your health, I think it affects your family, we’re not going to take one penny away from your contract, but we’re going to bring you some help.’ And he said, ‘I don’t think Ted will ever come here.’ And I said, ‘Well, maybe he won’t, but I’m going to offer him the job and let’s see what happens.’ And Mike wasn’t very happy.
“The last year Mike was here, one of those things I feared – that he wouldn’t get along with someone from the outside, it happened. I’d go to practice, and I’d watch Ted and Mike on the field – I didn’t even watch the team, I wanted to watch those two gentlemen – Ted would be talking to Mike and Mike would be looking off in the distance, like he didn’t even listen to him. It was a very cold relationship. And Ted came into me at the end of the year and said, ‘I’ve got to make a coaching change. I can’t go on like this.’ And we made the change.”