Commentary: McKenzie rears ugly head

Ted Thompson, Mike Sherman and Bob Harlan were at center stage Friday when Harlan announced Thompson was taking over general-manager duties from Sherman.

Somewhere, a smiling Mike McKenzie is probably shooting a moon in the general direction of Green Bay.

McKenzie couldn't have done any more harm to the Packers if he were stealing the offensive and defensive calls and relaying them to Mike Tice during last weekend's playoff loss.

First, McKenzie's trade demands forced the Packers to alter their draft plans. Sherman picked cornerbacks with his first two picks, letting other areas of need go unfilled.

Then, McKenzie's poisonous attitude won him his desired trade. That sabotaged the defensive coordinator change, since Bob Slowik won the job by promising a blitz for every reason and every season.

Without McKenzie's coverage skills, the defense smelled like Kaukauna. Without victories, his No. 1 nemesis, Sherman, lost his general manager gig.

That's three knockdowns for McKenzie and none for Sherman. If this were a boxing match, the fight would be stopped.

McKenzie would be out of sight and out of mind, if not for Harlan naming the dreaded dreadlocked cornerback during Friday's news conference as an example of why he was ordering a new set of business cards for Sherman.

"The week of the Giants game this year, Mike and I had three meetings," Harlan said. "The last of which was early on a Saturday morning. All he talked about was the difficult situation he was having with Mike McKenzie's agent and the difficult situation he was having with the New Orleans Saints trying to make a trade. I thought, with a big game coming up tomorrow, we need to be focused on that. Someone else can do those things (work on trades)."

So Harlan found someone else to do those things. That would be Thompson, who comes with the Ron Wolf seal of approval. That's good enough for me, and it should be good enough for you, too. A few columnists around the state gave a thumbs up or thumbs down on the hiring. Based on what? Let's at least wait until after the draft to see if he picks a punter in the third round.

Harlan went out of his way to say his decision was not based on draft picks or free-agent decisions. He only wants Sherman to spend more time on coaching. Maybe so, but the timing sure seemed curious. Harlan could have hired a general manager at any time over the last couple of years, but he finally decided to make a move now, with the Packers coming off a season of disappointments.

— A Super Bowl-caliber team won only 10 games.

— A game at Lambeau Field used to be an automatic win. Now it's not even a coin flip, with the Packers losing five of nine games there this season.

— The last loss came in the playoffs against rival Minnesota. The Vikings had no momentum and tons of dubious playoff history. The Packers had tons of momentum and no reason to lose.

— In Sherman's biggest decision as general manager, he fired defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and replaced him with Slowik after last year's fourth-and-26 fiasco. Instead of being the solution, the defense became the problem. My Suamico youth flag football teams, with my vaunted chuck-and-duck offense, could have scored at least three touchdowns.

— You may have forgotten, but Sherman traded two draft picks to select punter B.J. Sander in the third round. Last we saw of Sander, the coaches were telling him to punt the ball forward, not sideways.

Maybe Harlan simply wasn't spinning the news when he said he would have hired a general manager no matter the team's record. Harlan says it's too much of a burden to hold both roles, but then how do you explain that two of the best teams in the league, New England and Philadelphia, are led by coach-general managers?

Most likely, if Sherman was a good general manager he would still be general manager. In the last two years, he's drafted 15 players. Only Nick Barnett and Ahmad Carroll — the first-round picks in 2003 and 2004 — were starters. Heck, they were the only players who got on the field regularly.

Sherman has been involved in four drafts. He selected 27 players and 20 (74 percent) were on the final roster at the end of this season. Thompson has been involved in five drafts. He selected 47 players and 31 (66 percent) were on the roster at the end of this season.

While those numbers favor Sherman, a further review reveals his draft-day failures. Of the 20 Sherman picks on the roster, only four (Carroll, Barnett, Javon Walker and Aaron Kampman) are starters. Three (Brennan Curtin, Chris Johnson and Donnell Washington) have never played a down. Meanwhile, of the 31 Thompson picks on the Seahawks' roster, 30 of them have stated.

One other thing jumps out. Seattle has averaged 9.4 picks per draft while the Packers averaged 6.8. That's nearly three extra players each year. That's three chances to find a diamond in the rough or to build some needed depth.

With the Packers pressed up against the salary cap every year, the money isn't available to land the type of free agents who can make a difference. That means the only way to improve is through the draft. Sherman's draft failures are why the Packers are getting worse instead of better. And that's why Harlan, who rarely sticks his nose into the affairs of the football team, should be commended for making a bold decision.

Huber writes for packerreport.com and is a copy editor for The Green Bay News-Chronicle, where this column originially appeared. Contact him via e-mail at packwriter@hotmail.com


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