Q&A with Bob Harlan

As President & CEO of Packers, Bob Harlan will witness the crowning achievement of his 14-year tenure — the completion of the three-year, $295M renovation of Lambeau Field — when his team opens the '03 season against its NFC North rival, the Minnesota Vikings.<p>

Elevated to his current post in '89, Harlan is responsible for the hiring of former GM Ron Wolf, ending a 63-year tradition of playing games in Milwaukee, but maintaining two season-ticket lists, and a '97 stock offering that raised $200M. Hired by the Packers in '71 as an Assistant GM, Harlan is the first President in the team's 84-year existence to come up through the ranks. In speaking recently with Harlan, Assistant Managing Editor Schuyler Baehman discovered, among other things, that Harlan values fan input and takes the time to read all letters from fans.

QUESTION: What do you listen to in the car?

Harlan: I listen to the radio, I guess, because of news. I feel like I am kind of stranded when I'm in the car, so it gives me a chance to keep up on things.

Q: What was the last movie you saw?

Harlan: I'm not one for going to the movie theatre much. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was the last time I went to an actual theatre. We rent a lot of movies, usually mysteries.

Q: What was the most difficult contract negotiation you ever had in your years of handling that for the Packers?

Harlan: I had an awful lot who did their own contracts. I got great pleasure out of the fact that they would trust me enough that I would be fair with them that they could do their own and not have to go through an agent. That doesn't happen in this day and age. The most heartbreaking was the Bruce Clark situation, where after a couple of weeks he jumped to Canada. (Editor's note: The Packers drafted Clark with the fourth overall pick in '80. Rather than play for the Packers, the defensive tackle elected to play in the CFL. He returned to the NFL in '82 and played seven seasons for the Saints and one for the Chiefs.)

Q: Did you ever face a lengthy holdout?

Harlan: In 1977, we had two first-round draft choices. We took Mike Butler and Ezra Johnson, both of whom became starting defensive ends for us. Neither one was here when camp began and that certainly was pressure to have both of them be out of camp. But within a matter of days, we got them done.

It's funny, the coach is always patient in March, April, May and June until you get to the time when camp opens, then all at once it's an urgent situation. You feel more pressure. You fight that calendar every day.

Q: Your bio says you answer your own phone, why do you feel that is important?

Harlan: We're owned by the fans. I feel that most of the people who call me are shareholders. They're concerned or they wouldn't be calling me. I think I should be available to them. I like to talk to them. If I get a letter from any fan, and he is concerned about something and he has a legitimate point, I'll call him when he gets home from work that night and we'll talk through it. I've found out that, first of all, they are surprised that we take the time to read the letter and they're totally shocked that we'll take the time to go through information get their number and call them.

Wisconsin Winters Make Lambeau The Ultimate Homefield Advantage

Q: How cold would it have to get for you to call the league and cancel a game at Lambeau?

Harlan: I don't think I would ever do it. I think our fans would be in an uproar. Our coaches and our General Manager — like when Ron Wolf was here, he wanted every December game to be a home game — we honestly feel that it gives us an advantage to make people come in here in December. As Ron used to say, "We've got to go to the dome in Pontiac, we've got to go to the dome in Minneapolis, let's make them come and play in miserable weather in Green Bay."

Q: Was the $20M raised by your 1997 stock offering short of your expectations, did it meet your expectations, or was it beyond your wildest expectations?

Harlan: If somebody had told me going in that we would make that much money, I would have said, "Give it to me and let's not even do the sale." I was delighted with what we got.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still price each share at $200?

Harlan: I think so. I got a lot of calls from people when they heard the rumors that we were going to do it and they said, "You're going to remember the blue collar guy in this, aren't you Bob?" I said, "I promise you we will." They said, "Don't make it $3,000-4,000." A lot of people in Green Bay can't afford that, and I understand that. This is a blue-collar town. We wanted to price it so that the guy who was here in the stands supporting this team all the time could do it.

Kevin Will Broadcast Packers Preseason Games

Q: I'm not sure how many people know that announcer Kevin Harlan, of CBS and T'Wolves fame, is your son. But moreover, your other two sons are also involved in the industry.

Harlan: Bryan is now an agent. He is representing sports announcers and coaches. Mike works for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Q: And you just brought Kevin in-house beginning this season, right?

Harlan: Yes. He is going to do our preseason games for the first time.

Q: So are you going to critique his performances each game like many fathers would?

Harlan: When he started doing it as a junior [in high school] I used to sit at home and listen and take notes. Every night he would come home and we would sit and talk about what was good, what was bad and so forth. To this day, God love him, he'll still say to me, "Dad, what did you think? Any suggestions?" I say, "Kevin, you've gone way beyond the point of my suggestions."

Nothing Quite Like A Super Bowl Party

Q: What is the best Super Bowl party you have ever been to, aside from the victory party I am sure you had in '97?

Harlan: Nothing will ever top that. The commissioner's party is always a great party. That's probably the most enjoyable. But there is nothing like going to the city when you are one of the teams. That is a great thrill.

Q: Any predictions for this season?

Harlan: No. I just have such great confidence in Mike Sherman and he's done a remarkable job for us. It's always nice to look at your lineup and see that No. 4 is still playing quarterback, too.

Editor's note: Schuyler Baehman is a writer for The Sports Business Daily (sportsbusinessdaily.com).

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