GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Eliot Wolf was the candidate with the high-profile last name and a bright future. Russ Ball was the shrewd contract negotiator and salary-cap manager.
But what was Brian Gutekunst, and how did the 44-year-old who everyone around the NFL calls “Gutey” (pronounced GOO-dee) win over Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy to become the team’s next general manager?
“Everyone says ‘Gutey’ is the next John Schneider,” a longtime NFL agent said Sunday night after news broke that Gutekunst would succeed Ted Thompson as the Packers' GM.
The Packers couldn’t get Schneider, the Seahawks' general manager out of Seattle, but perhaps they got the next-best thing.
Both were small-college players with big football dreams. Schneider broke into the NFL as a summer intern with the Packers in 1992 while at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. Gutekunst did the same five years later while at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. They both worked under Ron Wolf, Mike Sherman and Ted Thompson before they got the shot to run their own scouting departments.
“Gutey’s very approachable; I think that’s where I can see the biggest similarity with John,” said a high-ranking NFL personnel executive who has worked with Schneider and has known Gutekunst. “They’re both egoless and they’re approachable.
“Gutey hasn’t been out there selling himself. It’s always the Packers’ organization first.”
Because of that, the personnel executive believes Gutekunst will run his department in similar fashion to how Schneider operates in Seattle.
“He’s going to hear everybody out, take all the information in and make the best decision," he said. "The greatest thing that John does is he makes everybody feel as though they’re important to the process."
For example, according to the executive, Schneider will share a piece of privileged information with an underling and let that person present it to the rest of the personnel department during a staff meeting. The next time, he’ll choose a different subordinate to do it.
Schneider, along with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, is viewed as one of the most aggressive general managers in the league. At times, Schneider doubled up just to make sure his roster was set at a position, like in 2012 when he gave Matt Flynn $10 million guaranteed as a free-agent quarterback and then six weeks later drafted Russell Wilson in the third round.
“The best part about Schneider is he looks at everything,” the agent said.
If Gutekunst is similar in that regard, it could mean a more aggressive approach in free agency -- an area where Thompson dabbled only occasionally -- even though Gutekunst’s background in college scouting. He spent the first 13 years of his NFL career as an area scout and four more as the Packers’ director of college scouting before he became director of player personnel in 2016.
“I don’t know what he’s done on the pro [scouting] side and how he’s going to change that,” the personnel executive said. “But I would think he’s going to be more aggressive than Ted was. You can’t be any less aggressive.
“I don’t think anybody anymore can build solely through the draft. I think free agency helps and Gutey will have the same approach. I think he’ll offset it with free agency, but you’ve still got to build through the draft. That's how John does it."