Accountability is defined as "The state of being accountable. An obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions."
The Green Bay Packers are among the most well-respected and well-run franchises in professional sports. A team that experiences consistent success more than most could ever dream of. However, over the past 15 years or so for the Packers, accountability has been the missing ingredient and the heaviest weight holding the team back from realizing greater success.
Unfortunately for the Packers, accountability starts at the top and has a trickle-down effect across any organization or business. That's not to say the folks at the top, like Packers CEO Mark Murphy and General Managers Brian Gutekunst or Ted Thompson, haven't done great things.
The Packers are historically a very cool-headed franchise, and while that does have its benefits, not making necessary changes or acquisitions in a timely fashion has severely cost the team.
Once accountability is lacking, lower performance becomes the standard, and goals go unmet. In Green Bay's case, the 2023 season is the defining moment of a culture that desperately needs a shake-up.
Packers front office accountability failures
Murphy has answered to the shareholders and Packers fan owners since 2007, overseeing two different GMs in his tenure.
Murphy's primary focus has been on growing the community around Lambeau Field and building "Titletown" into more of an experience rather than a football field in the middle of a neighborhood.
From all accounts, he's been hands-off with the roster and has trusted his GMs to construct championship-caliber teams.
The first GM under Murphy's watch was the late Ted Thompson.
An incredible GM for the Packers for some time; his tenure lasted from 2005 to 2017. He made some of the greatest draft picks in Packers history with Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Nick Collins, Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, and David Bakhtiari. One of the most impactful acquisitions in team history was also thanks to Thompson, bringing in Charles Woodson, who would go on to win Defensive Player of the Year and ignite the Packers' Super Bowl defense.
But "In Ted We Trust" only holds up strong until it doesn't. In what became publicly known after his departure from the Packers, Thompson experienced illness towards the end of his tenure, and it put a cap on his ability to take full ownership of his responsibilities.
Surely, leadership had no shortage of conversations about the best way to manage Thompson's declining health. But having a GM in seat who cannot fulfill the duties of his role to the fullest extent is not good business, nor fair to the individual. Even if decisions were made out of fairness to Ted and giving him the benefit of the doubt, Murphy is in his position to make hard decisions in the team's best interest.
It's now understood that the heir to the GM throne, Brian Gutekunst, was being primed to take over and had more leverage in roster decisions as the Thompson era came to a close.
No matter who was making decisions, too many indecisions and too many hands in the metaphorical pot cost the Packers an otherwise wide-open Super Bowl window with Aaron Rodgers playing his best football.
For a front office that, from 2005 until 2020, only used three first-round picks on offense, producing one top-10 defense (2010) is an explicit failure. Too often, the top drafted talent was not turning out, and roster moves were few and far between to help bolster countless struggling units.
Year after year, the Packers used their first-round pick on defense, built an offense around Aaron Rodgers with mid-round picks, and rarely added meaningful outside talent on either side of the ball.
With Gutekunst, he also got off to a rock-solid start. His first two first-round draft picks resulted in All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander and Rashan Gary. He also added Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Adrian Amos by way of free agency to bolster the Packers defense in 2019.
However, like Thompson, all the focus was on defense, and very little was done to propel the offense besides adding an aging Jimmy Graham. Yes, the Packers had enough around Rodgers to succeed and made regular playoff runs. But complacency took hold as players like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J'Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown, Josiah Deguara, and Devin Funchess proved little worth as complementary pieces to propel Green Bay forward.
All in all, Thompson was in seat for a few years longer than he should have been, and Gutekunst failed to provide the roster with meaningful talent when too much of what he did add was not meeting expectations. Nothing was done timely, and change was hardly pursued. The culture remained complacent without prevailing accountability for when things go wrong. Then, the same things kept going wrong season after season.
The result has been one Super Bowl appearance in the 21st century despite two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history (Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers) under center. To an extent, football malpractice.
As accountability has trickle-down effects, the impact of the front office failing to make appropriate changes has had the same effect felt on the coaching staff as well.
Packers coaching staff accountability failures
The Packers have had four defensive coordinators in the past 15 seasons with Murphy as CEO: Bob Sanders (2006-2008), Dom Capers (2009-2017), Mike Pettine (2018-2020), and Joe Barry (2021-present).
Former Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy came in before the 2006 season and removed Sanders as defensive coordinator after the team experienced regression in 2008, ranking 20th. He likely wanted to bring in "his guy," which ended up being Capers.
While Capers experienced success over his career and was a great fit for the NFL at that time, the league quickly passed him by after producing a top-two defense in 2010. Season after season, the Packers would allow an opposing offense to put on a rushing clinic, with 2016 being their only finish inside the top 15 for the fewest rushing yards allowed. However, the Packers also allowed the 10th most points per game that season.
Like what is currently happening with Joe Barry, Capers was on the hot seat for years until something was finally done.
Despite a defense comprised almost entirely of first-round picks the Packers drafted, the team consistently underperformed. Ironically, more times than not, when talking to a Packers fan, one might hear, "If we could just get Rodgers a defense."
Then came Pettine. After two forgettable seasons, he produced Green Bay's first top-10 defense in a decade in 2020 but was then relieved of his duties. Pettine was hired in McCarthy's final season and was an arranged marriage for Matt LaFleur, who had never previously worked with Pettine. Like McCarthy with Capers, LaFleur wanted to get "his guy."
Unfortunately for Packers faithful, LaFleur's "guy" turned out to be close friend Joe Barry. The same Joe Barry who led the 2008 Detroit Lions 0-16 defense and never produced a top-20 defense in any stint as defensive coordinator.
In short, if Barry's resume were handed to any unbiased employer, his candidacy would hold little legitimacy besides the impressive fact that he's been able to hang around this long.
Three extremely disappointing years later, Barry remains coordinator and is fresh off arguably his two worst play-calling performances in his tenure in Green Bay.
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15, he allowed Baker Mayfield to post the first-ever perfect passer rating in Lambeau Field from an opposing quarterback. The week before, he allowed Giants backup quarterback Tommy DeVito to lead a game-winning drive thanks to Barry's refusal to apply any pressure and playing incredibly soft coverage. The Giants had allowed the most pressure in the NFL at the time, and Green Bay did not record a single sack in the effort, nor did it look like Barry wanted to apply any pressure.
Barry's tenure has primarily consisted of baffling defensive alignments and schemes. From safeties playing so far back they were practically in a different area code, to linebackers covering top pass catchers, to corners who excel in press-man coverage playing soft coverage to allow teams to pick up yards to wide-open receivers, and to lining up with three down linemen in obvious running situations. Very little makes sense watching the Packers defense under Barry.
Yet three seasons later, he is still heading up a defense that each season is said to have top-10 potential thanks to the talent but keeps finishing outside the top-20.
Barry was handed high-paid, top-performing free agents and an entire defense made of up first-round draft picks. It almost seems impossible that under Barry, the Packers are consistently a bottom-five defense against the run and have yet to crack a top-15 total finish.
For a defense in its third year under a coordinator to be ranked as the third-worst defense against the run, that consistently is outcoached by coaches who would go on to be fired or outplayed by quarterbacks who would go on to be benched, the time for excuses is long gone.
It's not just fans or media outlets who notice the same things happening over and over in Green Bay. Recently on X (formely Twitter), former Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels spoke out.
"No matter the coordinator, no matter the personnel, we seem to not be able to be elite on defense? I played alongside legit HOF players, several all-pros and pro bowlers. Yet mid to bottom ranks. Years later, I see the same thing even with a culture change," wrote Daniels.
So it begs asking, how is it possible LaFleur has let Barry hang around this long? Every week after disappointing losses, all LaFleur has to say at the podium is, "We got out-coached," or "We need to look at the tape," or "We need to be better." But if those same things have been said for the past three seasons, and all the things that lead to those comments keep occurring, where is the accountability to uphold what needs to be done?
If an employee is given feedback, handed all the tools, and attempts to get it right but still can not grasp what is needed to be successful within an organization, the employee is terminated. The cost and burden on the business of employing that individual supersedes any loyalties that might keep the employee hanging on to a job. That's how successful businesses function, especially in the NFL's "what have you done for me lately" business model.
But time and time again, loyalties have led to disaster in Green Bay: Murphy with Thompson, McCarthy with Capers, and LaFleur with Barry. The blatant pattern has led to an underperforming, passive culture, ultimately leading to not achieving the goal for each season: winning the Super Bowl.
When accountability is out the window, change is not timely, complacency takes a stronghold, and responsible action against individuals hindering success is an afterthought.
For Green Bay to reclaim its once-feared status in the NFL, a status they are not far removed from, a culture change is desperately needed, and tough decisions must be made heading into 2024.