New Year, New Beginnings for Gutekunst's Packers

January 7th has been a busy day for the Green Bay Packers over the last two years.  A year ago that day, the team announced Matt LaFleur as the 15th head coach in team history.  A year prior to that on the same day, they promoted Brian Gutekunst to general manager.

Since taking on that role, Gute, as he's often called, has had his hands full.  The release of Jordy Nelson, two drafts including an additional first-round pick in 2019, acquiring several free agents, being part of the tough decision to let long-time head coach Mike McCarthy go and helping bring on LaFleur.  It hasn't been a slow or easy two seasons, by any stretch.

What it has all equated to is Gutekunst's third January 7th which found the Packers back at work, preparing to host a divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks.  Not a bad turnaround from a year ago when the direction of the team was up in the air.

Whenever a team is looking for a new head coach, there's always pining for the known entities and dreams that they can come in and accomplish what they did elsewhere.  Many wanted the Packers to bring back John Dorsey or hire Eliot Wolf, assuming he would be the second coming of his Dad, who years ago brought Mike Holmgren, Brett Favre and Reggie White to Green Bay.

To be fair to those fans and anyone else who questioned the hiring of Gutekunst, the Packers made the unique decision to keep the power structure in place they had to install with McCarthy where the head coach and general manager would report directly to him.  It was needed with McCarthy and former general manager Ted Thompson because the two couldn't communicate effectively.  But to keep it with a new head coach seemed like doubling down on enabling some of that lack of direct communication.

After a very successful 13-3 season, it's hard to argue with anything the team has done over the past two seasons.  Sure, they could have a few better players or have secured the top seed in the NFC but that nearly happened anyway.  What more could these Packers have done in the first year of LaFleur's tenure, in which he became the first rookie head coach in team history to guide his team to the postseason.

Dorsey, by contrast, was just dismissed by the Cleveland Browns after just two seasons as general manager.  Two seasons in which he promoted Freddie Kitchens to head coach instead of bringing in a stable presence who may have better-managed the locker room.  A locker room that Dorsey added stars Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Jr and Olivier Vernon to, giving up former first-rounder Jabrill Peppers along with a 2019 first and third round pick.  At the time, the moves were lauded but the 2019 Browns never took off and they missed the playoffs for a 17th straight season.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has long been the compass for the Packers since taking over as starter 12 seasons ago.  As he has gone, the Packers have gone, or at least tried to go.  For years, Rodgers was other-worldly every week but without adequate defenses, some past Packers teams have not achieved all they could.  Over the past two seasons, Rodgers has struggled to return to that form.  

Gute's 2019 offseason seemed to telegraph that he saw where things were headed with the quarterback and the team.  It was clear that the Packers needed a stout defense if they were going to take advantage of whatever Rodgers has left in the tank.  Three key defensive free agents were added (Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, Za'Darius Smith) and two first-round defensive players were drafted (Rashan Gary, Darnell Savage).  Despite the offense output remaining similar, the defense is worlds different.

What the 2019 Packers become is yet to be written.  If they can take care of business at home against Seattle (who have not won in Green Bay since 1999), Gute's Packers will appear in the NFC championship game, one win from the Super Bowl.  There's even a chance that the Packers could host that game.  It's hard to argue with being one step from the ultimate goal that all 32 teams set each year.

Despite calls from some fans to simply appreciate what the Packers have already done, it is going to be disappointing to the team and many fans if they don't get a shot at a Super Bowl.  Even if they don't, we've seen enough to know that Gutekunst will get right back to work in preparing for 2020 and beyond.  

It's a new year and 2020 marks the beginning of the Packers' return to the postseason.  What's next on the horizon for Gutekunst and the Packers?

 

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Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Cheesehead TV Live, Pulse of the Pack and Pack A Day podcasts.  You can follow him on Twitter here

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9 points

Comments (41)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
zoellner25's picture

January 08, 2020 at 01:11 pm

What Gutey has done in two years, IMO, is amazing.

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Razer's picture

January 08, 2020 at 01:48 pm

Well written and well said Jason. Gutekunst was low on most lists and people distrusted Murphy to make the right call but it was the right call and he has done a very good job in a short period of time. And, he has made a whack of tough decisions to get us here in two years. Getting rid of fan favorites Jordy Nelson and Mike Daniels then moving on from Mike McCarthy were tough, tough calls. And Gutekunst did all this while rebuilding a front office staff stripped of longtime personnel. Again a necessary and difficult part of the rebuild.

At this point, this year is all gravy. If Rodgers can evolve to fit a new coach and new system, the organization has a chance for maybe 3 more bright years. If Rodgers can't adapt or diminishes his play we know that the right man is at the helm to make the tough call. Hopefully, we are just seeing the start of our new potential.

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NickPerry's picture

January 09, 2020 at 01:13 am

"At this point, this year is all gravy. Rodgers can evolve to fit a new coach and new system, the organization has a chance for maybe 3 more bright years. If Rodgers can't adapt or diminishes his play we know that the right man is at the helm to make the tough call. Hopefully, we are just seeing the start of our new potential.

"This year is gravy because I think this team can actually be better as long as they can stay healthy. Gute has focused on making the defense better his first 2 seasons and done a masterful job. I understand they still have a need here and there on defense, especially at ILB. BUT I'm really looking forward to what Gute does in the 2020 FA period and draft.

IMO I still think Rodgers can be closer to that 2014 Rodgers IF he's given some more weapons. The 2019 Packers aren't horribly difficult for a great good to great defense game plan for. Take Adams or Jones away and slow down the other and you can slow this offense down...

As much as I'm enjoying this season I really believe the BEST is yet to come.

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CAG123's picture

January 08, 2020 at 02:15 pm

Man I got some numbers that show that the 2018 Packers def and the 2019 Packers def aren’t that different but a few major changes make them substantially different.
1. The increase in interceptions from 7-17
2. The opposing completion percentage dropping from 64 to 59
3.Opposing passer rating dropping from 100 to 89
4. Passing TDs dropping from 30 to 19
5. Points per game dropping from 23 to 19
Other than that the Packers have given up more 40 plus yard plays than last year 7 in 2018 to 15 in 2019, more 20 plus yard plays 54 in 2018 to 56 in 2019, pretty much the same pass yards 3752 in 2018 to 3721 in 2019, pretty much the same passing yards per game 234 in 2018 to 232 in 2019 and less sacks 44 in 2018 to 41 in 2019 but they definitely apply more pressure without the blitz this year. Oh for any other KK haters out there him in Jaire are playing at essentially the same level both have given up over 800 yards and 4 TDs the difference being their completion percentage KK with 63 percent and Jaire with 59 and yards per completion a whopping 17 for KK and 13 for Jaire then you have 5 picks for KK and 2 for Jaire with one being a hail mary attempt both guys can afford to get better.

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Cubbygold's picture

January 08, 2020 at 04:59 pm

The increase in turnovers and the decline in passing TDs allowed are the two that stand out to me as why this defense is better. The sacks seems like a poor stat, since it doesn't provide context to how often they've had to blitz to get those sacks (as you mention with the pressures).

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CAG123's picture

January 08, 2020 at 07:02 pm

I usually don't pay attention to up/down votes but how does nothing but pure facts get down voted? lol

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wildbill's picture

January 08, 2020 at 08:22 pm

Let’s see if you get a down vote for a valid question. Lol. My thought is some take a personal dislike to someone and just down votes everything they post

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

January 09, 2020 at 03:28 am

IDK (I didn't give you a down vote) but you didn't limit yourself to pure facts, did you? I think Jaire is considerably better than King. Tramon might have had a better year than Jaire. I suggested in an article re-signing Tramon for another year.

PFF rated Tramon as the 6th-best CB in the NFL, and Jaire 11th-best PFF Rankings: Top 25 CBs). King does not appear in the top 25. PFF stats suggest that Alexander allowed 56.1% of targeted passes to be completed, not 59%, which I assume is just different sources. 63% (King's stat, per you) is decent but not outstanding.

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CAG123's picture

January 09, 2020 at 09:39 am

If it’s a different source then it’s a different source nothing I posted was from my own opinion. I said JA and KK are playing pretty much on the same level based on the yards and TDs they’ve given up for people that love to bust King’s chops for giving up TDs and big yards.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

January 09, 2020 at 02:46 am

"At Pro Football Focus, we grade every player on every play of each game in the NFL season, but we also have several more complex metrics that help us capture a more complete picture of the league. According to our ELO rankings, for example, which adjusts for strength of competition among other variables, the Packers are the fifth-best team in the NFL overall, with the fourth-best defense."

GB has a pretty good defense. I am not sure about the rank I'd assign, and it does have areas that can be exploited if the opposing team has the right corresponding weapons, but it is easily top 10, in my opinion. Pettine is doing thing mostly pretty well.

https://sports.yahoo.com/are-the-133-packers-actually-overrated-20504318...

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Jonathan Spader's picture

January 08, 2020 at 02:19 pm

I wonder what's going to happen to Dorsey.

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Razer's picture

January 08, 2020 at 02:43 pm

I think he is a good talent evaluator and I doubt he will stay out of the business for long. He had a lot of owners fingers in his hair in Cleveland. He is a high risk/high reward kind of guy so you better have a stomach for some bumps. Brings in too many iffy character players for my liking.

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HankScorpio's picture

January 08, 2020 at 05:15 pm

"Brings in too many iffy character players for my liking."

Like Damarious Randall. I'm sure there are people that have problems with that trade. I"m not one of them, even considering they got next to nothing in return. They wanted him out of the locker room and took whatever they could get to do it.

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ShooterMcGee's picture

January 09, 2020 at 01:23 am

They probably could have gotten more for him with patience.

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flackcatcher's picture

January 08, 2020 at 03:55 pm

Cleveland owner is to put it bluntly, unstable. His constant meddling in personal is the reason the Browns is a mess. After one year, both Dorsey and Wolf and most of that front office staff will be already looking for new jobs. All in all, their reps will be fine.

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dobber's picture

January 08, 2020 at 06:51 pm

After some of the off-season moves, the selection of LaF as head coach, and the draft, there were a few people here last spring saying that they were done with the Packers and were going to become Cleveland Browns fans because of the Packer connections and what they felt was an aggressive front office making moves they liked.

I hope they enjoyed their season...

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HankScorpio's picture

January 08, 2020 at 05:04 pm

I think Dorsey has held his last top job in NFL personnel dept. I don't know if he'll want to go back to being a top assistant.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

January 08, 2020 at 09:15 pm

If he goes back to being an assistant I'd like to see a homecoming in GB.

2 points
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Lare's picture

January 08, 2020 at 03:22 pm

"Despite calls from some fans to simply appreciate what the Packers have already done, it is going to be disappointing to the team and many fans if they don't get a shot at a Super Bowl."

I'll admit I'm one of those fans that simply appreciates what the Packers have done this season. They don't need to make it to the Super Bowl for me to think this was a successful season in MLF's first year.

Regardless how this season ends up I think the Packers offense will be better next year with an offseason and 2nd training camp in MLF's scheme. Adding some more offensive weapons in free agency and the draft (WR, TE, OL, RB) would also be nice. I think Rodgers will also play much better once he knows the plays and doesn't have to be constantly referring to the play sheet on his forearm.

Gutekunst has shown that he is pretty good at evaluating talent, give him a couple more years and this team should be pretty well stocked.

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Cubbygold's picture

January 08, 2020 at 05:06 pm

I'm somewhat in this camp, though I recognize the short window for 12 puts the team in 'super bowl or bust' mode starting next year.

Last year GB had a luxury heading into the draft after picking up the 4 key free-agents, they could draft BPA. I think this year Gute will have a similar luxury, in a much deeper roster that allows him to focus on getting the best value for each pick. Sure, they should add a RT, WR and ILB, but it feels like it's been awhile since the roster was this deep. There's just not as much pressure to produce instant starters as there has been in recent years. Even at WR, they'll head into next year with Adams, Lazard, ESB, MVS, and Begelton as a lottery ticket. At TE, having Sternberger, Tonyan and Lewis is a solid foundation. Hit on one good player, through draft or FA, at either position and this group is suddenly viewed very differently.

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JesseL's picture

January 08, 2020 at 03:28 pm

Good article! Remember when everyone was speculating that Russ Ball would become the new GM? That was a scary time. But the Packers organization made a beautifully decisive transition out of what might have been a nightmare scenario. People complaining about this year's team should look around the league. How many other teams who hired a young, inexperienced head coach are doing well right now? And for that matter, how many teams with experienced coaches are doing that well right now?

It should be noted that we are very likely to regress. The Matt Nagy effect could still take place. Not every year will give us such a forgiving schedule and we need to make some more key moves to retain or acquire players. Gutekunst's next challenge may be the toughest; finding yet another hall of fame QB. We've had two in a row, and we have two or three years to find a gem in the draft that Rodgers could "groom".

Overall, with the way the current power structure has handled things, I'm happy to sit back and see what happens. In the mean time, Divisional Round playoffs in Green Bay! Doesn't get much better than that!

3 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

January 09, 2020 at 10:38 am

How many coaches wear a visor when it is below freezing and snow is accumulating on his melon? LaFleur will bring an even better product on the field next year as long as #12 stays upright.

0 points
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Ferrari-Driver's picture

January 08, 2020 at 04:44 pm

Overall Gute has done a terrific job, but I'm convinced most Packer fans would have preferred to see Randall Cobb in a Packers uniform this year as opposed to Jimmy Graham. I also anticipate Gute looking over the quarterbacks this year and perhaps next year to see if there is what he believes to be a franchise quarterback available to lead our team to championships in the years ahead.

-2 points
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mrj007's picture

January 08, 2020 at 09:10 pm

I would prefer Cobb for sure!

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Guam's picture

January 09, 2020 at 08:09 am

Your statement that most Packer fans (me included) would prefer Cobb over Graham is accurate, but I don't think that was ever financially feasible. Cobb was initially unwilling to take a significant pay cut to stay with the Packers and by the time he was willing to discuss reduced wages, the Packers had already paid Graham his 2019 roster bonus and were essentially committed to him. Unfortunate timing as I think the Packers might have resigned Cobb for the $5 million Dallas paid him on a one year deal.

2 points
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flackcatcher's picture

January 09, 2020 at 04:32 pm

The other part was Murphy was still interfering in player personal thru contracts. Took the executive committee making it clear that Gute calls all the shots to stop that from happening.

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mrj007's picture

January 09, 2020 at 08:31 pm

I didn’t know that

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Leatherhead's picture

January 08, 2020 at 04:54 pm

I think Gutekunst has to be given an A for 2019. He hired a coach who became the first rookie HC in NFL history to win 13 games. If he’s not the coach of the year it’s a crime.

We had 4 significant FA acquisitions, all of whom played well and stayed healthy. We released several high dollar vets....Cobb, Matthews, Daniels, Perry.....who didn’t help anybody get into the playoffs. That’s an A.

We’re in a financial position to bring back whoever we want. That’s an A

But that was yesterday. 2020 has started. If he gets another A, we’ll be in the Super Bowl.

4 points
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Sol's picture

January 08, 2020 at 05:03 pm

I remember when he just got hired and he said he would leave no stone unturned to build the best roster possible for this team and boy did he meant it. I am sure he will make some mistakes in the future, we all do.
But after two years and looking back at his track record, he will get more right than wrong. The man is humble and doesn't have a big ego. He just keeps doing his job and will for many more years to come.

Oh it feels good to be a Packer Fan knowing that some team owner is NOT calling the shots in the shadows hurting the team for years even decades. With team parity and revenue sharing part of the modern day NFL it gives use a winning hand with a guy like him.

PS Can't wait to see what he has up his sleeve for 2020, great way to start a new decade.

Go Pack

2 points
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Lphill's picture

January 08, 2020 at 05:25 pm

I like what he has done but I’m a little surprised at what he didn’t do and that was not bringing in a Veteran receiver or linebacker during the season , there were a few decent players available and no moves were made.

1 points
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JesseL's picture

January 08, 2020 at 06:19 pm

This is true, but I honestly think we were maxed out on acquisitions this year. You really can only do so much per season and still be in a viable situation for future seasons. Too many teams and GM's ransom the future for the now, and while it can win a championship (Denver) it can also send your team into a years-long plummet (Denver).

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SterlingSharpe's picture

January 08, 2020 at 06:25 pm

Great moves:

-Hiring Gute
-Hiring LaFleur
-Utilizing Free Agency & getting the young Smith Bros & young Amos & Turner, who had already demonstrated that they could succeed in the NFL.
-Plenty of other good ones.

Bad moves:
-Releasing Jordy Nelson & relying on 3 raw & inexperienced WRs, which QB1 doesn't like.
-Paying old Jimmy Graham $$$ like 24-year old Graham

Overall, A- which is why we're a home win from being in the Final Four.

-3 points
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stockholder's picture

January 08, 2020 at 07:10 pm

Did we win the super-bowl yet? Im struggling with the positives and negatives. Blind Love can be misleading. Gute's taken the right short cuts. Long term may require better business decisions.

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Brandip's picture

January 08, 2020 at 07:59 pm

He has done great short term. I am interested to see how he balances immediate needs with long term needs. Will he draft and develop more players? Will he retain free agents? Whatever he does, he was selected for this position above others. I am impressed so far.

Go Pack GO

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mrj007's picture

January 08, 2020 at 09:16 pm

Before his hiring I never heard of the guy. I like him. I think a previous posted mentioned more “chunk” plays given up- consequence possibly of not getting an active ILB. And we had Solid if not spectacular WR in Cobb, bur kept Graham (at least cap wise it seemed that way). Those were really the only glaring missteps in an otherwise brilliant series of personnel moves

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BoHunter's picture

January 09, 2020 at 08:41 am

Why doesn’t anybody want to at least get a better idea in what we have in Boyle before declaring we have to draft a QB successor in the next few years? The guy has a big arm and seemed to have a nice deep ball touch from the limited preseason action I’ve seen. Of course we should always be looking to strike gold in the draft, but I think that totally overlooking Boyle does not give him a fair shake, JMO.

BoHunter

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ShooterMcGee's picture

January 09, 2020 at 01:25 am

Need to see him play in a real game. That won't happen barring a Rodgers injury.

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flackcatcher's picture

January 09, 2020 at 05:10 pm

I wrote about this before, but here's a short recap. In 2014 Ted Thompson announced his intent to retire at the end of the 2015 season. (This is all on the public record) There were four clear choices among many mentioned in the sports media that was favored by insiders at 1265. Gute, Dorsey, Wolf, and Highsmith. Murphy announced a wide ranging search at the end of 2014 season. 2015 came and Murphy extended the GM search and announced that Ted had agreed to stay on for a year. 2016 came and the rumors of Ted Thompson health issues increased in the sports media along with Murphy's unwillingness to address Ted's successor. By 2017 came the so-call silo solution. Many in the sports media were calling Murphy the de-facto owner of the Packers. In 2018 the executive committee demanded that Mark Murphy, President of the Green Bay Packers name a General Manager for the organization. He did not. That summer, the executive committee with the backing of Ted Thompson and former President Bob Harlan signed Brian Gutekunst as General Manager of the Green Bay Packers over the objections of Packer President Mark Murphy. Gutekunst's signing it self is an amazing story. For those who want the full account Jason Wilde (ESPN Madison Cap Times) is the best source. (some of is now behind a paywall)

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flackcatcher's picture

January 09, 2020 at 05:36 pm

Of course that's not the end of the story. Cleaning up someone mess is never pretty and cleaning up Murphy's mess fell upon Gute. We have only seen a very narrow window as the internal fight between Murphy and Gute was waged behind the closed doors of 1265. But from what we have seen. Mike McCarthy's firing was illegal. Murphy never had the authority when he did it in the middle of the night. In response, the executive committee moved to strip Murphy of almost all his power as Packer President within the week. Finally, the executive committee made it clear early this year when Murphy interfered with the hiring of an assistant special teams coach that Gute control the hiring and firing of all personnel within front office/GM side of 1265, and stripped Murphy of what remaining power he had. Mark Murphy, President of the Green Bay Packers is now a figurehead waiting for his contract to expire. This whole saga is quite amazing...

1 points
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flackcatcher's picture

January 09, 2020 at 05:46 pm

I should make this clear, that Gute had no hand in McCarthy's firing. The only public statement he made was that he supported Murphy's decision. By every account he and McCarthy got along fine and McCarthy supported Gute over Murphy's interfering in player personnel decisions. Someday, the whole truth will come out...

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 15, 2020 at 11:47 am

Thank you for setting the record straight. Murphy was pushing low-Ball, russ for the GM spot and playing games with Ted's health whe nit was apparent, he needed to move on. McCarthy, to his credit, also revolted against Murphy and threatened to bail out for the Arizona Job if low ball was put in place. Nice reporting.

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